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It’s just after the 2006 Lebanon War. The Israeli regime has come to an agreement with Hezbollah to return the bodies of those killed in war against the Israeli army in recent decades. In return, Hezbollah has to release two Israeli soldiers captured during the 2006 war. Nine Tunisians are on the list of those whose bodies are to be returned. It’s a vivid reminder that those who fight against the Israeli regime are not only from Palestine or Lebanon but from many Islamic countries like Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya and Tunis. But this is not the end of the story. Tunis is still under Ben Ali and he wants no ceremony to be held for these anonymous heroes. The Tunisian people, on the other hand wants something quite different …

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Woman:

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command has announced that …

Narration:

The Exchange Committee - July 16, 2008.

These numbers come from a cemetery; “Cemetery of Numbers”, somewhere in Palestine; a big cemetery that houses the past and present casualties of the Palestinian liberationmovements. But the 33-Day War in Lebanon and the Red Cross negotiations over returning the two dead or alive Israeli soldiers broke the spell of numbers.

When the IDs and photos of 199 martyrs, taken before their burial in the cemetery, were given to Lebanon's Hezbollah, no one believed that the bodies of martyrs of different nationalities would be returned by Israel’s military affairs ministry along with operation files. Now it was the numbers’ turn to return from the Cemetery of Numbers.

Ataollah Hamoud, Head, Hezbollah's Prisoners and Detainees Society:

Man: In all the exchange operations of Hezbollah, especially those in 2004 and 2008, the media outlets in Arab and Islamic countries would stir up a commotion, announcing that a great operation was going to take place between Hezbollah and Israel through the Red Cross and by mediation of the German government.

Many Arab parties, groups and nations started to send us letters that we received through the Prisoners Society or the Secretary General’s Office. These letters asked us to include the names of other martyrs in the list; Palestinian and Arab martyrs who were killed in the war against Israel in Golan, Lebanon, and other places like Jordan; martyrs whose bodies were held by Israel.

Narration:

The news of exchange spreads like wildfire. Photos come out of the closets; the streets are lit up with colored lamps; and the trucks that are supposed to carry the bodies of the martyrs are decorated with the pictures of martyred commander Imad Mughniyeh, as if he is also looking forward to the operation codenamed Radwan.

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Woman:

We worked on this matter for several hours, and in the end, when hands were raised for voting, 22 voted in favor and 3 voted against it, and the cabinet approved this exchange. No sound was heard in the room, perhaps because everyone knew that the captives were not alive. Or perhaps because the Goldwasser and Regev deal extinguished any hope of getting new information about Ron Arad.

Israel would get back Goldwasser and Regev and a report on Ron Arad in exchange for releasing Samir Kuntar and dozens of bodies, as well as giving information about the four missing Iranian diplomats to the UN Secretary General. After the deal, the cabinet would hold another meeting to vote on the release of some Palestinians.

Narration:

The last exchange happened four years ago, and people’s expectations from the Resistance have become as sharp as these bends. After the release of a number of non-Lebanese Arab prisoners from Israeli jails, the families of the martyrs buried in Palestine hope to see the names of their loved ones in the Resistance’s list for the next exchange.

Over the years, conflicting reports have been heard. But soon after the 33-Day War in Lebanon, the promises were fulfilled and 114 out of 199 martyrs that were non-Lebanese were put on the list. This incident posed a big question for the Arab world. Are other nations involved in the fight for Palestine’s freedom?

Ataollah Hamoud, Head, Hezbollah's Prisoners & Detainees Society:

In all of the operations carried out for freeing captives, Hezbollah has made sure not to give out any information, unless in exchange for the release of Lebanese, Palestinian and Arab captives. That was one of the conditions, and Hezbollah Secretary General emphasized several times that it was not for personal gain, and that these exchanges served humanitarian and non-political purposes.

Narration:

Borders are lines that separate history from geography; lines that people and states are bound to respect and maintain. But here, near the border of Naqoura, we witness the intertwining of the history and geography of people who share their vision for Palestine. They have travelled a long distance from different villages and towns of Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria to come to Palestine to make eternal their own definition of the boundaries of their faith.

At the same time, on the other side of the border, cars with tinted windows carry the two captured Israeli soldiers that are supposed to be delivered to international mediators for the exchange. No one knows if they are dead or alive and what their cars look like, but whatever it is, Wafigh Safa, Hezbollah’s peace negotiator, will soon reveal a big secret during the exchange.

Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s Representative, the Exchange Operation:

We are going to start the Radwan Operation for the exchange of captives. Today, we will hand over two Israeli soldiers who were captured by the Resistance on July 12, 2006; their fate has been remained unknown to this moment.

Reporter: Are they alive or dead?

Safa: You will find out soon.

Ataollah Hamoud, Head, Hezbollah's Prisoners and Detainees Society:

The Israelis thought the Zionist soldiers were alive, but people all over the world, in the Western world, in the Arab world, in the region, the media, study centers, the negotiators and those who entered the negotiations – both the Europeans and Germans - were not aware of their fate, whether they were dead or alive.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Wafiq Safa ,Hezbollah’s Representative, the Exchange Operation:

They are going to open the door of the truck carrying the bodies of martyrs. As I said, they will be transferred with the help of Islamic Relief aid workers.

Narration:

Eight of the wooden coffins that were carried out of the trucks belonged to Tunisian martyrs. But few people believed that many years after their death, anyone was left to come and meet them.

Ataollah Hamoud, Head, Hezbollah's Prisoners and Detainees Society :

Once the bodies of the martyrs were released and registered, they were handed over to the Palestinian groups, the General Command, which is located in Syria, and Ahmed Jibril, the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command in Syria. He was one of the first combatants who fought alongside Yasser Arafat. So it was deemed reasonable that the Tunisian martyrs who were members of the General Command be sent to Syria and then transferred to Tunisia. So the Resistance handed the Tunisian martyrs over to their Command center.

Narration:

The numbers started from here, Camp No. 17. And then those eight Tunisian men arrived, and stayed on in the Cemetery of Numbers.

You need to listen carefully to find out the secret lying in these numbers and their silence today. Here, a bigger phenomenon connects people together. Here, colors, tribes, and language lose their meaning. This phenomenon is not about people coming or going; it is about their beliefs. Camp No. 17 bears a historical relationship to Palestine in another place and time; a relationship that has never turned into a distant memory about a utopian state.

We are celebrating today in honor of those new combatants who have joined the “Martyrdom-Seeking” and “Group Commanders” courses. It was fate that brought these young men to this camp to be trained and get ready for battle.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration:

Ahmed Jibril is almost 80 years old. With a record of more than five decades of fighting, he is now a political figure for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His comrades know him by his military name “Abujihad” and know that their commander’s name is still on Israel’s terror list and that is why he is protected like this.

Ahmed Jibril, Secretary General, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine:

We opened the doors of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command to all the combatants from other countries. That is why we have martyrs that are from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Libya, and Tunisia.

TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00

Ahmed Jibril:

Our Tunisian brothers soon joined us for jihad for Palestine. Their patriotism and sense of responsibility towards their nation made them do this. They joined us by their own expenses. This happened before 1982 and late 1970s, and the number of Tunisian martyrs that were part of our group reaches 12.

Ahmed Jibril, Secretary General, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine:

We gave you the list of the Tunisian martyrs. 12 martyrs were mentioned on the list along with the cities and villages they came from and the places they were killed in. But we won’t say anything about their lives during the combats, because we wish to protect their families from any pressure from the Tunisian government. We just made do with calling them “Abu Fahd” or “Abu Nar” or “Abu Motasem”. Those were the names they went by, and we did not reveal their full names for security reasons.

Abolamin Khalid :

My name is Abolamin Khalid. I joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command in 1965. I was a high school student then. I was part of a secret group that made preparations for movements and revolutions. I was promoted from a combatant to the group commander and then the operation commander in 1970, and right now I’m an operation commander and a member of the council of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command.

Narration:

The idea to dig caves was so simple that it could have been mentioned as a joke in a friendly gathering. But from a military perspective, its complexities allowed it to be used as a military tactic; something like the idea of digging a trench during the early Islamic battles.

Abolamin, Combatant, Operation Flying Kite :

Miloud, Khalid Akar and I flew to Palestine with this kite. We landed there and entered a camp whose Hebrew name was Gheibour and dealt the enemy a severe blow. This kite, and Operation Ghabieh Martyrs was a spark that started up the first intifada in Palestine in 1987. Hopefully, we will return to Palestine with a more modern version of this kite, and thus fulfill the promise we made to our martyrs and heroes who are no longer among us.

