Mahmoud Darwish, Leila Khaled, Yasser Arafat.
These are some of the names that usually come to mind when discussing Palestinian social justice heroes.
But there’s another Palestinian revolutionary, born thousands of miles away from his family’s homeland, who merits the same attention. His name was Schafik Handal.
Handal, the son of Palestinian immigrants, was born on Oct. 14, 1930, in Usulutan, El Salvador.
Two years after his birth, one of the country’s darkest and most important historical events took place — “La Matanza,” translated as “The Slaughter.” The United States-backed military government massacred tens of thousands of mostly Indigenous campesinos who rose up against growing social inequality. Salvadoran Communist Party founder Farabundo Marti led the rebellion and was assassinated shortly thereafter.
This event had a tremendous impact on Handal’s political outlook as he grew older and experienced firsthand the legacy of repression it created in El Salvador. Social inequality escalated, right-wing Salvadoran troops became better-armed, and crackdowns on left-wing movements intensified. But this didn’t stop Handal from standing up for justice.
In 1950, he joined the outlawed Communist Party of El Salvador, organizing workers, students, and peasants against the incumbent right-wing regime. Thirty years later, he co-founded the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, FMLN, named after his childhood hero, to combat a Salvadoran military government that came to power through a coup d’etat.
During the civil war, the military government murdered over 800 campesinos in the 1981 El Mozote Massacre, in what is now recognized as the worst crime in the nation’s more than 12 years of civil war. Despite the massacre, the FMLN, under Handal’s command, liberated several departments across the country in a nationwide guerilla warfare campaign.
In 1992, both sides signed a truce, ending the Salvadoran Civil War. Shortly after, Handal helped to established the FMLN as a legal socialist political party in the country, even running for president in 2004. Although he lost, he remained active within the party, laying the groundwork for party colleagues Mauricio Funes and Salvador Sanchez to win the Salvadoran presidency in 2009 and 2014 respectively.
Handal died of a heart attack on January 24, 2006.
This year, on the 11th anniversary of his death, the ruling FMLN party is launching the Institute Association of Schafik Handal, Prensa Latina reports. The Institute, hosted at the Central American University Jose Simeon Cañas, is dedicated to preserving his legacy.
While most of Handal’s credentials are specific to El Salvador’s history, he remains a revolutionary of Palestinian origin who deserves to be recognized alongside other greats like Khaled and Arafat.