Theater child grew to vary into militant stars in Israeli jail rupture

JERUSALEM (AP) — For nearly two many years, Zakaria Zubeidi has been an object of fascination for Israelis and Palestinians alike, who possess considered his progression from a child actor to a swaggering militant, to the scarred face of a West Bank theater promoting “cultural resistance” to Israeli occupation.

Now he has emerged as one in every of Israel’s most wanted fugitives after tunneling out of a high-security jail on Monday with five assorted Palestinian militants.

Zubeidi, now in his mid-40s, comes from a generation of Palestinians who had been formative years for the length of the first intifada, or riot in opposition to Israel, which erupted in 1987. They lived by approach to a transient duration of hope on the height of the peace process, finest to soak up arms in the a ways extra violent intifada that erupted in 2000, and which claimed the lives of Zubeidi’s mother, brother and several other comrades.

However even amongst that cohort, few Palestinian militants had closer ties to Israelis than Zubeidi, who for heaps of years became as soon as a unheard of larger superstar in Israel than in the Palestinian territories.

To Israelis, he is a infamous terrorist accountable for suicide bombings and shooting attacks that killed civilians. He is also one in every of the few who usually gave media interviews.

“In many ways, he’s the poster child for Israelis of the Palestinian terror advertising campaign of the 2d intifada,” acknowledged Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired customary who served in Israeli military intelligence for the length of the riot. “He’s a Forrest Gump, assemble of. He played the overall roles.”

Among Palestinians, Zubeidi became as soon as staunch one in every of several mighty militants of that period, his name having lengthy ago former from the headlines. Now, he and the varied escapees are being hailed as national heroes for staging the superb breakout from an Israeli jail in quite a lot of years.

Zubeidi rose to prominence for the length of the 2d intifada as the chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah celebration, in the impoverished Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.

The camp, which is dwelling to Palestinian refugees from the 1948 struggle surrounding Israel’s creation, became as soon as the scene of a main struggle with the Israeli military in 2002. A mishandled explosive left a peppering of sunless scars on Zubeidi’s face, and he spent years eluding Israeli authorities.

A a ways younger Zubeidi appears in the archival footage of “Arna’s Younger other folks,” a 2004 documentary just a few formative years’s theater founded in the Jenin refugee camp in the leisurely 1980s by Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli Jewish activist who married a Palestinian and supported the Palestinian cause.

The movie, made by her son Juliano, follows boys from the Jenin refugee camp who joined the theater as formative years, finest to be drawn into the vortex of the 2d intifada as younger men. Of the five core participants of the community, finest Zubeidi survived. Juliano became as soon as gunned down in Jenin in 2011 beneath mysterious conditions.

In a 2006 interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times, Zubeidi traced his militancy lend a hand to the loss of life of his mother, Samira, who became as soon as killed by an Israeli sniper in 2002. His brother, Taha, became as soon as killed presently thereafter, as had been company and fellow fighters. The theater Mer-Khamis started, which before everything met on the roof of Zubeidi’s family dwelling, became as soon as demolished that year.

One other Israeli lady, Tali Fahima, also had an no longer going cameo in the drama. The respectable-Palestinian activist struck up a friendship with Zubeidi for the length of the intifada and met with him in Jenin. Israel arrested her in 2004 and she spent three years in jail for aiding a terrorist group.

Israeli media speculated the two had been lovers — one thing they every denied. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 in 2008, Fahima accused Zubeidi of collaborating with Israel’s Shin Bet security service after he secured permission to shuttle from Jenin to the West Bank city of Ramallah for witness surgical operation.

The intifada had begun to wind down in 2005 after the election of President Mahmoud Abbas, who is committed to resolving the many years-lengthy undergo negotiations with Israel. He seeks to set a Palestinian impart in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 struggle.

In 2007, Zubeidi availed himself of a customary amnesty for militants from Abbas’ Fatah celebration and joined the Freedom Theater, which Juliano Mer-Khamis had founded the old year to proceed his leisurely mother’s legacy.

“We’re searching for to purchase the Palestinian cause to the folk by approach to theater,” Zubeidi suggested The Associated Press in 2008. However he never surrendered his weapons to the Palestinian Authority, asserting even then that he did no longer belief the amnesty agreement and feared for his lifestyles.

In 2011, Israeli media reported that Israel had revoked Zubeidi’s pardon with out giving a cause. The Palestinian Authority arrested him the next year after a shooting outdoor the dwelling of Jenin’s governor. Zubeidi became as soon as released months later after a broadly publicized starvation strike.

He has led a quieter lifestyles over the final decade, engaged on prisoner affairs for the the same Palestinian Authority that had jailed him and discovering out political science at Birzeit College in the West Bank. His family scream he gave up militant activities lengthy ago.

“As lengthy as we’re beneath occupation, no Palestinian will abandon the struggle in opposition to the occupation,” Zubeidi’s brother, Yehia, suggested The Associated Press. “However there are a range of things, like age, a decision to purchase a rupture.”

Israel arrested Zubeidi again in 2019. He became as soon as later charged with taking section in two shooting attacks in opposition to Israeli buses in the occupied West Bank, in the course of which no one became as soon as severely wounded, and became as soon as acknowledged to had been planning a third. Allegations relationship lend a hand to the intifada had been added to the charge sheet.

His brother acknowledged Zubeidi did no longer acknowledge the charges and became as soon as waiting for trial.

He became as soon as held at Gilboa jail, a most-security facility in northern Israel staunch just a few miles (kilometers) faraway from Jenin. He shared a cell with five participants of the Islamic Jihad militant community from Jenin, four of whom had been serving lifestyles sentences on terrorism convictions.

Early on Monday, every of them squeezed correct into a slim gap in the floor of their cell and escaped by approach to a tunnel running beneath the jail partitions. It’s unclear what characteristic Zubeidi played in the get away, nonetheless he is the most neatly-known of the six — and is as soon as extra amongst Israel’s most wanted.

Kuperwasser suspects that if he stays at gigantic lengthy ample he’ll return to his mature ways — and no longer staunch the militancy.

“It’s harmful for him, nonetheless I wouldn’t be seriously stunned if he would survey for an opportunity to instruct with somebody to assemble some extra political clout from his success in escaping jail.”


Associated Press newshounds Aref Tuffaha in Jenin, West Bank and Jack Jeffery in Ramallah, West Bank contributed.

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