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Remembering the past: Bangladeshi fighters for Palestine of the 1980s.

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olunteers from Bangladesh fighting with Palestinians in Beirut, Lebanon 1982. (Photo: Magnum Photos-Chris Steele Perkins)

By: Yazan al-Saadi

A photograph and a grave. These are two relics of a time, now mostly forgotten, of when thousands of Bangladeshis came to Lebanon in the 1980s as volunteers and fighters for the Palestinian cause. They were no less important in the struggle for Palestinian liberation than others, and their stories deserve to be remembered.

There are many books, films, and reports of international volunteers and organizations that supported and continue to support the Palestinian cause. From armed groups of yesteryear like the Japanese Red Army and the Irish Republican Army to non-violent, ever-growing contemporary organizations like the International Solidarity Movement and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, support for Palestine has always been and continues to be part and parcel of the international scene.



a May 1976 US state department cable released by WikiLeaks showed.

The affinity with Palestine became so strong and so entrenched within the Bangladeshi society that in 1980 a postal stamp was created, but never issued, depicting a kuffiyah-draped Palestinian freedom fighter, the al-Aqsa mosque in the background shrouded by barbwire, and words that saluted Palestinian freedom fighters as “valiant” in English and Arabic.

According to a September 1988 US Library of Congress report, the Bangladeshi government reported in 1987 that “8,000 Bangladeshi youths had volunteered to fight for the Palestine Liberation Organization,” an announcement that came after Yasser Arafat visited the country that year and received a warm welcome from media and political circles.

The report also states that a few Palestinian military figures were also sent to Bangladesh to participate in training courses.

Today, there are few documented records in regards to the exact number of Bangladeshi volunteers in Lebanon, or a break-down of what groups they had joined.

Al-Akhbar contacted the Bangladeshi embassy in Beirut in regards to any information on this topic. Although officials at the embassy acknowledged the existence and history of Bangladeshi fighters for Palestine, they stated that detailed information was unavailable.

Similarly, the Palestinian embassy was a dead-end due to the fact that much of the PLO documents were burnt by the Israeli army during its ferocious invasion and occupation of Lebanon.

What lingers of these fighters are but Palestinian officials’ fleeting memories.

“There were around 1,000 to 1,500 of them. There were even some battalions that were completely Bangladeshi, but most of them were spread to different groups,” Fatah's secretary of PLO factions in Lebanon, Fathi Abu al-Aradat, told Al-Akhbar.

“I remember they were highly disciplined. They were known to have incredible will. When the Israelis invaded and captured some of the Bangladeshi fighters, they used to say to them, 'PLO, Israeli No' even when they were tortured,” he said. “They had great relations with the rest of the fighters. They really believed in the cause.”

Although Fatah was known to have a significant number of foreign fighters among their ranks, it was another Palestinian faction, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), that was a major recipient of fighters, including those from Bangladesh.

The PFLP-GC, a far-left militant group led by Ahmed Jibril and backed by the Syrian government, had split from the main PFLP party that was led by George Habash, after a dispute over ideological and tactical issues occurred between Habash and Jibril (Abu Jihad) in 1968.

“They were with the PFLP-GC,” Ziyad Hammo, a PFLP official and member of the governing municipality of Shatila camp, told Al-Akhbar.

“They had a lot of military talent but they were mainly supporting services such as transporting weapons or guarding certain offices,” Hammo noted. “If they wanted to fight, they went to fight.”

“I remember three or four of them. There were two who were placed as guards in the Bekaa, and another one in Baablek. People really forgot they were Bengali, they spoke perfect Arabic,” the PFLP official added.

But the question remains: why are there very few accounts of these volunteers’ aid to the cause?

“In the PLFP, we try to remember these men. For example, the Japanese Red Army is very valued and we tried to recover and maintain that history. But with the Bangladeshis, I guess, there aren't many stories and anecdotes about them because their role was limited. At least for the PFLP, I can't speak for other Palestinian factions,” Hammo opined.

“I gather most of them left after 1982, once the UN sent its forces into Lebanon. Some of them died or were captured and later released, and perhaps a few stayed in Lebanon to live the rest of their lives working. It's been 32 years, and I think most of them got old. We all got older,” he added.

