Research Project: Revolutionary Arabesque: Palestinian Groups and the West German Radical Left, 1967-1979
In April 1974, the magazine of the PLO’s Palestine Research Center, Shu’un Filastiniyya, dedicated an eight-page article to “the left” and “the solidarity movement with the Palestinian revolution” in West Germany. The author listed a variety of groups in the Federal Republic that supported the Palestinian cause, from the “League against Imperialism” to the “Marxist Student League Spartakus.” In the article, readers were not only provided with detailed information about the radical left in the country, but also with the historical trajectory of its relations to Palestinian groups. The text depicted, for instance, how the expulsion of Palestinians from West Germany in the wake of the attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games had created a moment of pro-Palestinian mobilization in the radical left.
The article in Shu’un Filastiniyya was far from an isolated publication. During the early 1970s, Palestinian groups penned numerous texts that focused on their relations to West Germany. At the same time, a myriad of posters, pamphlets, and magazines circulated in the Federal Republic, which promoted the “Palestinian Revolution.” These publications are a testimony to the bourgeoning ties between the West German radical left and Palestinian groups. The research project Revolutionary Arabesque by OIB Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow Joseph Ben Prestel examines these ties. It asks how the relations between West German and Palestinian actors were forged on the ground. From there, the project analyses how these relations contributed to transfers between West Germany and the Middle East during the 1960s and 1970s. It traces, for instance, the influence of Palestinian groups on ideas of anti-imperialism in the Federal Republic, or the movement of political concepts from West German student circles into Palestinian publications. In this way, the project aims at contributing to a global history of phenomena that have long been seen as the result of specifically national or regional dynamics.
The research for this project draws on archival sources, German and Arabic-language periodicals, as well as biographies and auto-biographies. These sources demonstrate that Palestinian migrants began to create a dynamic culture of political activism in the Federal Republic during the 1960s, which brimmed with associations, student committees, and magazines. In this context, shared spaces of interaction at universities and in workers’ housing gave rise to a group of actors who became pivotal intermediaries for the relations between the West German radical left and Palestinian groups. By highlighting the role of these intermediaries, the project illustrates that migration led to an entanglement between the Federal Republic and the Middle East, which had important repercussions throughout the 1970s. Thanks to the post-doctoral fellowship at the Orient‑Institut Beirut, the project builds on archival research at the Institute for Palestine Studies and the American University of Beirut.
Joseph Ben Prestel is assistant professor (wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) of history at Freie Universität Berlin. During the winter term 2017-18, he is a postdoctoral fellow at the Orient-Institut Beirut. He is the author Emotional Cities: Debates on Urban Change in Berlin and Cairo, 1860-1910 and an editor of the Global Urban History Blog.