Zakaria Muhammad 'Abdelrahman Zubeidi (Arabic: زكريا محمد عبد الرحمن الزبيدي; other spellings include Zakariyah Zbeidi, Zacharia and Zubaidi) (born 1976) is a former Palestinian militant leader, who recently ended his years on Israel's most-wanted list by handing over his guns to the Palestinian National Authority and accepting Israeli amnesty. On 28 December 2011, however, Israel rescinded Zubeidi's pardon. He had been the Jenin chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and alleged to be a chief strategist of suicide bombers by the Israeli government. However, in mid-2007, he renounced militancy and committed himself to cultural resistance through theater. He is considered a "symbol of the Intifada". Zubeidi is currently married with two children—a son, Muhammad, and a daughter.
Zubeidi's father, Muhammad, had been an English teacher, but was prevented from teaching by the Israelis after he was convicted of Fatah membership in the late 1960s. He worked instead as a labourer in an Israeli iron foundry, did some private teaching on the side, and became a peace activist. The first Israeli Zubeidi had ever met was the soldier who came to take away his father for alleged membership of Fatah. His father died of cancer, leaving Zubeidi's mother Samira to raise their eight children alone.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the First Intifada, Israeli human rights activist Arna Mer-Khamis opened a children's theater in Jenin, "Arna's House", to encourage understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Dozens of Israeli volunteers ran the events, and Samira, believing that peace was possible, offered the top floor of the family house for rehearsals. Zubeidi, then aged 12, his older brother Daoud, and four other boys around the same age formed the core of the troupe.
Zubeidi attended the UNRWA school in Jenin Refugee Camp, and by all accounts was a good student. In 1989, at age 13, he was shot in the leg as he threw stones at Israeli soldiers. He was hospitalised for six months and underwent four operations, but was left permanently affected, with one leg shorter than the other and a noticeable limp. At age 15, he was arrested for the first time (again for throwing stones) and jailed for six months. At that time he had become the representative of the other child prisoners to the governor. He dropped out of high school in his first year after being released. Soon after, he was arrested again for throwing Molotov cocktails and imprisoned for 4 and a half years. In prison, he learned Hebrew, and became politically active, joining Fatah.
On release after the 1993 Oslo Accords, he joined the Palestinian Authority's Palestinian Security Forces He became a sergeant, but left, disillusioned, after a year, complaining: "There were colleagues whom I had taught to read who were promoted to senior positions because of nepotism and corruption."
He went to work illegally in Israel, and for two years earned a good living as a contractor for home renovations in Tel Aviv and Haifa. He was eventually arrested in Afula and after being briefly imprisoned for working without a permit, deported back to Jenin. With his path to work in Israel blocked, Zubeidi turned to auto theft. In 1997, he was caught with a stolen car, and was given a fifteen-month sentence. He served the time, was released and returned to the camp. He became a truck driver in Jenin, transporting flour and olive oil, but in September 2000 lost his job when the West Bank was sealed off due to the Second Intifada.
Leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades
Battle of Jenin
Zubeidi himself traces his entry into armed militancy back to late 2001 when, after the killing of a close friend, he learned to become a bombmaker. Then, on 3 March 2002, one month before the main assault on the refugee camp, his mother was killed during an Israeli raid into Jenin. She had taken refuge in a neighbor's home and was shot by an IDF sniper who targeted her as she stood near a window. She subsequently bled to death. Zubeidi's brother Taha was also killed by soldiers shortly afterward. A month later, a suicide bomber from Jenin killed 29 Israelis. The Israeli Army then launched a full-scale offensive in the Jenin refugee camp, demolishing hundreds of homes, leaving 2,000 homeless. Ten days of fighting ensued after which 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers were dead.
On top of his grief for his family and friends, Zubeidi was greatly embittered by the fact that none of the Israelis who had accepted his mother's hospitality, and whom he had thought were his friends, tried to contact him. In a 2006 interview he stated angrily, "You took our house and our mother and you killed our brother. We gave you everything and what did we get in return? A bullet in my mother’s chest. We opened our home and you demolished it. Every week, 20-30 Israelis would come to do theatre there. We fed them. And afterward, not one of them picked up the phone. That is when we saw the real face of the left in Israel." The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades may reach peace with Israel, he says, but he won’t personally. He won’t forgive the killing of his mother and brother and the razing of his house.