Kamal Mustafa Ali: the ‘heroic martyr’

On the outskirts of the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in southern Beirut is the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery, where those who perished struggling for the Palestinian cause lay. Among the many tombstones of Palestinians who have died since the 1970s, those of a few foreigners can be spotted. A few Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Tunisians, a Russian, a Kurd, and also one of a Bangladeshi man named Kamal Mustafa Ali.

The tombstone of Kamal Mustafa Ali in the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. (Photo: Yazan al-Saadi)



“In the PLFP, we try to remember these men.”- Ziyad Hammo
There is no mention of who Kamal Mustafa Ali was, not even a birth date. What is etched on the marble slab is a Quranic verse from the House of Imran chapter. It states: “And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of God as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision.”


Below the verse is his name and nationality, and when and how he died as a “heroic martyr.” Ali died on July 22, 1982 during a battle at the Castle of the High Rock, also known as the Beaufort Castle, located in the southern Lebanese governorate of Nabatiyeh.

The castle, which is said to have been established as a military fortification site prior to the Crusaders’ arrival in the early 12 century – due to its strategically located position on a high hill overlooking a large swath of territory – became a site for many heated battles, quickly exchanging hands from power to power.

The PLO controlled the castle in 1976, using it mainly as a base to conduct resistance activities along the border, deploying around 1,000 fighters within its walls and surroundings.

When the Israelis invaded on June 6,1982, the castle was the site of the first major battles prior to Israel's push north towards Beirut. Even though the PLO lost hold of the castle in the span of two days – after intense pounding by Israeli artillery and airstrikes – the Israelis control of the castle was never easy.

The occupying Israeli forces were met with constant resistance by Palestinian groups, and then Hezbollah and other Lebanese resistance groups, until they were forced to retreat in 2000.

Kamal Mustafa Ali perished, as the tombstone noted, during one of those early attempts to retake the castle.

His body was only recovered in 2004, after an exchange deal between Hezbollah and Israel was brokered by German mediation. Four Israeli soldiers corpses were exchanged for more than 400 prisoners, the remains of more than 50 fighters, and a map of deadly landmines that Israel planted in southern Lebanon and the western Bekaa region.

According to the caretakers of the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery, Ali's bones were sent back home to his family in Bangladesh, and a grave was erected in the cemetery to commemorate his sacrifice.

It rests there side-by-side with other bodies and names of Palestinians and non-Palestinians, watched and cared for by Palestinian hands who do not know much of the man. It is the only remaining, physical marker in Beirut of the sacrifices made by Bangladeshi volunteer fighters for the Palestinian cause during the 1980s.

Addendum: Al-Akhbar has recently received the following response to this report from Naeem Mohaiemen, a visual artist and Anthropology doctorate candidate at Columbia University researching post-1971 Bangladesh history. His films include "United Red Army (The Young Man Was, Part 1)," about the 1977 hijack of JAL 472 to Bangladesh by the Japanese Red Army. He has been investigating the Bangladeshi Lebanese fighters and believes the officially reported numbers are "inflated."

He argues that, "Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib's attendance of the 1974 Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) meeting was a realpolitik move for the damaged, new state– aligning with the Arab Bloc was also a question of survival, via influx of oil dollars. His successor, the military government of General Ziaur Rahman, pushed Islamization (via Arabization) even further. The inflated numbers come from this context of wanting to signal a significant contribution to the Palestinian cause, and PLO commanders then replicated those numbers as part of a logical strategy of projecting internationalist military strength. Such inflation of numbers temporarily won the PLO a media war, but it also blindsided them about the potential scale of defeat during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon"
 

extra terrestrial

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olunteers from Bangladesh fighting with Palestinians in Beirut, Lebanon 1982. (Photo: Magnum Photos-Chris Steele Perkins)

By: Yazan al-Saadi

A photograph and a grave. These are two relics of a time, now mostly forgotten, of when thousands of Bangladeshis came to Lebanon in the 1980s as volunteers and fighters for the Palestinian cause. They were no less important in the struggle for Palestinian liberation than others, and their stories deserve to be remembered.

There are many books, films, and reports of international volunteers and organizations that supported and continue to support the Palestinian cause. From armed groups of yesteryear like the Japanese Red Army and the Irish Republican Army to non-violent, ever-growing contemporary organizations like the International Solidarity Movement and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, support for Palestine has always been and continues to be part and parcel of the international scene.



a May 1976 US state department cable released by WikiLeaks showed.