Abu Nazal,Trainer, Operation Flying Kite :

My name is Yusef Alajouri, known as Abu Nazal. I joined the operations against the Zionist occupiers in 1964, and was captured by the Israelis in 1969. The Israeli army was proud of itself, saying that it was invincible, and had the most powerful air force in the region. But we showed them how wrong they were with this operation and simple weapons. What is a kite? It is made of some clothe and an iron bar and an engine that is like that of motorcycles. With these simple items, but with a strong will, we managed to move towards Palestine. Our trained young combatants managed to land at one of Israel’s strongest camps, called Gheibour at the time. In Hebrew, Gheibour means heroes. That is where our friends and comrades managed to infiltrate.

Narration:

With the maze of tunnels built there, the thought of fighting grew stronger. They did not only think about ground combats anymore; they needed to find a way to infiltrate the enemy's main camp, and flying in the sky was the only option available. Operation Flies of Sharia later known as Operation Flying Kites was one in which the methods was used.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

Woman:

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command has published a statement from the Syrian capital, claiming responsibility for today’s attack. They also announced in the statement that this operation was conducted to celebrate the anniversary of the Front’s establishment. In this regard, Al-Neda Newspaper, published in Beirut, gave an account of this operation on its front page. But there was no mention of this operation in other newspapers. We will give you more details about this operation in this report.

Man:

Operation Kite flying conducted in Israel last night by unknown combatants from Lebanon’s soil left six Israeli soldiers dead and seven others wounded. It was similar to the operation carried out on March 3, 1981, at the same place but met with failure because of Israel’s countermeasure.

Narration:

Abulamin, who is a trainer today, was a comrade of two other kite riders in the past. He’s taking a trip down memory lane at these caves after a long time.

Abulamin ,Combatant, Operation Kite :

This is the first tunnel dug here with simple and primitive equipment … with blood, sweat and tears. Thousands of brave fighters were trained in this tunnel. It accommodated many martyrs that were killed in dangerous missions, from Operation Al-Khalisa to Operation Umm Al-Ghareb, and later on Operation Flying Kite. This tunnel consists of the combatants’ refugees. This room, the first one, was for martyrdom-seeking heroes. 15 people slept in each room. Miloud Alnajih Bin Nomah and Khalid Akar used to stay here. We, camp trainers, used to sit here and have a chat and get to know each other. This is where we came to understand each other; not only during the training courses, but also through living side by side. When our 8-hour trainings came to an end, we would sit down and talk about Palestine and its liberation.

Martyr Miloud Alnajih :

I’m Miloud Alnajih Bin Nomah, known as Tunisian Abu Ali. I have an Arabic-Tunisian nationality. I’m a member of the Martyr Abu Ammar Adham Group.. I’m 30 years old and I joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command in 1982. I fulfilled my tasks with confidence and walked the path of jihad for God’s sake against Israel, which has tarnished the Arab soil and the holy land of Palestine. It is my duty to act against the Israeli occupying regime, and I ask God to protect me and keep me healthy so that I can do it again and again.

Narration:

Miloud Najih, known by the aliasAbu Ali, from Tunisia and Khalid Akar, known by the alias Abu Rami, from Syria, flew from Southern Lebanon to the Gheibour training camp on Palestine’s soil on November 25, 1987. After killing and injuring a number of Israeli military officers, they were finally killed.

The simple and at the same time complicated operation of these soldiers was so controversial and surprising that it brought about a wave of media uproar in the Arab world. Two militants from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had managed to enter one of Israel's military strongholds overnight by simple means and light weapons. The news was short, but its transnational scope was so great that it somehow led to the first intifada in Palestine.

Ahmed Jibril:

Among the martyrs that were exchanged during Operation Radwan by our brothers in Hezbollah, there were some members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

Ahmed Jibril:

Command and other groups. We saw the names of some of the martyrs on the coffins which were sent to us. But the Tunisian regime had set the condition that the burials should take place overnight and without people’s participation and media coverage. But despite the pressure from the Tunisian government at that time, the Tunisian people managed to give the martyrs a decent welcome and hold a beautiful burial ceremony. This affected the Tunisian nation to a great extent.

