(Author’s name withheld)
The film Arna’s Children deals with the children of the Freedom Theatre run by Arna Mer Khamis in the Jenin refugee camp in the 1990s. If you look up the Hebrew Wikipedia entry for film it states that “the film tells the story of the group members growing up. It describes how many of the group’s members turned from smiling children to angry youth and then to determined warriors, many of whom were killed. “ One of them was Zakaria Zuabeidi.
Check out Zakaria Zubeidi’s own entry in the same Hebrew Wikipedia and the first sentence is “Zakaria Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Zubidi (Arabic: ريا محمد عبد الرحمن الزبيدي); born 1976 is a Palestinian terrorist.”
There is something unbearable in this disparity between these two descriptions, of the smiling boy who became an angry youth and later a determined warrior on the one hand, and this code word, “terrorist”, after which no Israeli is required to apply their mind, let alone their heart or conscience. Perhaps it is because as long as the Palestinians are figures in a work of art, like a film for example, Israelis are willing to attribute human qualities to them, even of heroism, but when they operate in real life and become flesh and blood figures then their heroism very quickly becomes terrorism in the eyes of Israelis.
Zakaria Zubeidi is a hero. Not only because he fought for his people’s liberation, but because every Palestinian who survives the life of the Occupation and insists on living is a hero, even without picking up a single stone. That assessment of how that smiling boy in the movie, the one whose family donated the second floor of their home for rehearsals of the Freedom Theatre’s rehearsals and then his brother and mother were killed by the military, to the heroic, tragic, impossible life trajectory in which he ended up — that self-introspection must be made by us Israelis. We who in two days’ time on Yom Kippur would be seeking forgiveness from each other for any real or imagined harm; we who would be praying to be signed in the Book of Life, but it does not occur to us to get down on our knees and ask forgiveness from the millions of Palestinians we trample upon,. It doesn’t occur to us to repent and stop signing them in the Book of the Dead.
Instead of watching the bloodthirsty commentators on the news, I’d recommend watching this film again and the tragic fate of all its protagonists, not just Zakaria Zubeidi.
Take for example, Yusef, who during the Second Intifada encountered an Israeli tank shell which passed through the school’s wall and landed in the middle of a children’s class. Yusef found himself carrying a little girl in his arms who died within a few minutes. According to the testimony of his associates, has completely changed since this incident, he stopped smiling and laughing and seems to have lost interest in life. He then joined the ranks of Islamic Jihad, though he was completely secular, received weapons from them and travelled with a friend to the Israeli coastal town of Hadera, where they opened fire, killing four people and injuring about 30 people. Police officers who arrived at the scene shot and killed them both.
Or Ashraf, the sweet kid in the film, who was a key actor in the theatre group. There is a scene in the film, after the army destroyed the house of his neighbour Ala, and the boy Ashraf tries to dig out objects for his friend from the rubble. His friend Ala describes in the film the death of Ashraf when he fought against the army forces in the battle for Jenin in 2002 and was killed. The building which served the members of the group as a theatre was used by the militants in Jenin as a fighting position where Ashraf was killed.
Or Ala himself, whose house was destroyed by the army as a child. The film has a scene where Ala testifies to himself that he will not be caught and that he will be “free or in the grave”. The next scene shows his charred body in the hospital, surrounded by grieving friends and family, after he was shot by military forces in November 2002, two weeks after the birth of his eldest son.
And of course, Zubeidi himself. In one scene in the film he snaps at his friends “I will never hand myself over! Never!”. And really he did not hand himself over, but was apprehended by the police of a wretched and cowardly regime but which is armed to the hilt, calling this sadistic and ongoing abuse a “security need,” and the pursuit of these freedom fighters “heroism.”