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In final letter, slain Palestinian activist Basel al-Araj ponders looming death

March 6, 2017 8:05 P.M. (Updated: March 7, 2017 2:52 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- In a final letter written before he was killed by Israeli forces in a two-hour shootout, Palestinian activist and writer Basel al-Araj revealed his thoughts over his seemingly ineluctable end.

Al-Araj, a 31-year-old activist and resident of the village of al-Walaja in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem, had been on the run from Israeli authorities since September, when he was released from Palestinian prison after being detained without charges or explanation for five months, during which he joined a hunger strike amid reports of torture and mistreatment.

Israeli police had accused al-Araj of being the “head of a terrorist cell that planned attacks against Israelis and security forces.”

After a months-long manhunt, Israeli forces surrounded a house in the outskirts of the Qaddura refugee camp, where al-Araj was staying, early on Monday, prompting an exchange of fire 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 possible for al-Araj to return fire, and have highlighted that the man -- well known in his community as an intellectual and an activist -- did not fit the typical profile of an attacker.

"Greetings of Arab nationalism, homeland, and liberation,” the letter, shared on social media by al-Araj’s family, read. “If you are reading this, it means I have died and my soul has ascended to its creator. I pray to God that I will meet him with a guiltless heart, willingly, and never reluctantly, and free of any whit of hypocrisy.”

Al-Araj went on to ponder the initial difficulty of writing a last testament, like many other Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces.

“How hard it is to write your own will. For years I have been contemplating testaments written by martyrs, and those wills have always bewildered me. They were short, quick, without much eloquence. They did not quench our thirst to find answers about martyrdom,” he wrote.

“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."

In a lengthy statement released on Monday, the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) described al-Araj as a freedom fighter, intellectual, and theorist, who was “one of the most prominent young Palestinian strugglers” to resist the Israeli occupation, and who “worked to chronicle the history of Palestine and confront all attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”

The group said the killing laid bare “an urgent need to confront all forms of security coordination, political arrests, and prosecutions” by the Palestinian Authority (PA), describing security coordination with Israel as “a betrayal” of the principles and values of Palestinian resistance.

The PA has been widely criticized for its security coordination with Israel through what critics have called a “revolving-door policy" funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

The criticism that took on a new significance after PA police beat a detainee to death last year, while Israel has been the target of widespread international condemnation for extrajudicial killings of Palestinians over the years.

“Loyalty to the martyr Basel al-Araj requires an end to the Oslo Accords, against which the martyr always struggled, and the formation of a new national strategy to confront the current challenges and unite the energies of the Palestinian people in the Intifada and resistance,” the PFLP statement added.

A spokesperson for Fatah, the ruling party in the PA, also condemned the killing and the injury of "the two who tried to face and prevent the raid," without identifying the slain man as al-Araj.

Fatah spokesperson Ziyad Khalil Abu Zayyad called the incident "another escalation (by Israel) against Palestinians," and denounced the "illegal" Israeli operation, describing it as a "hideous act of the occupation," and noted that pictures taken at the scene showed a large amount bullets fired by Israeli forces in the "execution."

Abu Zayyad warned against Israeli forces seeking to "detain and kill" Palestinians during nightly raids across the occupied West Bank, often carried out mainly in villages and refugee camps located in Area A, such as Qaddura which should be under full PA control according to the Oslo Accords.
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