Zakariya Zubeidi, Number One Most Wanted: Then and Now

My chance to interview Zakariya Zubeidi, then still commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades in Jenin, was nearly nine months ago.

On April 4, 2008, Haaretz reported their interview with Zubeidi:

…We’ve shut down the Al-Aqsa brigades and I haven’t yet received a full pardon from Israel…They lied to us, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The PA promised us that after we spent three months in PA facilities and if we didn’t get involved in actions, we would receive a pardon. The three months ended and nothing happened. We still need to sleep at the headquarters of the security organizations. They promised us jobs and they haven’t materialized either…They lied to everyone, they made a distinction between those who were really in the Al-Aqsa Brigades, whom they screwed, and groups that called themselves by that name, but in fact were working on behalf of the PA… Look, it’s perfectly clear to me that we won’t be able to defeat Israel. My aim was for us, by means of the ‘resistance’ [code for terror attacks], to get a message out to the world. Back in Abu Amar's day [the nom de guerre of Yasser Arafat], we had a plan, there was a strategy, and we would carry his orders…Everything that was done in the intifada was done according to Arafat's instructions, but he didn't need to tell us the things explicitly. We understood his message…Today I can say explicitly: We failed entirely in the intifada. We haven't seen any benefit or positive result from it. We achieved nothing. It's a crushing failure. We failed at the political level - we didn't succeed in translating the military actions into political achievements. The current leadership does not want armed actions, and since the death of Abu Amar, there's no one who is capable of using our actions to bring about such achievements. When Abu Amar died, the armed intifada died with him… our politicians are whores. Our leadership is garbage. Look at Ruhi Fatouh, who was president of the PA for 60 days, as Yasser Arafat's replacement. He smuggled mobile phones… We, the activists, paid the heavy price. We've had family members killed, friends. They demolished our homes and we have no way of earning a living… Lots of other people, as a result of the frustration, and because Fatah doesn't have a military wing any more, have joined the Islamic Jihad. Those activists are still willing to pay the price… And look at what the PA does to those who are keeping at it. If a PA person is killed in a battle with the Israelis, the stipend paid to his family will amount to NIS 250 a month, even though he had been earning about NIS 2,000. Why? So that he won't even think about carrying out terror attacks. This is the only plan that the PA has these days: Israeli security, the security of the occupation before the security of [Palestinian] citizens. When an occupation jeep comes into a refugee camp, the PA doesn't do anything, and if someone shoots at the jeep, they'll go and arrest him immediately. Today the president of the Palestinian people is General Dayton [Keith Dayton, the U.S. security coordinator]. They're all working for him, he is the boss. A PA no longer exists.

During my fifth trip through the West Bank, on July 23, 2007, I traveled to the Jenin refugee camp accompanied by a Melkite Priest, who informed me, "There are 2,500 Christians now left in Zababdeh and just over 1,000 Muslims and we have always gotten along. Whenever I have a problem here, I go to Jenin and get help there."

We traveled past the five years young American Arab University where medical and law students from Israel and Palestine study together. The priest informs me, "We are suffering now. The Israelis denied to renew the visas for the American teachers because they do not like them opening America's eyes. The teachers tell all about the suffering, hunger and anger of the occupied."

Jenin refugee camp is home for nearly 20,000 Palestinians who share one square kilometer of land. Within seconds of stopping the car on one of the winding narrow alleys, an elderly woman in the typical Muslim dress approaches us with a broad smile and immediately invites us all to her home for coffee and lunch. We gratefully decline as we are on the way to meet with 40 year old Krozow, number two leader of El Katib: the underground resistance movement within the Fatah party.

In English, Krozow translates to "good fighter" and Fatah stands for Palestinian Liberation Movement. I am shown the new Fatah logo that replaced the former depicting two hands holding two guns. The new image is of two hands, with one hand holding one gun and the other hand holding an olive branch in memory of Arafat's pledge at the UN:

"Do not let me drop this olive branch. Do not let me drop this olive branch. Do not let me drop this olive branch!"

Krozow was 16 the first time he was sent to prison for throwing rocks in 1985. He was released in '88 and resumed his resistance to the occupation and was sent back to jail from 1990-1994, when he was released under the Oslo accords.

Krozow greets us warmly and his beautiful smiling children keep entering the room to look at me, for red blonde hair is a rarity in occupied territory. Krozow patiently and lovingly hugs them all and picks them up in a bear hug and with a broad smile, deposits them back outside the living room door. He returns with water, and then after another child enters the room, he repeats the ritual but this time returns with coffee, the third time with orange soda.

He informs me, "Last week Israel and Abbas agreed that 232 persons here would hand over our weapons. We did and Israel agreed that they would not attack the camp. Yesterday the soldiers came and shot out the street lights. The children watched from the windows and saw it all. They also saw when the Israelis shot and burned up an ambulance and the man inside died. What can children think when they must see these things?

