From a mural of Basel al-Araj in Nazareth:
بدك تصير مثقف؟
لازم تكون مثقف مشتبك!
واذا ما بدك تشتبك؟
لا فيّك ولا في ثقافتك
Basel al-Araj was 31 years old when the Israeli military assassinated him in his apartment in al-Bireh, Palestine, on Monday, 6 March 2017. A respected intellectual, community activist, and organizer, Basel was known for his knowledge of Palestinian history, leading educational activities for Palestinian youth, and his outspoken position against the Israeli military occupation and the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security coordination with Israel. Basel was a revolutionary who posed a threat to the toxic status quo reached between Israel and the PA, the two forces that colluded to murder him.
In the early morning hours of 6 March, Israeli forces surrounded the apartment where Basel had been hiding after his release from the prisons of the PA a few months prior. After an extended standoff, Israeli soldiers stormed his house and executed him at close range. Not long after the news of his murder broke, the Israeli military releasedfootage from a GoPro camera mounted to a soldier’s helmet, supposedly of the last minutes of Basel’s life. The release of this footage underscores the devaluation of Palestinian life. The Israeli military is increasingly deploying this dehumanizing practice of recording and flaunting its assassinations as a means to capitalize on the normalization of Palestinian death for propaganda purposes.
The theft of Basel’s life has left the Palestinian community reeling around the world. Palestinians, both in Palestine and in exile, are renewing demands for an end to the security coordination between the PA and Israel that facilitated Basel’s assassination, and the suppression and arrest of countless others. On 17 April 2017, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and the fortieth day following Basel’s murder, demonstrations will be held in 16 cities from Basel’s hometown of al-Walaja to New York City. The demands are clear: end the PA’s security coordination with Israel, and freedom for all political prisoners with an end to political detention by both Israel and the PA. On 17 April, over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from all political parties began a hunger strike to demand their freedom.
[“The Disgraced Authority”
On March 13, Palestinians and allies held a demonstration protesting the security collaboration between the PA and Israel that led to Basel’s assassination at the PLO offices in Washington, DC, in conjunction with parallel protests around the world.]
Basel’s Revolutionary Legacy
Basel was part of a grassroots movement that seeks to liberate Palestine and the Palestinian people. His outspoken stance against Israel’s oppressive rule and the PA’s complicity spelled trouble for the status quo, and stood in stark opposition to the path of fruitless negotiations and exclusively nonviolent resistance sanctioned by the PA. He was an active member of non-institutional community groups in the Palestine, and led educational initiatives such as lectures and guided tours on Palestinian history. Deeply committed to education and activism with an intellectual bent, he was heavily involved in the Popular University, an educational project under the Suleiman al-Halabi Department for Colonial Studies. The Popular University offers free courses on topics ranging from the British Mandate period in Palestine, to the history of the Black Panthers in the US, to the literature of the Palestinian resistance movement. His unapologetically radical politics spoke to a burgeoning popular movement challenging the apartheid one-state reality peddled by the PA and Israel.
In the days after his death, Basel’s mother articulated why the PA and Israel both targeted him. “They [the PA] do not want an intellectual. They do not want anyone who will tell them ‘no.’ They want people who will accept and succumb to the oppression we are living under. All of them [the PA and Israel] collaborated in his persecution.”
Basel, and the generation of Palestinians who reject the PA’s claim to leadership and legitimacy more broadly, present a thorn in the PA’s side. In March 2016, Basel and two other friends and activists - Haitham Siaj and Mohammad Harb - went missing from Ramallah under suspicious circumstances. Within ten days, the PA announced that it arrested the three young men at Israel’s request through the security coordination framework. Basel, Haitham, and Mohammad were held without formal charges for months, and subjected to abuse and torture by the PA. On 9 September 2016, and only after they went on an eight-day hunger strike, the PA charged and released them along with three other political prisoners (Mohammed al-Salamen, Ali Dar al-Sheikh, and Seif al-Idrissi). To guard against the security coordination framework under which the PA frequently hands over recently-released political prisoners to Israel for further interrogation and torture, Basel went into hiding immediately after his release from PA prison. Four of the other five were arrested by Israel shortly after their release by the PA and remain in Israeli prisons today under administrative detention, without charge or trial.
[April 17 is Palestinian Prisoners` Day and the day of action to End Security Coordination إنهاء التنسيق الأمني مع الاحتلال and free all political prisoners. A mass hunger strike began on 17 April 2017 in Israeli prisons, where 6,300 Palestinians are held. Their demands are an end to the practice of arbitrary administrative detention, torture, ill-treatment, unfair trials, detention of children, medical negligence, solitary confinement, inhumane treatment, and deprivation of basic rights such as visits and the right to education.]