Ataollah Hamoud, Head, Hezbollah's Prisoners and Detainees Society :

The Tunisian regime contacted the Syrian government, and returned the bodies to Tunisia by Tunisian planes at night, so that their families could not celebrate their return or cause a riot. This led to anger and rage on the part of the Tunisian nation, and came to a head by Mohamed Bouazizi’s revolution.

Narration:

21 years have passed since Operation Flying Kites. The numbers return, but they are no longer numbers. They are the heroes of a great part of the Arab world who didn’t not recognize Israel and sacrificed their lives for the liberation of Palestine.

Ahmad al-Kahlawi, head of the TunisianNational Committee for Supporting Arab Resistance and Fighting Zionism who was once imprisoned for writing a statement in support of Palestine, goes to Syria this time as the head of a popular organization in order to take back the martyrs' bodies to Tunisia.

Ahmad al-Kahlawi, Head, the TunisianNational Committee for Supporting Arab Resistance :

When Operation Radwan was announced, Palestinian groups contacted us and said the bodies of the Tunisian martyrs were returned in an exchange deal with Israel, and we needed to go to Syria to take them back to Tunisia.

Ahmad al-Kahlawi:

But something happened; Ben Ali’s regime took the bodies to their villages and towns in secret, having them buried without people or even their families knowing.

Narration:

For the father of martyr Baligh Al-Lajami, the news was so sudden that he decided to accompany Ahmad al-Kahlawi to Damascus to receive his son’s body. He was unaware that the bodies of the martyrs had been taken out of Damascus under a secret agreement and at the request of the Tunisian side.

Anvar Al-Lajami,Father of martyr Baligh Al-Lajami:

I travelled to Damascus with Ahmad al-Kahlawi, the head of the TunisianNational Committee for Supporting Arab Resistance.

At that time, the bodies of Tunisian martyrs had reached the Red Cross hospital in Damascus. But because it was Thursday, and Friday was a holiday, we were unable to see the bodies. So we waited for administrative offices to open on Saturday, hoping that we could see the bodies and take them back to Tunisia. But, in an unexpected move, Ben Ali’s regime sent a military plane and had taken away the martyrs’ bodies at 2 o’clock in the morning, and we were not informed of their arrival in Tunisia until Saturday morning.

TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00

Mother of martyr Baligh Al-Lajami:

I’m Martyr Baligh Al- Lajami’s mother. He was killed in Southern Lebanon in 1996. After the victories of the Resistance and Hezbollah, I used to watch the exchange of martyrs and captives on TV. Whenever I saw a Tunisian flag on a coffin, I’d wonder if it was my son’s body. I’d excitedly stare at the screen and say, “This is my son’s body. This is my son’s body.” I was always waiting for his arrival.

Man:

the Tunisian martyrs wished to stay with Syrian and Palestinian martyrs, so they were not placed in special cars. The Tunisian, Syrian, and Palestinian martyrs returned to their nations the same way they had gone to Palestine, without any discrimination. They say this is the day that united all the Arabs; this is the day of Palestine and Resistance.

Sister of Martyr Riaz Bin Jama’at:

During the transfer operation, we were filled with joy at the sight of the coffins that were covered with Tunisian flag. We were sure our dreams had come true. But families were still worried, wondering if their sons’ bodies would returned or not.

Brother of Martyr Riaz Bin Jama’at:

It was almost 5:30 or 6:30 a.m. when we reached the airport. On arrival, we found the families of Martyr Baligh and Marty Kamal and almost everyone else at airport. The place was filled with political police forces and other security officials. When we arrived, we expected to find the plane there. But we found out later that the plane had not arrived yet. We were surrounded by security forces, and the martyrs’ families and relatives had arrived in their own cars. Everyone was waiting, and the security forces gradually lost control of the situation. We expected the bodies to be treated with respect and honor and carried in military cars. But the martyrs’ bodies were placed in ambulances and carried out of the airport one by one.

TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00

Brother of Martyr Kamal Al-Badri:

The ambulance started to move, and we followed it. But the ambulance suddenly increased its speed and started to move like crazy. They were trying to take the road behind the city and later on bury it in a cemetery secretly. We found out, and made a plan with other families that had a car. We started to give chase, like what you see in action movies. We were in a race against the police cars and the ambulance. We were trying to reach them and prevent them from taking the road that would take them outside the city.