"The camp is a warm place because children dream of freedom. My son is 4 years old and he knows all about weapons. All his words are about the Israelis attacking us and Apache helicopters that drop bombs. Children all over the world get to go play outside, but here all they see are soldiers who come every day to terrorize.

"We are not violent people, but we do resist the occupation, as is our right. What if Russia came to occupy American, wouldn't you fight? I support Abbas, but he believes in negotiations, I believe in resisting the occupation. Abbas is the political Fatah, they drive Mercedes and roll up their windows and shutout the suffering of the people. I am dedicated to the people and to protecting them from the IDF. We are people under occupation and we would all love to have our children grow up free and live like children anywhere else in the world, who can play outside, go swimming and not have to see soldiers all the time. The Israeli's tell the world we are violent, but we are only against their occupation. What if Russia came and occupied America, wouldn't Americans resist?

"Hamas sends people out to Israel and targets civilians. The underground Fatah movement does not do that, we defend our home ground against Israeli forces. I take care of my family, home and community. I do not target innocent people.

"Last week Abbas told us to surrender our weapons and the PA would take care of the people. I surrendered all I had except for this one hand gun, for my personal safety against the Israelis. Every night I leave my home and sleep in the Mukatar [Palestinian government building in Jenin City].

"We have every right to live like the Israelis. My dream is for a viable Palestinian state, but they have cut up the West Bank and the only way to solve the problem is to give Palestinians the right to live like human beings everywhere else in the world, the right to our land, to move with freedom, the right to a good life like the Israelis.

"I have no hope for the immediate future, but I have hope for my children that American taxes will stop going to buy Apache helicopters that bomb them. My dream is that there will be a political agreement between Israel and Palestine and so all children can live in peace. Our relationship with Christians is we are brothers. We are looking to have peace with all the sons of Abraham."

I stand to thank him for his time and his mobile phone rings. It is Zakariya Zubeidi, the number one commander of the underground El Katib Fatah resistance movement and he has agreed to finally meet, in the proverbial "five minutes."

In Palestine five minutes can easily take hours, but I sit back down and Krozow brings the fruit out. After a forty minute wait another phone call and the message received is to leave the camp and drive to where Zakariya Zubeidi is staying that day.

The priest tells me, "Zakariya is number one on the wanted list by the Israelis. He is the top man in Jenin and spends his day solving many of the social problems. His mother and brother were both murdered by the Israelis and his three brothers are in prison. Abbas has asked for his support, for Abbas is very worried about Hamas. Hamas has a very different way of thinking and we don't hate them, but we hate the way they deal with the issues. No one is born a killer and violence only makes more violence. The stupidest thing Palestinians did was pick up weapons. The second stupidest thing they did was target innocent people."

We arrive in the home of one of Zechariah's assistant's who informs me, "My roof is higher than the roof of Oslo. Your government is controlled by the Zionist agenda. What Americans see on TV and read in the paper is controlled by the Zionist agenda and it is not the truth of what we live and what we are like and what we want. We are living an existence under occupation for 40 years now. All occupied people have been liberated, except the Palestinians. America liberated herself from Britain and we have every right to a free life. We are a resistance movement and Israel calls it terrorism, but we call it resisting occupation.

"The resistance has no strategy to fight Israel and destroy it, or end their existence. Our resistance message to the whole world is that we are people existing under occupation and we can only exist by resisting.

"The more powerful one is the one who must make peace and that is Israel, it is up to them. The weak cannot bring peace and we are not talking peace between nations but between governments. The Holy Land always had all three religions; this land is holy to all the sons of Abraham. Religions idea is suitable for one state, but the political situation doesn't make it possible. There is no disagreement between the Christians and Muslims here, but we do disagree with the Christians in the U.S.A. who do not come here and see the truth!

"It is wrong news that Jenin is a terrible place to come and visit. What happened in Gaza with Alan Johnston [kidnapped journalist] is not the true Palestinian culture. We are hospitable and it is not our culture to kill.

"My message to the American government is that Arab people do not trust you. You asked for democratic elections and you don't support the suffering people, you support only Israel. Palestine is a very holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims and there is no future for the West Bank if it remains under occupation. What we want is freedom from occupation; we want our land, water and refugee rights."

After coffee and fruit juice, but no sign of Zachariah who was still busy dealing with many of the social problems of the people of Jenin, I thanked the ten men who had gathered with me and my three escorts in the living room for their time and information. My driver with VIP license plates and I headed back to Jerusalem at a good speed until we approached the Wad Elbedar Valley checkpoint. The line of cars extended around the mountain and none were moving. But, my VIP driver passed them all and maneuvered in front of the first car in line. We were almost immediately waved into the checkpoint area and after the usual questions of where I am from and why had I come through occupied territory, the soldier handed me back my American passport and as usual (for I help pay his salary), "Welcome to Israel. Have a nice day."

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at ecumei@gmail.com. Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.