PA and Israeli Collusion
The Israeli military raid that took Basel’s life occurred in municipality of al-Bireh, within Area A of the West Bank (and incidentally, where the PA’s headquarters are located). According to the 1993-1995 Oslo Accords, Area A falls under the full civil and administrative jurisdiction of the PA. Therefore, the Israeli incursion was either a breach of the PA’s limited autonomy or, in the likely case that the PA consented to the raid, was facilitated by their collusion. Both instances reveal the failure of the PA to protect Palestinian civilians. As Basel’s mother said after his assassination, “All of them collaborated in his persecution.”
The efforts of the PA and Israel to eliminate Basel have their roots in a twenty-three-year collaboration between Israel as the Occupying Power and the PA as the subcontractor of the Occupation. In exchange for short-term political and personal gain -- and a flow of international aid money -- the PA continues to assist Israel in undermining the grassroots liberation movement and delegitimizing any form of armed resistance. In 2003, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that, “The path of negotiations is our choice. There is no military solution to our conflict."
In the week after Basel’s assassination, Palestinians living in exile from their homeland around the world organized parallel demonstrations to those taking place in Palestine,where PA security forces physically attacked protesters, including Basel’s father. Protesters converged on PLO offices in London, New York City and Washington, DC. The demonstrators called for the accountability from the PLO for PA collaboration with Israeli assassinations. Only by confronting the immediate threat of security coordination and the PA’s subcontracting of Israel’s military rule can Palestinians begin to retake control of their own structures of representation.
Basel’s assassination is a continuation of the sordid Israeli practice to target Palestinian freedom fighters and undermine a national liberation movement. Targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders is a well-documented practice nearly as old as Israel itself (and has set a precedent for extrajudicial killings cited by US administrations to justify drone strikes). In the first Intifada, for example, Anton Shomali, a youth leader, was assassinated by the Israeli military for his organizing and leadership potential. Most recently, Israel is accused of engineering the assassination o fMazen Faqha, a former political prisoner who was released in the mass prisoner exchange in 2011 and a senior member of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. A long history of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders and figures precedes the killing of Basel.
Israel attempts to justify its asymmetrical use of force, killings, and targeted assassinations by framing all use of force by Palestinians as “terrorism.” This label is applied even when Palestinians are defending themselves. This dangerous selective application of the rhetoric of terrorism is an attempt to erode the distinction between attacks on soldiers and civilians while justifying state violence. The equation of Palestinian resistance with terrorism serves to legitimize Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian civilians. A stark example is the show trial and slap-on-the-wrist sentence handed down to the Israeli soldier who was captured on video shooting, execution style, 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif as he lay prone and injured on the ground on 24 March 2016 in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Rather than take concrete steps to combat Israel`s lethal use of force against civilians, the PA continues to collude with the Israeli Occupying Power, exacerbating the vulnerability of nearly four million Palestinians residing in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. To protect the lives of Palestinian civilians, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) - as the Palestinian people’s “sole legitimate representative”- must end security coordination with Israel and, ultimately, annul the Oslo Accords and their progeny, the PA.
Free All Palestinian Political Prisoners and End Security Coordination
The story of the alleged stand-off between Basel and the Israeli forces who assassinated him has become the story of resistance to an institution of aggression that includes the PA in its machinations. This June, Palestinians will have been living under prolonged Israeli occupation for half a century. Among a litany of crimes, the current Israeli government continues to implement policies of forced displacement, unchecked illegal settlement growth, killings, and mass arrests of Palestinians. Israel also pursues de jure annexation of 62 percent of the West Bank, as indicated by the Regularization Law it passed in February 2017 that sanctions the confiscation of private Palestinian lands by Israeli civilian settlers. Even the December 2016 UNSC Resolution 2334 condemning settlements, which passed with US support, is ineffective at thwarting these developments. Time and time again since 1948, the international community has proven itself incapable of holding Israel accountable to international humanitarian and human rights law. Meanwhile, Palestinians are punished for fighting for their liberation and denied their right to determining their own means of resistance.
Basel’s assassination is a grotesque example of the precarity of Palestinian life and the fiction of Palestinian sovereignty. He embodied a revolutionary politics and his refusal to surrender to the settler-colonial Zionist regime only renews the collective Palestinian determination to struggle for liberation and return. Basel firmly believed that in order to be free, one must think beyond self-promotion, and center love and respect of one`s people at the core of the struggle.
On 17 April 2017, Palestinians continue the movement to hold the PA accountable and demand freedom for all political prisoners. Alongside the mass hunger strike initiated by Palestinian prisoners, a necessary component of steps towards liberation is ending the pretense of the Oslo process that serves as a smokescreen to Israel’s ongoing disenfranchisement, captivity, and execution of Palestinians. Today, tomorrow, and until justice is served, Palestinians around the world raise their voices for an end to security coordination and for freedom for all political prisoners.