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Slain activist Basel al-Araj 'a representation of the soul of Palestinian youth'

March 7, 2017 5:53 P.M. (Updated: March 8, 2017 10:23 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Prominent left-wing Palestinian writer Khalid Barakat called Palestinian activist Basel al-Araj, who was killed by Israeli forces on Monday morning, a "representation of the soul of the Palestinian youth” and a “revolutionary intellectual” in a statement released by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on Tuesday.

“He saw the relationship between all forms of struggle, and he recognized the right and the duty to participate in all forms of struggle when possible. The act of resistance is not only found in the direct clashes and confrontations with the enemy; it is bigger and wider, and it stems from a political position, the culture of struggle, and the idea of revolution, along with the practice of struggle,” Barakat wrote, reiterating ideas often expressed by the activist during speeches held across the occupied West Bank.

Al-Araj was detained without charges or explanation by Palestinian security forces in April last year along with Haitham Siyaj and Muhammad Harb. The controversial case made headlines when the three men joined three other detainees in a hunger strike in Palestinian prison, amid reports of torture and mistreatment.

After being released in September, Palestinian activists had feared that Israeli forces would immediately detain the six men, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been widely criticized for its security coordination with Israel through what critics have called a “revolving door policy" of funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

Muhammad Harb and Haitham Siyaj, along with two of the other hunger striking detainees, Muhammad al-Salamin and Seif al-Idrissi, were eventually detained by Israeli forces and sentenced to administrative detention -- imprisonment without charge or trial -- while a video was released by Israeli media showing Israeli forces beating Siyaj in custody.

However, Israeli forces were unable to immediately apprehend al-Araj, as the months-long manhunt continued until the Monday morning raid, when forces from the Israeli army, Israeli border police, Israeli intelligence, and Israel’s counterterrorism unit surrounded a house on the outskirts of the refugee camp of Qaddura, where al-Araj was staying.

An exchange of fire reportedly erupted between al-Araj and the armed forces, in which the Palestinian was killed after running out of ammunition, according to witnesses and Israeli police.

However, some Palestinians have raised questions about the Israeli police narrative that it would have been difficult for al-Araj to return fire, owing to the fact that the house was completely riddled with Israeli bullets, while also highlighting that the man -- well known in his community as an intellectual and an activist -- did not fit the typical profile of a gunman.

“He was involved in all aspects of Palestinian struggle, from demonstrations to cultural work to resistance, working to transform theory into practice. Basel is a representation of the soul of the Palestinian youth who want to participate and become fully engaged in the process of liberation,” Barakat stated.

Al-Araj was dedicated to using knowledge and theory practically on the ground in order to create movements and change in communities. He often gave speeches at events in the West Bank to promote and encourage this intellectual form of activism as a strategy of positive resistance to Israeli occupation.

Barakat also pointed out al-Araj’s commitment to challenging all aspects of Israeli occupation and colonization, including becoming a vocal critic against the PA, which many have claimed was the main driver in the PA’s targeting of the activist. “For him, to be a Palestinian revolutionary intellectual, you must be in confrontation with occupation and struggle to bring down all internal Palestinian chains and blockades, as represented by the PA.”

“Basel is a representation of an entire Palestinian generation that finds itself today entering 100 years of struggle against colonization, occupation and oppression. And I have no doubt in my mind that they will succeed in liberating their cause and their voice, as they are providing examples every day for a new path away from the so-called peace process or the ‘Palestinian state,'” Barakat added.

“What we need as Palestinians today, more than ever, is cultured, knowledgeable freedom fighters. Because it is revolutionary knowledge that directs the guns, and not the other way around,” he said.

In his hometown of al-Walaja village in Bethlehem, al-Araj became well-known for frequently leading protests against Israel’s separation wall, which is set to completely encircle the Palestinian village while eating up large swathes of the community’s land.

“The loss of Basel al-Araj is shocking in some ways, and it is a great loss. However, it is also expected, in fighting against a brutal enemy that does not hesitate a moment from its daily practice of extrajudicial executions and assassinations against the Palestinian people,” Barakat said.

Following al-Araj’s killing, protests erupted in Ramallah, with mourners holding up pictures of the slain activist while referring to him as the "martyr of security coordination." According to Barakat, protests were also organized in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, most notably in the Nahr al-Bared camp.

In a final letter, al-Araj wrote before he was killed: “Now I am walking to my fated death satisfied that I found my answers. How stupid I am! Is there anything which is more eloquent and clearer than a martyr's deed? 

“I should have written this several months ago, but what kept me was that this question is for you, living people, and why should I answer on your behalf? Look for the answers yourself, and for us the inhabitants of the graves, all we seek is God's mercy."
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