Brother of Martyr Kamal Al-Badri:

When they reached the city gates, they were supposed to use the road that went around the city, not through it. That is where people came to clash with them and some cars blocked the ambulance’s path. It was just like what happens in action movies. They did not allow the ambulance to pass and use the road outside the city. Razia, my sister, hit the driver. She was asked to stay back and refused to do so. My brother forced the ambulance door open, and another sister of mine came to help us and we opened the coffin. By the time we opened the coffin, people had reached us. The city’s residents and my relatives and those who loved the martyrs and those who felt a sense of loyalty to the martyrs came and helped us get our martyr’s coffin out, and thus a great funeral ceremony started.

Mother of martyr Baligh Al-Lajami:

It was Saturday, July 28, when Baligh’s body was brought here. We went to the airport and brought him here. It was a glorious day, and he was buried on the same day. It was a glorious day, and we gave Baligh a warm welcome, and what made me happy was that he was a martyr in the true sense of the word.

Mother of martyr Baligh Al-Lajami:

I don’t consider that day a day for mourning. It was actually a day for celebration. Because he had been elevated to a great position, and I hope that he’s a true martyr in the eyes of God. I told everyone that it was a day for celebration for my son, and I was responsible for it. They played Palestinian songs, and people started to celebrate.

Mother of Martyr Baligh Al-Lajami:

I watched Al-Manar and Al Jazeera and Syrian Channels and watched the exchange operation. Every human being, whether martyr or not, should be carried on people’s shoulders, and this is the least we can do for them.

Ahmad al-Kahlawi, Head, the TunisianNational Committee for Supporting Arab Resistance :

I remember that my friend, Mr. Anvar Al-Lajami, who was following the funeral ceremony on his cell phone on his way back to Tunisia, was very upset, which was quite natural. He was trying to calm down his wife and boost her morals. Anyway, that is how he said goodbye to the martyrs; martyrs, among whom was Baligh, his own son.

TIME CODE: 45:00_49:00

Mother of martyr Baligh Al-Lajami:

Hello? Mr. Mohammad Al-Shabi is with us. Mr. Fathi Kari and everyone else are here. Ali Belramezan and Mohammad Saad and our relatives and other people … We are going to take part in Baligh’s party. My family, sisters, nephews and nieces, daughters and sons-in-law are here. There is no doubt that we’ll take part in it, and carry him on our shoulders. Everything is OK. As long as people are here, everything will be OK.

The bodies of the Tunisian martyrs were buried and their relatives and other people attended the funeral. No celebrations were held. Streets and alleys went to greet the martyrs just as they were, without any decorations and flowers and confetti. Nothing was out of the ordinary. But one thing recurred in all the funerals. The only distinguishable slogans shouted out loud and clear were those in support of Palestine.

Ataollah Hamoud, Head, Hezbollah's Prisoners and Detainees Society :

There is no doubt that the reason Hezbollah and the Resistance forces returned the martyrs’ bodies from the Cemetery of Numbers was because they wanted to show the enemy that Resistance didn’t abandon its captives in Israeli jails, its wounded in front of the enemy, and its martyrs’ bodies in the enemy’s Cemetery of Numbers. This is the goal we are all ware of. The other task entrusted to us is to keep the memory of these martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of holy places, and to hold celebrations for their burial, because they are the martyrs of this nation, and the martyrs of the holy war against Israel. So we made contact with the Palestinian groups that these martyrs were members of, and contacted the families who were waiting for their children, so that after spending years in the Cemetery of Numbers, the martyrs could have graves of their own. This way, people could visit them and pray for them.

The Tunisian martyrs were buried in Sidi Bouzid, Gabes, Gafsa, Sfax, and Sidi Makhlouf. They were no longer eight numbers in the Cemetery of Numbers in Israel. They had become heroes on whose gravestones the Tunisian and Palestinian flags were carved together for the first time.

We, at the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, believed that every martyr should have his bones and body buried on Palestinian soil, even though his soul has left his body. Because then we can say that he has freed a part of the Palestinian soil which is two meters in width and one meter in depth, meaning that he has protected that soil.

To return is to come; to get to the starting point and go on to the next move. The end is not associated with returning, just as going does not necessarily lead to an absence. Camp No. 17 is a path for returning to Quds both in its silence and in the commotion of its fighters.

Produced in the Haqiqat Documentary Center

   

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