Thousands attend funeral of Basil al-Araj, fugitive activist killed by Israeli forces

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Around 2,000 mourners marched on Friday in the Bethlehem-area village of al-Walaja for the funeral of slain Basil al-Araj.

Al-Araj, 34, was killed on March 6 during an Israeli military raid at the home where he had been hiding out for two months after he was released by the Palestinian Authority in October and forced into hiding by Israeli forces who reportedly raided his family home 11 times between October and March.

Israeli authorities said the political activist and philosopher exchanged gunfire with Israeli soldiers during the raid, resulting in his death. No injuries were reported among Israeli soldiers carrying out the raid, however doctors at the hospital which received al-Araj’s remains on Friday told Mondoweiss that his body had been riddled with 21 bullets.

Palestinians have branded the killing an “assassination” of a budding political leader.

Israeli forces held the body of al-Araj for 11 days before releasing the remains to the family around 3 p.m. on Friday. Mourners speculated that Israeli authorities released the body later in the day so that the funeral would end just at nightfall and clashes between youth and Israeli soldiers in al-Walaja and Bethlehem city could be avoided. Generally the funerals for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, considered martyrs by the Palestinian population, would happen just after noon prayers.

Scores of Israeli soldiers readied themselves for the funeral on the streets leading to al-Walaja, just inside Area C, a section of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli control.

Al-Walaja village lies on the side of a hill, just below the illegal Israeli settlement of Har Gilo on the top of the hill. Har Gilo and al-Walaja share an intersection at the entrance of both communities. At least 50 Israeli soldiers stood in riot gear at the entrance to the settlement, and along the route more forces lined up along the hill overlooking the march’s path.

The Israeli separation wall hems the main road of the village, leaving mourners to march along the side of the wall from the start of the village to the cemetery.

Mourners respected the family’s request that only Palestinian national flags, not factional flags, be carried at the funeral, due to Basil al-Araj’s firm stance against mainstream political parties. (Photo: Mondoweiss/Sheren Khalel)

Al-Araj was known for his alternative philosophy in regards to Palestinian politics, which he rejected due to internal divisions, collaborations with Israeli and general corruption. Out of respect for al-Araj’s beliefs, mourners waved only the flag of Palestine during the funeral, abstaining from any political flags, clothing or banners.

“Palestinian Authority get out, soldiers get out,” marchers chanted in Arabic during the funeral procession, along with “Palestinian Authority, your mask has come off” and “Dmiri where are you, where are you, here is Basil he took your eye,” referring to Adnan Dmiri, a PA security spokesperson.

On Sunday PA forces attacked and beat Palestinian protesters gathered outside a PA courthouse to protest Basil’s death and the detention of five of his friends by the PA. They were held for six months without charge or trial at the same time as al-Araj.

All five are now being held in Israeli custody without charges or trials and being charged by the PA separately for the “possession of illegal weapons.”

In response to the crackdown in Ramallah, youth took to the streets in Bethlehem’s Duheisha refugee camp, marching to a nearby PA police station, where PA forces again responded violently.

After photos and video of the two crackdowns went viral in Palestinian social media circles, Dmiri announced that the protests in Ramallah and Bethlehem were sparked by  “mercenaries” and “foreign agents” — eliciting anger from supporters of al-Araj.

Al-Araj’s ideology against normalization and security coordination is popular among leftist Palestinian youth. His success in eluding Israeli forces for six months, and then refusal to surrender when he was found, only made his ideas more popular.

During an interview on Sunday, Basil’s uncle, Ali al-Araj, 48, told Mondoweiss that his nephew was the kind of political leader needed by the Palestinian people and that the youth of the country will not allow his life to have been taken in vain.

“I think his ideas will only get more popular now after he has died,” Ali said.

“People say Basil had read 3,000 books before he was killed,” Ali said. “We have a saying in Arabic, ‘the educated coward and the uneducated fighter’—Basil didn’t want that. He didn’t think that educated people should lead from above, he thought they should be on the ground in the streets with the rest of the resistance—he wanted to be a leader of change who didn’t believe in this dichotomy—he was an educated fighter.”

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People sometimes ask me, “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” Answer: In exile, in an Israeli prison, or dead. And I ask, “Where is the Israeli de Klerk?”