Losing hope in the Israeli peace camp, he joined the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed wing of Fatah. Arna's son, Israeli actor Juliano Mer-Khamis, did return to Jenin in 2002 and looked for the boys who had been in the theater group. Zubeidi had turned to armed resistance, Daoud was sentenced to 16 years in prison for militant activities, and the other four were dead. In 2004, Mer-Khamis completed a documentary film about the group, Arna's Children. Zubeidi's face was slightly disfigured by fragments of shrapnel from a bomb that he mishandled in 2003.
Power-broker of Jenin
He took responsibility for a bombing in Tel Aviv that killed one woman and injured more than 30 in June 2004. During this period, he was considered the primary power-broker and most powerful man in Jenin. Zubeidi was de facto in charge of law and order in the city. He viewed the PA security forces as having little presence other than "disturbing traffic." Although he developed a friendly relationship with the former Palestinian president and Fatah head, Yasser Arafat, recalling him saying "'Zakaria, buddy, I love you, we're marching to Jerusalem!'", Zubeidi also stated "I don't take orders from anyone. I'm not good at following." At the time, he was enthusiastic about the intifada, dismissing the view of Palestinians who wanted to end it and warned the new generation of Palestinians would "fight better".
Four attempts by Israel have been made to assassinate him. In one such attempt, in 2004, an Israeli police unit killed five other brigade members, including a 14-year old boy, in a jeep carrying Zubeidi. On November 15, following Arafat's death, Israeli forces launched an incursion in Jenin to kill him, but he evaded them; in the raid, nine Palestinians were killed, including four civilians and his deputy, "Alaa". An arms cache was also found. Prior to these incidents, another attempt was undertaken by a Palestinian; Zubeidi had his hands broken as a punishment.
Zubeidi was at the center of controversy in 2004 when Tali Fahima, an Israeli legal secretary, was imprisoned because of her contacts with him. She was accused of preventing his arrest by the IDF by translating a document for him. Both of them deny allegations that they had a romantic relationship. He stated that year, "The intifada is in its death throes. These are the final stages.... Not only was the intifada a failure, but we are a total failure. We achieved nothing in 50 years of struggle; we've achieved only our survival."
Elections and renewed conflict with Israel
During the Palestinian presidential elections in 2004, Zubeidi initially endorsed Marwan Bargouti, but due to Barghouti's imprisonment, he soon decided to give his support for Mahmoud Abbas who won the election. The two were in contact with each other and Zubeidi, despite being considered a loose cannon and dangerously outspoken, appreciated Abbas' "subdued no-nonsense style." In December 2004, Israeli sources criticized Abbas for meeting Zubeidi. Despite his willingness to agree with Abbas' election to the presidency, Zubeidi still said he did not trust Abbas with the Palestinians' national constants which to him were the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. According to him Arafat was the only figure who could fulfill those aspirations, claiming this was "why he was poisoned... why Israel killed him."
In September 2005 he declared that his group's cease-fire was at an end after Samer Saadi and two other militants were killed by Israeli forces in Jenin. Nevertheless, around this time Zubeidi told a Swedish nurse named Jonatan Stanczak that he wanted to re-establish his links with the Jewish peace movement. The way he spoke of Arna's project led Stanczak to contact Mer-Khamis and within six months they re-established the Freedom Theater in Jenin, which opened in February 2006. On July 6, 2006, the IDF attempted to capture Zubeidi at a funeral, but he escaped after an exchange of gunfire.
On July 15, 2007, the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister announced that Israel would include Zubeidi in an amnesty offered to militants of Fatah's al-Aqsa-Brigades. As of 2008, he was hired by Juliano Mer-Khamis (now deceased) as director of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, where children can study theatre and experience the growing art and music culture surrounding the Palestine International Film festivals.
In an interview on April 4, 2008, he stated that he still did not receive a full pardon by Israel, blaming the PA for "lying" to him. He continued to sleep at the PA's Jenin headquarters and received a salary of 1,050 NIS instead of previous 2000 NIS. Asked why he stopped fighting even when he did not receive a full pardon, Zubeidi answered "because of the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. Look, it's perfectly clear to me that we won't be able to defeat Israel. My aim was for us, by means of the resistance, to get a message out to the world. Back in Abu 'Ammar's day, we had a plan, there was a strategy, and we would carry his orders... now there's no one capable of using our actions to bring about... achievements." Zubeidi criticized the PA leadership, saying "they are whores. Our leadership is garbage." Faced with the question of whether or not he admitted defeat he claimed "Even [late Egyptian president] Gamal Abdel Nasser admitted his defeat, so why not me?"
