Heroes are rare; they are tragic and inspiring at the same time. Such a real-life hero is Zakaria Zubeidi, 45, from Jenin in Palestine. A man of brawn and brain, of sword and harp, he was an al Aqsa Brigade commander as well as the director of the Freedom Theatre. Years ago, the Sunday Times called him ‘one of Israel’s most wanted and implacable enemies’. A cat of nine lives, he survived many Israeli assassination attempts; he had been in and out of jail many times; he got his first Israeli bullet at 13; his film premiere at 14.
A few days ago, he staged an audacious escape from Israel’s high security prison, together with five other convicts. They dug a 20 yard-long tunnel with their spoons, just like the Count of Monte Cristo, and emerged outside the walls, squeezing through a narrow communication channel. This brave, nay impossible feat encouraged the captive Palestinians and gave them a second wind when they were exhausted and desperate. The people in the Holy Land and the large Palestinian diaspora held its collective breath following their escape and prayed for them to reach safety.
It is normal for humans to empathise with fugitives, rather than pursuers. Young readers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin thus followed the plight of Eliza, child in tow, crossing the frozen Ohio River from bondage to freedom, escaping the murderous dogs and slave catchers. Alas, Zakaria never reached the safe shore. In the Dixie of the 1830s, there were courageous and noble white people who harboured the runaway black slaves. Germans and Russians, Poles and Frenchmen provided refuge for the Jews that escaped from the camps. In Israel 2021, not a single Jew offered the fugitives water and food nor helped a Palestinian runaway; everyone who saw them immediately informed police, said the authorities. In a few days, four starved prisoners were hunted down, beaten up and taken back to jail; two are still at large.
I saw on Israeli TV news four shackled prisoners in the court. Zakaria had been badly beaten. His capturers broke his ribs and jaw, while he was already handcuffed. His face was grim and stern like that of a suffering Christ before the crooked court of Synedrion. It was a sad sight, the return of the hero to the dark dungeons of the Jewish state. But then, he was born and brought up under the occupation. His story is the story of the cheated generation that came to the fore after the great betrayal.
In 1993, the State of Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo accords; this agreement certified by handshake on the White House lawn promised Palestinians full independence after five years of transition. The Jews reneged on the deal. While individual Jews can be honest and honourable; as a collective they are extremely untrustworthy. It comes from a Jewish superiority complex, of a refusal to obey the rules established for lesser species; of feeling they can do whatever they find expedient. Fair play is not a Jewish idea at all.
The Palestinians, swindled by Israel, had nobody to turn to; they responded by initiating the Second Intifada, the rising taking place in 2000. It was the pivotal event for Zakaria’s generation; for me, too. I was radicalised by the Intifada, by the dishonesty and cruelty of the Jewish state and by the courage of Palestinian resisters. In 2001, I began writing in English to an international audience; next year, in 2002, I entered the church, parting with Jewry.
The Jews became radicalised, too: The support of US Jewry for the 9/11 narrative and for the War on Terror can’t be understood outside of this context: the Oslo accords, reneging on Oslo, the Intifada and 9/11 are links of one chain. Before 9/11, Jews were condemned for reneging on Oslo and for the bloody suppression of the Intifada. After 9/11 they could smash the Palestinians with all their might. For young men like Zakaria even survival was problematic.
Zakaria deserves a Plutarch to write up his life, but I’ll do what I can, until a Plutarch comes along. Zakaria was born and grew up in the Jenin Refugee Camp, a place where the expelled Palestinians from Haifa’s Carmel were corralled in 1948 by the victorious Jews. His father was an English language teacher; he died rather young, leaving his widow and their eight children to survive.
Zakaria was 11, when the First Intifada began. It was a spontaneous protest, caused by the enclosure of common Palestinian lands and their transfer to Jewish settlers. Jewish lawyers, predominantly ladies of liberal persuasion, applied the English 16th century idea of ‘enclosure of the commons’ and claimed all commonly held lands as belonging to Jews only. In England this policy caused ‘enclosure riots’; as it did in Palestine. In response to Jewish land grabbing, unarmed peasants took the nearest handy stone and threw it at Jewish settlers’ cars. The Jews replied with fire. Hundreds of unarmed Palestinians were shot and killed. The children suffered most.
Boys like Zakaria lived dangerously in the camp. The Israeli army treated refugee camps as their hunting ground. They would drive in on their Jeeps and shoot around, terrorising children and grown ups. Chris Hedges, of the New York Times, wrote of their modus operandi in his Gaza Diary, published in Harper’s Magazine: “the refugee camp … is still and peaceful. Children play with scrap-paper kites and ragged soccer balls. Suddenly two IDF jeeps with loudspeakers pull up. They immediately taunt the boys with obscenities, luring them up to the fence. Then [a] percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than 10 or 11 years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me… The soldiers shoot; the bullets from the M-16s tumble end over end through the children’s slight bodies. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.”
Instead of being cowed, the camp boys like Zakaria took the danger in their stride. The daredevils would throw stones at invading jeeps like the 13-year old boy, Farris Odeh did. Farris was the Palestinian kid we saw throwing stones at Israeli tanks with the nonchalance of a village boy chasing away a ferocious dog. It was a dangerous game: the famous picture of Farris was taken on October 29, and a week later, on 8th of November, a Jewish sniper murdered him in cold blood.
