I met Mr. Palestine today in Nablus. Really.
‘Imad AbdulAziz won the title Mr. Palestine in a body-building championship in the year 2000.
As usual here, things get a little more complicated, even in a seemingly benign sport like bodybuilding.
‘Imad is 53 years old and he has been a member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) since his youth. As a consequence he has been arrested by the Israeli security services 17 times and he has spent a total of about 6 years in almost every prison in the West Bank and 1948 Israel. This also included a stretch of hard time in the outdoor detention facility in Israel’s Negev Desert.
‘Imad was never accused of any violent crime. The only “guns” he ever carried were between his elbows and his shoulders. Even now, somewhat past his prime, ‘Imad’s biceps are pretty impressive.
But under the Israeli occupation any kind of political activism was criminalized by the authorities. In fact, it’s hard to find any adult Palestinian man who has not spent time behind Israeli bars.
Like many, ‘Imad was repeatedly arrested under Israel’s “Preventive Detention” law. He recalls that once in 1985 he was re-arrested at his welcoming home party upon being released from prison.
He was also frequently tortured while under detention, including one time being shot in both legs and almost bleeding to death.
Somehow during all this ‘Imad managed to earn a degree in 1982 from An-Najah University in Physical Education, to marry and have six children – and continue to compete as a bodybuilder. In 2000 he topped the Palestinian team at an international meet in Baghdad, where he won the title of “Mr. Palestine.” He got a check for $10,000 from Saddam Hussein.
Since then ‘Imad has been the media spokesperson for the PFLP in Nablus, a position that has also gotten him in trouble with the Palestinian Authority. In 2004 he was arrested and detained for 17 days in a PA prison for speaking publicly about official corruption.
Today ‘Imad is the director of the Al-‘Amaria Secondary School. He walks with a noticeable limp from his gunshot wounds, but he has a sunny outlook, with a ready smile. And he can still make his pecs dance.