“If you are reading this letter, it means I am already dead, and the soul has risen to meets its creator.”
These are the words with which Basil Al-Araj, a thirty-one-year-old Palestinian pharmacist, activist, and blogger, hastily began his final message to the world. He wrote it on a wrinkled piece of paper not too long before he was murdered by Israeli forces in the early hours of March 6, 2017 in a house raid turned shootout in Ramallah.
For months before his death, Al-Araj was being hunted down by the Israeli government. “The martyr Basil al-Araj was a freedom fighter, intellectual and theorist of the uprising of Palestinian youth. He was dedicated to a path of resistance, intifada, unity, return and liberation of the entire land of Palestine,” the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said after news of Al-Araj’s fate broke.
His extrajudicial assassination by settler-colonialist forces in a part of the West Bank supposedly under Palestinian control has sparked outrage among Palestinians in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and the diaspora. And this time, their anger isn’t being directed at Israeli security forces alone but at Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA), which is being blamed for Al-Araj’s untimely death as well.
In April 2016, Basil Al-Araj and five others were arrested by Palestinian forces on allegations of plotting a large-scale attack against Israeli targets. The arrests were part of a hugely unpopular security coordination effort that intensified between the PA and Israel after 2007, when the Second Intifada had simmered down. Al-Araj and his companions were tortured, mistreated, and detained without charge for several months, before going on hunger strike to protest their unfair imprisonment.
“That strike was a turning point for the Palestinian political prisoner, as it made dealing with the Palestinian police interrogator the same as dealing with a Zionist one,” Mohammad Abdullah wrote in a piece for 7iber [in Arabic] almost a week into the hunger strike in September 2016. “It employs the ABCs of resistance both here and there and sees in the differing form and name no excuse for confusion between the one and the other.”
Almost two weeks after abstaining from food, the prisoners were released on bail. Four of them were subsequently arrested by Israeli forces, so Al-Araj went into hiding. His absence from the youth resistance movement was glaring.
Today, those who mourn Basil Al-Araj grieve the loss of a national icon and heroic revolutionary. Al-Araj was a staunch supporter of the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and an outspoken opponent of the Oslo Accords. His articles were admired for their in-depth insight and strong support for Palestinian resistance against the occupying Israeli state using both pen and bullet. Perhaps, one of Al-Araj’s biggest contributions, however, and what has earned him the title of intellectual revolutionary, is his documentation of the most important stages of the Palestinian resistance movement, from the 1930s when it faced British colonization, all the way to the Israeli occupation today.
Al-Araj’s murder has sparked renewed calls for the end of security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli forces. Demonstrations have been organized both in Ramallah and various locations in the diaspora to protest his murder and the PA’s complicity in cracking down on the grassroots resistance to Israel’s occupation.