Hassan Ismail: Communism is no Longer a Stigma

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I participated in the federation’s conference in Caracas after joining the teachers’ branch of the National Union of Workers' Trade Unions. (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar)

By: Faten Elhajj

Published Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hassan Ismail was 14 years old when the only drinking water spring in his village, Mais al-Jabal, was hit during an Israeli raid. It was 1966. That day he demonstrated for the first time in support of his borderland village.

Along with his schoolmates, he helped organize a protest that was forcefully put down by the Lebanese security forces. He ran away that day along with two other protesters to the village of Hula which was still recovering from an Israeli attack that had killed a woman.

“We went on foot to Hula chanting slogans about the state’s failure that we had stayed up all night composing. When we started chanting, the town’s residents joined us and began walking behind us,” Ismail recounts, adding jokingly: “At the time, we were accused of practicing Communism before we were Communists.”

Ismail and his fellow protesters were surprised that [former feudal lord and speaker of parliament] Kamel al-Asaad’s folks had labeled them Communists, accusing them of organizing a protest just so they could be written about in [Communist publications] al-Nidaa and al-Akhbar. The names of the two newspapers stuck in his head and the accusation triggered his curiosity about Communism.

Two years later, the young man joined the Teachers College or the “school for cultivating nationalism,” as he likes to call it. That period was rife with developments, especially the 1967 Arab defeat and the Israeli destruction of 13 Middle East Airlines passenger planes at the Beirut Airport in 1968. Ismail found himself involved in a democratic struggle to protect national interests accompanied by political activism at the Lebanese University (LU) and the emergence of a Lebanese popular movement.

The young student became politically active in his first year in college. He asked fellow student Munif Abu Shakra – who was in third year – to supplement his Marxist readings, enabling him to join the Communist Party in early 1969.

Ismail was one of the first students to join the Union of Lebanese Democratic Youth where he met comrades who honed his work in the student movement. “We worked on our leadership skills. We learned how to plan a protest, specify our demands and recognize the right timing for getting what we wanted,” he recalls.

The most prominent issue at the time was raising the value of the scholarships for students at the Teachers College and making suggestions to amend the pedagogical curricula in coordination with educational researchers and experts. Students at the Teachers College went on strike for 15 days to instate co-ed classes.

The struggles of that period did come at a price. “The college failed me in my second year and delayed my graduation a whole year – although I was third best in my class – because they accused me of leading student protests.”

After the Teachers College, Ismail’s appointment in elementary public education in 1972 was delayed a month and a half “as punishment for a strike I participated in that year,” he recalls. Ismail tells us how he tried to make it appear as though he participated in the 1973 teachers’ strike that resulted in disbanding the Teachers Association and firing 309 teachers.

“As far as the government knew, I participated in the strike, but I decided to secretly teach the students at the Blida Public School,” he says. Then the residents of the southern village “decided to beat me up at night for breaking the strike.” This prompted him to go back on his decision to teach the children.

When war broke out, union activism stopped and Ismail was pursued by the Education and Central Inspection Administration for political reasons and accusations such as having fought the Lebanese army and supporting the fedayeen (Palestinian guerrilla fighters).

Though Ismail escaped punishment by the disciplinary board, he did not escape the war unscathed. In 1982 he was stabbed in the back while defending Beirut and was treated for three years in Moscow where he underwent eight surgical operations. In the meantime, he finished his university education and eventually earned a PhD in Arabic Language and Literature.

During the war, the trade unionist along with three of his colleagues revived the Teachers Association. Their efforts gained momentum until “the teachers were able to reorganize the association in West Beirut and we got in touch with our colleagues in East Beirut with whom we worked on this project,” Ismail explains. The union spread from Beirut to the rest of the country and five associations were established, though they did not unite until last year.

Ismail then moved from elementary education to secondary education. He was a member of the parents’ association at the Fakhereddine High School when the school principal asked him to teach Arabic to two classes. He suggested teaching for seven hours for free as long as she covered him legally.

“We invented the partial substitution system.I stayed in my school but taught at a high school in my free time,” he explains. Around that time, Ismail sat an exam for the Civil Service Board, coming in first place among the contestants in Beirut. He thus succeeded in becoming a representative during the first year he joined the secondary education cadre, and he still holds that post today.

“I played a role in not allowing the association to be divided up by the political parties in and out of the government and I am proud that I am in a decision-making position in its administrative body.”

How did he become president of the World Federation of Teachers Unions? Ismail admits that he had not thought about running for this position given his legal status, as public education workers do not have the right to organize unions.

He explains: “I participated in the federation’s conference in Caracas after joining the teachers’ branch of the National Union of Workers' Trade Unions. I represented the union at the conference which was attended by 31 delegations from 24 countries representing four continents. I presented a rigorous, comprehensive and well documented paper about education in Lebanon that culminated in suggestions by all attendees to elect me president for four years as the president this time around should be from Asia.”

How does this position benefit Lebanese teachers? Ismail asserts that the position “will enable me to propose amending laws to change the associations to syndicates and support teachers’ issues in Lebanon and the Arab world.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

It would be much better if killers won't be employed as teachers. To the attention of the Lebanese authorities...

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