Prior to Fatah's Sixth Conference in August 2009, Zubeidi called for fellow Fatah to adopt a program of resistance in case peace negotiations with Israel fail and lead to a Third Intifada. Although he was accredited as a Fatah delegate, one of 2,000, to the conference in Bethlehem, Zubeidi was momentarily refused entry to the meeting hall, resulting in condemnations by al-Aqsa Brigade members in Nablus and Jenin, as well as those outside of the Palestinian territories, who described the move as "stabbing the resistance in the back." Fatah officials allowed him to attend on August 5, 2009. The PA was also asked by brigade members to ensure Zubeidi's safety from Bethlehem back to Jenin. A number of right-wing Israeli Knesset members submitted a petition to the Israeli military court on August 6 calling for the arrest of Zubeidi because his "hands have Israeli blood [on them]," despite being granted amnesty. Giving a speech at the conference the same day, Zubeidi suggested the Fatah-ruled West Bank reunite with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip through force, if necessary. He criticized the "old leadership," condemning them for failing the Palestinian people, saying "During 18 years of negotiations [under Fatah], no hope has been created." Zubeidi suggested a younger generation of Palestinians should lead Fatah.
Cancelling of amnesty
On December 29, 2011, Israel rescinded Zubeidi's pardon for unstated reasons. Zubeidi stated to Ma'an News Agency that he had not violated any of the conditions of his amnesty. He was advised by PA security officials to turn himself in to Palestinian custody lest he be arrested by Israel's security forces. A week before Zubeidi was notified about the cancellation of his amnesty, his brother had been arrested by the PA.
Zubeidi was imprisoned without charge by the Palestinian Authority from May to October 2012.
- Toomey, Christine. Discussing the politics of murder: Christine Toomey was invited to lunch with one of Israel’s most wanted and implacable enemies, Zakaria Zubeidi, whose disciples are trained in the cause of martyrdom. The Sunday Times. 2006-06-11.
- A Palestinian Intifada Icon Chooses Art over War, 22 February 2008, National Public Radio
- Issacharoff, Avi. 'Marching toward total ruin'. Haaretz. 2008-04-04.
- Prusher, Ilene. Arafat faces generational crisis, A Palestinian power struggle is epitomized by the young man who runs Jenin. Christian Science Monitor. 2004-07-21.
- Peraino, Kevin. A Militant's Allegiance, Jenin's brash Al Aqsa leader likes Abu Mazen's quiet style. Newsweek. 2006-02-07.
- Usher, Graham. 'We are at war', There are some -- including in his Fatah movement -- who see Yasser Arafat's death as an opportunity for change. Not so Zakaria Zubeidi, leader of the Al-Aqsa Brigades in the northern West Bank. Al-Ahram Weekly. 2004-11-25.
- Gutman, Matthew (2004-08-04). "Aqsa Brigades Leader: Intifada in Its Death Throes". Jerusalem Post.
- Militants 'end West Bank truce'. BBC News. 2005-09-25. Retrieved 2007-04-09.
- Opening of the Freedom Theatre. 2006-02-19.
- Haaretz report, no longer available on-line. The Haaretz article cannot be found at archive.org either. There is a reference to the incident on http://umkahlil.blogspot.com/2006_07_01_archive.html which refers to a report the next day by the Palestine Centre for Human Rights, naming a 16-year old Palestinian Ahmad Eid Ibrahim Naghnagheya who died in or after the attack.
- Fatah men turn in their guns; amnesty for Zbeidi, Haaretz. 2007-07-15. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- The Freedom Theatre: About Us. The Freedom Theatre Official Website.
- Zakariya Zubeidi: Fatah must adopt "program of resistance". Ma'an News Agency. 2009-08-04.
- Former fighter Zubeidi barred from Fatah conference. Ma'an News Agency. 2009-08-05.
- Right-wing Israelis want Fatah men arrested Ma'an News Agency. 2009-08-06.
- Zubeidi: Unity should be regained by power and force if necessary. Ma'an News Agency. 2009-08-06.
- Israel cancels pardon of former militant leader. Ma'an News Agency. 2011-12-29. Accessed on 2011-12-29.
- Issacharoff, Avi. Palestinian pardoned by Israel put back on wanted list. Haaretz. 2011-12-29. Accessed on 2011-12-29.
- The Freedom Theatre. "President Mahmoud Abbas: Free Zakaria Zubeidi!". change.org. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
- 'We are at war', Al-Ahram, 1 December 2004
- Video: Zakariya Zubeidi Resistance Leader: A Changed Man