The affinity with Palestine became so strong and so entrenched within the Bangladeshi society that in 1980 a postal stamp was created, but never issued, depicting a kuffiyah-draped Palestinian freedom fighter, the al-Aqsa mosque in the background shrouded by barbwire, and words that saluted Palestinian freedom fighters as “valiant” in English and Arabic.

According to a September 1988 US Library of Congress report, the Bangladeshi government reported in 1987 that “8,000 Bangladeshi youths had volunteered to fight for the Palestine Liberation Organization,” an announcement that came after Yasser Arafat visited the country that year and received a warm welcome from media and political circles.

The report also states that a few Palestinian military figures were also sent to Bangladesh to participate in training courses.

Today, there are few documented records in regards to the exact number of Bangladeshi volunteers in Lebanon, or a break-down of what groups they had joined.

Al-Akhbar contacted the Bangladeshi embassy in Beirut in regards to any information on this topic. Although officials at the embassy acknowledged the existence and history of Bangladeshi fighters for Palestine, they stated that detailed information was unavailable.

Similarly, the Palestinian embassy was a dead-end due to the fact that much of the PLO documents were burnt by the Israeli army during its ferocious invasion and occupation of Lebanon.

What lingers of these fighters are but Palestinian officials’ fleeting memories.

“There were around 1,000 to 1,500 of them. There were even some battalions that were completely Bangladeshi, but most of them were spread to different groups,” Fatah's secretary of PLO factions in Lebanon, Fathi Abu al-Aradat, told Al-Akhbar.

“I remember they were highly disciplined. They were known to have incredible will. When the Israelis invaded and captured some of the Bangladeshi fighters, they used to say to them, 'PLO, Israeli No' even when they were tortured,” he said. “They had great relations with the rest of the fighters. They really believed in the cause.”

Although Fatah was known to have a significant number of foreign fighters among their ranks, it was another Palestinian faction, the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), that was a major recipient of fighters, including those from Bangladesh.

The PFLP-GC, a far-left militant group led by Ahmed Jibril and backed by the Syrian government, had split from the main PFLP party that was led by George Habash, after a dispute over ideological and tactical issues occurred between Habash and Jibril (Abu Jihad) in 1968.

“They were with the PFLP-GC,” Ziyad Hammo, a PFLP official and member of the governing municipality of Shatila camp, told Al-Akhbar.

“They had a lot of military talent but they were mainly supporting services such as transporting weapons or guarding certain offices,” Hammo noted. “If they wanted to fight, they went to fight.”

“I remember three or four of them. There were two who were placed as guards in the Bekaa, and another one in Baablek. People really forgot they were Bengali, they spoke perfect Arabic,” the PFLP official added.

But the question remains: why are there very few accounts of these volunteers’ aid to the cause?

“In the PLFP, we try to remember these men. For example, the Japanese Red Army is very valued and we tried to recover and maintain that history. But with the Bangladeshis, I guess, there aren't many stories and anecdotes about them because their role was limited. At least for the PFLP, I can't speak for other Palestinian factions,” Hammo opined.

“I gather most of them left after 1982, once the UN sent its forces into Lebanon. Some of them died or were captured and later released, and perhaps a few stayed in Lebanon to live the rest of their lives working. It's been 32 years, and I think most of them got old. We all got older,” he added.

Kamal Mustafa Ali: the ‘heroic martyr’

On the outskirts of the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in southern Beirut is the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery, where those who perished struggling for the Palestinian cause lay. Among the many tombstones of Palestinians who have died since the 1970s, those of a few foreigners can be spotted. A few Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Tunisians, a Russian, a Kurd, and also one of a Bangladeshi man named Kamal Mustafa Ali.

The tombstone of Kamal Mustafa Ali in the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp. (Photo: Yazan al-Saadi)



“In the PLFP, we try to remember these men.”- Ziyad Hammo
There is no mention of who Kamal Mustafa Ali was, not even a birth date. What is etched on the marble slab is a Quranic verse from the House of Imran chapter. It states: “And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of God as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision.”


Below the verse is his name and nationality, and when and how he died as a “heroic martyr.” Ali died on July 22, 1982 during a battle at the Castle of the High Rock, also known as the Beaufort Castle, located in the southern Lebanese governorate of Nabatiyeh.

