It was his face that drew my attention. It was his powerful eyes, the look of pride in them. As I went through the local newspaper, scanning the daily reports, some of which reach the outside world, but the majority remaining in occupied Palestine, I came across his picture. It reminded me of the pictures I often saw in books and magazines that were for so long forbidden, books and magazines that were often hid in caves, stacked in secret places around the houses of Palestinians, books and magazines that were mightier than any weapon, books and magazines that published powerful thoughts for the sole aim of promoting Palestine, unlike those of today that publish “articles” with the sole aim of promoting self-proclaimed writers. It was the picture of a Palestinian hero, when heroism was real, and when heroes did what they did for one reason only, and for that reason only; to liberate Palestine. They didn’t do what they did so they can be mentioned in the news, in petitions, or in blog posts. They didn’t rush home to send newsletters saying: “I got detained, I got questioned, I am free, thanks for the millions who asked about me… asked about ME”, while hundreds around them were beaten and kidnapped unnoticed. No, that picture reminded me of a time when Palestinian heroes did what they did out of conviction, and for Palestine; people to whom the cause was the most important thing, and not the “I” but the “WE”. I started reading the text next to that picture, and every couple of sentences, I found myself looking again at that face and those eyes. They reminded me of the villagers working their land from sunrise to sunset, and I could see him working in the land, surrounded by his family, standing steadfast in the face of Zionist colonists… They reminded me of the workers, sweaty, tired and burnt by the sun, but their hearts beating strong, their eyes directed towards the coming freedom, and I could see him driving a bus from Hebron to Jerusalem, picking up school children, university students, workers, mothers, greeting them and wishing them a good day, travelling along Palestinian villages, greeting them, passing along those working in the land, during the planting and the harvest seasons, watching the tired but happy faces, passing along the Hebron hilltops, strong and lofty, embracing Jerusalem every day a dozen times but never getting enough of her…. They reminded me of those who fought the Zionists during the Great revolt of 1936, of those who sold whatever money they had and bought an old English gun to protect their homes and their lands from the Zionist colonizers who had come from afar to steal the land. They reminded me of the stories I heard from my father and grandfather about the events before the Nakba, during and after the Nakba, of the heroes with the powerful eyes, full of pride, knowing what they want and going out to get it, ready to snatch their rights from the mouth of the devil, ready to go through hell to liberate their homeland, for it is their right, heroes, full of pride, full of dignity and not waiting, never waiting and whining and never begging others, never begging the enemy, the usurper of the land, to “grant” them freedom and justice.
I finished reading the article, looked at that picture again, and tried to imagine what happened on 27.05.1968.
“Don’t you want to confess?”
The hilltops of Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well. The caves of Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well. The old houses, the ancient alleys and the old city of Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well. The vineyards of Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well. The villagers of Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well. The freedom fighters of Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well. Hebron knew Qasim Al-Ja’bari very well and loved him very much. The land was his home, his heaven and his haven. The land knew him and he knew the land, knew every hilltop, every valley, every vineyard and every stone. He knew Palestine and Palestine knew him, he loved Palestine and Palestine loved him.
The first time, they came and kidnapped him from his home, kidnapped him from the midst of his children. They tortured him for a whole month. They wanted him to give the names of resistance fighters, they wanted him to give the names of men who roamed the Hebron mountains in pursuit of freedom, men who chose not to wait and watch as their families got butchered and their lands stolen, men who were the eagles protecting the sky over Hebron, watching over Palestine. For a month they tortured Qasim, but not a word did they get out of him, not a single word.
Then they kidnapped him for the second time, on 27.05.1968. They tortured him again, and again, but knowing him, they finally gave up. They knew Qasim wasn’t a person to confess, he wasn’t a person to betray his people, he wasn’t a person betray his convictions. They knew they could torture him as much as they want, but they will never be able to make Qasim confess… they knew they can’t break him, ever.
They dragged Qasim to the helicopter. They thought if he was immune to physical torture, he won’t be immune to physiological torture, no one is. The helicopter flew up higher and higher, and with every new altitude, they would show him how far away the ground was, and would threaten to throw him from the flying helicopter, unless he confesses. They will never understand how a Palestinian thinks, how a Palestinian feels, that Palestinians are one with the land, can only be free when the land is free. They showed him the ground below, the stony hilltops of Qasim’s beloved Hebron; his heaven and his haven. They threatened and threatened, for they saw the death that awaits on these rocks below. Qasim must have looked down and saw not death, but life … saw not captivity, but liberation … he saw the land of his forefathers, he saw the land of his grandchildren, he saw his heaven and his haven … he saw Palestine, and she was bleeding. And Qasim refused to confess…. Again, they couldn’t comprehend how torture, how threats of death, were nothing to Qasim. For how could they? How could they, they who steal lands that belong to others, how could they understand that the land to a Palestinian is like air to a human being… How could they, they who expel people from their houses, how could they understand that a Palestinian house is not a house made of stone but a home made of flesh and blood… How could they, they who massacre children, women and elderly, how could they understand that Palestine thrives in the heart of every Palestinian, breathes freedom in the veins of every Palestinian, that Palestine is more than a “country”, it is the homeland, it is the home, it is the land, it is freedom, it is dignity, it is existence.