In similar circumstances, 13-year-old Zakaria had been shot by a Jewish soldier. The bullet entered his leg; he spent six months in hospital and went through multiple operations. He remains lame to this very day. The soldier has never been tried or punished for shooting a child, but a Jewish soldier is practically never tried or punished for wounding or murdering a Palestinian child, and there are thousands of murdered children.
As Zakaria recuperated, his mother (who was a great believer in peaceful coexistence with Israeli Jews) invited a new theatre company to do rehearsals at her home. She gave them the upper floor of their house, fed them and helped them. It was a children’s theatre, performed by camp children and for camp children, organized by an unusual person, Arna Mer. This Jewish communist lady “betrayed her people” (as many Jews were prone to say) and married an Arab, an Orthodox Christian Palestinian Arab, also a communist, even a prominent member of Communist Party. They called their son Sputnik, as a sign of their love for the Soviet Union, the beacon of light for such liberation movements. Eventually Sputnik found his name too exotic, and changed it to ‘Juliano Mer’. He became a friend of Zakaria. Together they acted on stage; the company consisted of six or eight children. The theatre was called The Stone Theatre. It was around 1988-89, at the height of the First Intifada, the rising that convinced Israel to seek an accommodation and enter Oslo accords with Palestinian leadership.
Years later, Juliano Mer made a film Arna’s Children, based on their memories and video archive. It turned out that the majority of the young actors were killed by Jews by that time. Zakaria’s mother was also killed by a Jewish sniper, shot through the window, while she was at home. One hour later, the same sniper shot her elder son and killed him. Their house, which had served as a home for the Stone Theatre, was bulldozed together with many other homes in Jenin.
Jenin was the place for a Jewish onslaught on the Palestinians in 2002. Recently the Israeli court banned Jenin, Jenin, a film about these fateful events, but you still can find it on YouTube. Zakaria was a great fighter; he became the commander of Jenin’s Al Aqsa Brigade. He survived four assassination attempts by the Israelis: in 2004, they murdered five Palestinians, including a 14-year-old child, while targeting a vehicle suspected of carrying Zakaria. On another occasion they killed 9 Palestinians, but Zakaria escaped.
Zakaria became widely known and respected in the West Bank and even in Israel. He was befriended by Yasser Arafat; he supported the election of Mahmud Abbas, Arafat’s successor. An Israeli woman, Tali Fahima, came to Jenin to support Zakaria and serve as his human shield. Israel arrested her in 2004 and she spent three years in prison for ‘aiding a terrorist organization’. After her release, she converted to Islam having become totally disillusioned by the massive Jewish support for the bloody punitive actions against Palestinians. Zakaria, who spoke perfect Hebrew and had many Israeli friends, was also disappointed by the Israeli Jewish Left. None defended him during these terrible years, despite all the efforts of his late mother to build relations with Israelis.
However, the uprising was defeated. And Zakaria continued his struggle by other means, establishing, together with Juliano Mer, his childhood friend, a new and bigger theatre company, the Freedom Theatre of Jenin. It is still around, and even prospers, though Zakaria is now in jail, and Juliano Mer was killed by unknown assassins. In 2007, Zakaria accepted the amnesty offered by Israelis to the Fatah fighters, though by its conditions he couldn’t leave Jenin. He abided by the amnesty conditions, but it didn’t help him: a few years later, Israel rescinded the amnesty. In 2019, Zakaria was caught and sent to jail for life.
He would rot in jail like other prisoners, and every second Palestinian of his generation had been in an Israeli jail for some part of his life. But then, the audacious breakout brought his name back to our awareness. He returned hope into the hearts of the Palestinians and their friends, but alas, for a short time.
It happened exactly twenty years after 9/11, the event that empowered the Jews to smash Palestinian resistance. Nowadays, the Jews can do whatever they want with their captive goyim. People aren’t even allowed to object. At the recent Tokyo Olympic games, an Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine refused to pair with an Israeli sportsman, saying his support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against an Israeli. The International Judo Federation promptly suspended the brave Algerian for ten years.
In the discourse, the Jews possess an unassailable position, and whoever demurs finds himself jobless and castigated as a ‘bigot’. Every time I post an item about Palestine, Facebook’s Zuckerberg bans me for a week. Never was Jewish dominance so complete. Before 9/11, the right wing was traditionally anti-Jewish. Nowadays, the European and American nationalist Right accept the rules of the game. It’s hard to find a ‘fascist’ or ‘white nationalist’ who doesn’t worship Israel. The Jewish ‘left’ in Israel avidly supports the current Israeli Prime Minister Bennett who is as strong a Jewish chauvinist as has ever held this position; and Bennett says openly that Palestinians will never be free.
And we also have lost our freedom. Freedom to roam the land, freedom to have and voice our opinion. Freedom to refuse a dubious ‘medical’ treatment. What 9/11 started, Corona completed. We are all Palestinians now.
However, as I watched the stern Christ-like face of Zakaria Zubeidi in the courtroom, I thought that despite all efforts of the Synedrion, the suffering and crucified Christ came back to life. So will Palestine. So will the World. Resurrection is as inevitable as Death, and it beats Death.
Israel Shamir can be reached at [email protected]
This article was first published at The Unz Review.