The castle, which is said to have been established as a military fortification site prior to the Crusaders’ arrival in the early 12 century – due to its strategically located position on a high hill overlooking a large swath of territory – became a site for many heated battles, quickly exchanging hands from power to power.

The PLO controlled the castle in 1976, using it mainly as a base to conduct resistance activities along the border, deploying around 1,000 fighters within its walls and surroundings.

When the Israelis invaded on June 6,1982, the castle was the site of the first major battles prior to Israel's push north towards Beirut. Even though the PLO lost hold of the castle in the span of two days – after intense pounding by Israeli artillery and airstrikes – the Israelis control of the castle was never easy.

The occupying Israeli forces were met with constant resistance by Palestinian groups, and then Hezbollah and other Lebanese resistance groups, until they were forced to retreat in 2000.

Kamal Mustafa Ali perished, as the tombstone noted, during one of those early attempts to retake the castle.

His body was only recovered in 2004, after an exchange deal between Hezbollah and Israel was brokered by German mediation. Four Israeli soldiers corpses were exchanged for more than 400 prisoners, the remains of more than 50 fighters, and a map of deadly landmines that Israel planted in southern Lebanon and the western Bekaa region.

According to the caretakers of the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery, Ali's bones were sent back home to his family in Bangladesh, and a grave was erected in the cemetery to commemorate his sacrifice.

It rests there side-by-side with other bodies and names of Palestinians and non-Palestinians, watched and cared for by Palestinian hands who do not know much of the man. It is the only remaining, physical marker in Beirut of the sacrifices made by Bangladeshi volunteer fighters for the Palestinian cause during the 1980s.

Addendum: Al-Akhbar has recently received the following response to this report from Naeem Mohaiemen, a visual artist and Anthropology doctorate candidate at Columbia University researching post-1971 Bangladesh history. His films include "United Red Army (The Young Man Was, Part 1)," about the 1977 hijack of JAL 472 to Bangladesh by the Japanese Red Army. He has been investigating the Bangladeshi Lebanese fighters and believes the officially reported numbers are "inflated."

He argues that, "Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib's attendance of the 1974 Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) meeting was a realpolitik move for the damaged, new state– aligning with the Arab Bloc was also a question of survival, via influx of oil dollars. His successor, the military government of General Ziaur Rahman, pushed Islamization (via Arabization) even further. The inflated numbers come from this context of wanting to signal a significant contribution to the Palestinian cause, and PLO commanders then replicated those numbers as part of a logical strategy of projecting internationalist military strength. Such inflation of numbers temporarily won the PLO a media war, but it also blindsided them about the potential scale of defeat during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon"
Hey man, take some time looking over before posting new threads... You have opened five new threads in the past 24 hours and all of them are on years old news which have been discussed before in PDF...
 

Major d1

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stupidity man stupidity . taking arms for others wars ?
Dn't u think its a responsibility for all ?

Hey man, take some time looking over before posting new threads... You have opened five new threads in the past 24 hours and all of them are on years old news which have been discussed before in PDF...
yeS. i HAVE OPENED 5 THREADS. But see the topics title.
 

Major d1

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Why do you say so?

Indians, Americans, Russians, etc did not fight for 'Palesine'. Why should Bangladesh?
What makes BD different from, say, Germany?
Bangladesh and Palestine has a good relationship . That is why they went to fight. USA and Russia when did ? As a muslim country we are always with Palestine.
 

Allah Akbar

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Why do you say so?

Indians, Americans, Russians, etc did not fight for 'Palesine'. Why should Bangladesh?
What makes BD different from, say, Germany?
Why should India will fight for the Palestine when India is the biggest arms buyer of Israel ?bdian fights for afganistan,Palestine, Bosnia, syria etc.We are muslims.If there is any war between you and us then surely the other muslims will come and join us.
 

Talwar e Pakistan

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stupidity man stupidity . taking arms for others wars ?
Pakistani militias have been in Armenia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Africa, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania...
 

Banglar Bir

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Dhaka must protest at Delhi’s insulting Bangladesh war narrative
Published: 14:22, Oct 04,2016 | Updated: 14:39, Oct 04,2016

India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar, while threatening Pakistan on Sunday in the midst of military tensions between the two countries, has made a very objectionable comment about Bangladesh, particularly its armed struggle for national independence against the occupation forces of Pakistan in 1971.