They couldn’t understand, and they never will….
As the mad threats of the Israeli occupation soldiers grew louder and filled the air, as they looked bewildered and in disbelief at this simple Palestinian worker fearless in the face of death, they realized what so many before them did and what so many after them did and what so many fear to say in public: “This is a people unbreakable …. This is a people undefeatable”. And as Qasim looked at his beloved land stretching below, instead of the screams and insults of the occupation soldiers, he could hear Palestine comforting him…. instead of the slaps and the kicks of the occupation soldiers, he could feel the breeze of Palestine, the touch of his mother….instead of the death printed in the eyes of the occupation soldiers, he could see Palestine, he could see life … It was what kept him strong, but how could they understand? They, who come and colonize another people’s land, destroy the land, kill its owners? How could they understand why Qasim didn’t fear them? It was beyond their comprehension … How could they understand what it is like to be free despite the chains of captivity? How could they understand what it is like to be alive despite occupation and oppression? How could they understand that it was them who were captives to their racism, to their hate, to their oppression ….How could they understand that they were the captives… they were the dead ones.
“Don’t you want to confess?”
As he looked into the blue sky and saw the sun shining over Palestine, Qasim could see his children and his grandchildren, one day, playing without fear in the alleys of Hebron, going to school without fear, farming the land without fear… he could see them and he could see millions of Palestinians returning to Palestine, returning to their villages and towns, giving them back their original names, building homes in Haifa, Acca and Beisan, praying in Jerusalem, raising the Palestinian flag on every hilltop from the River to the Sea.
After they pushed Qasim out of the helicopter, they watched him fall, they saw a body crash on the rocky hills below, they saw blood watering the land of Hebron. What they didn’t see was the eagle that left the helicopter and rose up high to embrace Palestine … the eagle that roamed the sky over Palestine and still roams the sky over Palestine, watching over the freedom fighters, the farmers, the little children… watching over Hebron… watching over Palestine.
Qasim was 36 years old, a father of 5, a worker who worked hard to provide food for his family, a Palestinian who refused to stand still and defeated while his land was being usurped, his rights denied, his freedom held captive. He was a hero, a Palestinian hero who knew that even if one falls, the rest must continue the struggle for freedom and justice and continue the march towards Jerusalem.
Alone during these last couple of weeks, many Palestinian families in occupied Palestine remembered their children who were murdered in cold blood inside Israeli dungeons, Palestinians extra-judicially executed by Israel after their detention, while they were captives, handcuffed, unable to resist and posing no “threat” whatsoever. These last couple of weeks, many Palestinian families and comrades remembered Qasim Al-Ja’bari, Issa Abdel Hamid, Mohammad Al-Khawaja, Omran Abu Khalaf, Farid Ghannam, Omar Al-Qasim, Ali Ash-Shahid, Samir Omar, Ahmad Jawabrah, Jasir Hasanen, Mahir Dandan and many others. They were held captive by the Zionists but their souls broke the iron of the dungeons that separated them from their families, their blood melted down the chains that held them captives for decades. They defeated captivity and became free, they became one with Palestine. And because it is mostly their families who remember them, who commemorate them, shame on us, shame on us who claim to love Palestine but forget her children… shame on us who commemorate everyone else sacrificing their lives for Palestine, and yes we should always remember these heroes, but the anniversary of Palestine’s very own children who sacrificed their lives for us pass unnoticed… shame on us who constantly demand the release of X and Y from Israeli dungeons because their “resistance” fulfills the prerequisites of opportunist and selective solidarity, but forget the thousands others whose resistance is legitimate and who are withering, forgotten, behind bars…. shame on us who commemorate those whose “resistance” is “acceptable” according to the categorization of the “West”, but forget those who exercise their legitimate right to defend their homeland and their children and their land with any means possible…. Shame on us for year after year commemorating X and Y and forgetting everyone else just because they are the simple people of Palestine, just because they sacrificed their lives and asked for no fame, asked for no price, asked for no poem, asked for no article, asked for no blog post, asked for no nod of agreement from non-Palestinians: “well done, you stood still while you were being butchered”….. Shame on us….
Since 1967, at least 198 Palestinian prisoners were murdered by the Israeli occupation forces while in Israeli detention; 70 as a result of torture, 71 were extra-judicially executed while in detention, 50 as a result of medical negligence and 7 being shot dead inside prisons by the Israeli prison authorities.
List of Palestinians murdered by Israeli occupation forces while in captivity: