Salah Salah’s uncle, Abu Ali, was the sheikh of their clan. After their family’s displacement to Sidon’s Ein el Helweh Refugee Camp, Abu Ali managed to negotiate the use of an unusually large tent to continue mediating grievances and consulting with fellow elders, just as he had done before they were expelled from their village in northeastern Palestine in 1948. Because Salah had received a formal education in Palestine and in exile in Lebanon, he was frequently invited to his uncle’s tent despite his youth to read newspapers aloud to the usual assemblage of clan and camp elders. The most important of these newspapers by 1953 was Al-Tha’r. The Beirut-based weekly’s call for Arab unity for the sake of Palestinian liberation, as well as its frequent references to the Palestinian Great Revolt of the 1930s and the dehumanizing conditions Palestinian refugees confronted in the camps, sparked lively conversation among the Great Revolt veterans who filled Abu Ali’s diwan. Salah, meanwhile, was so inspired by the content of the journal and the enthusiastic discussions it provoked that he persuaded the young activist who delivered the paper to bring him to whatever group was producing and distributing Al-Tha’r in Sidon. It was in this way that the seventeen-year-old Salah Salah joined the nascent Arab Nationalists’ Movement, the Pan-Arabist precursor to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and much of the Arab New Left.
By recounting a partial social biography of Salah Salah, this paper explores the lived experience of Palestinian political mobilization in the 1950s, a critical yet understudied period in the history of the Palestinian National Movement (PNM). Drawn from oral histories, memoirs, and published collections of party papers, Salah’s revolutionary story sheds light on several key dynamics shaping post-Nakba Palestinian political organizing: the connections between the Palestinian Revolution of the 1950s-1970s and earlier phases of the PNM; the importance of camp life to the development of the PNM; the universality of violent encounters with regional security states; and the centrality of core elements of daily life to the rhythms and reach of popular political mobilization. Further, the paper’s social biographical approach allows it to explore how processes that have characterized contemporary Palestinian history, such as recurrent displacement, state violence, and political repression, intersected with both everyday lives and the development of popular movements, illuminating how Palestinians experienced their political activities as part of daily life in tumultuous times.