The minister claimed, as reported by the Times of India on Sunday and reproduced by New Age on Monday, that ‘Lord Rama won Lanka and gave it to Vibhishana. We did the same in the Bangladesh operation.’ Evidently, the Indian minister has referred to a mythical Ramayana episode in which Indian Rama’s force attacked Lanka, the kingdom of his adversary Rakshasa, for the latter had kidnapped the former’s wife, Sita. Rama’s forces eventually defeated Rakshasa’s ones, rescued Sita and handed the kingdom over to Vibhishana, Rakshasa’s younger brother whom Rama found a littler better than his elder.

The political message of the statement is clear: India attacked Pakistan in 1971, fought and defeated Pakistan forces and then handed over the liberated Bangladesh to its people. This is an absolutely ahistorical narrative about Bangladesh’s war of independence, which is extremely insulting to the country’s innumerable freedom fighters, martyred and alive, who all made invaluable sacrifice for the country’s independence. Bangladesh must protest against such an insulting propaganda about the history of Bangladesh’s independence.

The fact of history remains, a series of struggle by the people of East Bengal since 1948 for its political, cultural and economic autonomy eventually culminated in the East’s war of liberation against the neo-colonialist rulers of West Pakistan in 1971. The people of East Bengal won the war and established Bangladesh at the cost of enormous sufferings and sacrifice.

In the process, there is no denying, Indian political and military establishment, and, above all, its people, provided multidimensional assistance to the Bangladesh revolution. India’s strategic interest to dismember Pakistan, after all, coincided with Bangladesh’s aspiration for independence. For India, and many other countries, it was realpolitik to support the Bangladesh cause, out of which the people have definitely been benefited.

Indian troops had joined Bangladesh’s freedom fighters on December 3, 1971, which had definitely expedited the victory over the enemy forces of Pakistan, b
ut the Indian physical involvement in the war field, despite the sacrifice of lives of about 1,500 Indian troops on the soil of Bangladesh, was in no way the decisive factor behind Bangladesh victory.

AK Khandaker, deputy chief of staff of the Armed Forces of Bangladesh in 1971, says that ‘physical strength of the Pakistan forces had been exhausted, and psychological morale reached down the lowest ebb, before the commencement of the war [with India] on December 3.’


Khaled Mosharraf, a reputed sector commander of the liberation war, said in a post-independence interview that ‘the Indian army just walked in when we, the Mukti Bahini, had already finished the job’.

In rather a conservative analysis, the commander-in-chief of the Mukti Bahini, AG Osmani, said in a post-independence interview that if the Indian forces had not come into the war directly, the Mukti Bahini itself would have liberated the country within six [more] months’.

Evidently, it was the sacrifice of the people of Bangladesh in a long series of political struggle for more than two decades and martyrdom as well as sufferings of many millions of Bangladeshis during the nine months of liberation war that created Bangladesh.

It was not at all a gift of the Indian political establishment to the people of Bangladesh as the Indian defence minister has suggested through the Ramayana myth.


Bangladesh’s government of the day, which claims to be championing the spirit of the liberation war, therefore, has an obligation to publicly protest against Indian efforts to belittle the glorious role that the people of Bangladesh, particularly the freedom fighters, have played to achieve the cherished independence.
 

jahidus2005

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stupidity man stupidity . taking arms for others wars ?
yes cz we see them as a our another muslim brother , so we bengali feel for them when they are being opressed , unlike u guys who didnt hesitate to kill 3 million of my people who posed as a fake muslims on 1971
 

The_Sidewinder

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Pakistani militias have been in Armenia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Africa, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania...
Yeah, terrorising the whole world in a so called holly war based on religions.

Pure madness. :coffee:
 

asad71

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Bengali Muslim youth had fought for Turkey in its war against Greece and the West. They fought against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Also in Kashmir, Chechnya and Bosnia. Bodies of many martyrs had arrived from Palestine. Families still receive pension.
 

Saiful Islam

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Bengali Muslim youth had fought for Turkey in its war against Greece and the West. They fought against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Also in Kashmir, Chechnya and Bosnia. Bodies of many martyrs had arrived from Palestine. Families still receive pension.
Great Muslim personalities/shaheeds/scholars came out of Bengal but unfortunately if you're not Arab then you get tread on.
 

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