Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 March 2006
Issue No. 787
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Freedom and humiliation

Throughout the history of resistance movements around the world their dream has always been freedom -- breaking the chains of prisoners, and coming out from behind the walls of prisons. But what took place last Tuesday in the Palestinian city of Jericho was an absurd scene many found difficult to comprehend.

The hero of this scene was the Palestinian resistance figure Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who Israel accused of involvement in the assassination of the Israeli minister of tourism, and extremist, Rehavam Zeevi, in 2001. An agreement was reached to imprison him with a number of his comrades in Jericho prison under American and British protection. Israel violated this agreement when it decided to detain Saadat and the Israeli army's bulldozers besieged the Jericho prison and tore down its walls while tanks began to shell it.

Perhaps Saadat wished or expected for his end to be an Israeli bullet or a missile exploding his car; an end any Palestinian resistance fighter expects. Israel violates agreements every minute, and while it left Arabs busy pressuring the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, to recognise it, the Israeli army were unleashed to direct a disgraceful blow to all Arabs and supporters of peace everywhere.

The awful scene was one of the resistance fighter seeking refuge in the prison and declaring on satellite television his refusal to respond to the demands of Israel to come out and surrender. The absurdity was what was important -- that the conscience of the world had so withered that this resistance fighter found no protection and security other than behind prison walls that became a twisted symbol of safety protecting him from the barbarity of a vicious occupier.

This strange situation revealed the extent of Arab impotence in measuring up to the force of the Israeli occupation. The Arab world, from the Gulf to the ocean, has shrunk, and is no longer able to provide a secure spot of land to protect this resistance fighter, or any other, aside from a mere 20 square metres within Jericho prison. In the end, all were forced to raise their arms and white flags and come out, surrendering to occupation soldiers after they razed the prison over their heads. It was a terrifying and degrading scene the Arab world will never forget. Added was the first scene of submission, at the beginning of that day, when prison guards and some Palestinian detainees came out in their underwear, their arms raised over their heads, following the orders of occupation forces. The echo of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was lost on no Arab.

Palestinian and Arab agreement to imprison Saadat was, from the start, sure sign of Arab impotence. No one explained that the killing of Zeevi was in response to the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa, the PFLP secretary-general, in his office on Palestinian territory by Israeli hands. It is clear that Israel wanted, through the scenario of abducting Saadat and his comrades, to direct a new blow to all Arab states. Saadat, and the PFLP in general, no longer play an effective and influential role in the political arena. So what other reason could there be?

Perhaps if Israel had done what it did in the 1960s and 1970s it would make sense. The PFLP, which adopts Marxist thought, was in those years one of the most important and most widely present factions of the Palestinian resistance. Yet this presence suffered a clear setback since the first Palestinian Intifada in the second half of the 1980s, to the advantage of Fateh, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel wanted to remind everyone, once again, that it does not bind itself to any rules or agreements. It acts in freedom and leaves it to others to search for justifications for what it does, the international community and the Arab world being equal in this.

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