Ahmad Sa’adat

Ahmad Sa’adat

Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the second largest faction in the PLO and the leading Palestinian party of the left. Sa’adat has been held without trial in Jericho jail under U.S./U.K. monitoring since May 2002, accused by Israel of ordering the assassination of former Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Zeevi. He was nominated by the PFLP to run as a Parliamentary candidate in the PLC elections January 2006, as a means of publicizing his continued detention and bringing pressure to bear for his release.

Sa’adat is a veteran of the first Palestinian intifada, and has spent a total of 10 years in Israeli jails for PFLP activism. He rose to prominence within the PFLP for his activities as an organizer and leader of Palestinian prisoners. Although not well-known internationally or in the media, Sa’adat - a PFLP “insider” who has always stayed in the West Bank and Gaza rather than going into exile.

A math teacher by training, Sa’adat is married (to Abla) and has four children. He lives in al-Bira, near Ramallah.

The PFLP is the largest party on the Palestinian left, with an ideology that combines Arab nationalism with Marxist-Leninism. It was founded in 1967 by George Habash, a Palestinian Christian. The PFLP does not recognise the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, and rejects the Oslo process. It reserves the right to use all means, including armed intifada, in pursuit of a single, secular democratic state of Arabs and Jews on all of Mandate Palestine. It sees the Palestinians’ struggle as an integral part of the wider struggle against U.S. imperialism and its client regimes in the Middle East. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of political Islam, the PFLP has been eclipsed as Palestine’s second political party by Hamas. One of Ahmad’s Sa’adat’s declared aims as party leader is to re-establish the popular base of the PFLP and establish it as a third pole in Palestinian politics, alongside Fatah and Hamas.

The PFLP’s election of Ahmad Sa’adat in October 2001 to replace its assassinated Secretary-General, was generally regarded as a sign that the movement was shifting moving away from the more pragmatic positions of Abu Ali Mustafa, and reverting to the more hardline rejectionism of its original founder.

Short history timeline

1969 - Formally joined the PFLP, attracted by its combination of Marxism-Leninism with traditional pan-Arab nationalism.

Feb 1969 – First arrested by Israel for PFLP activities; 3 months detention. Arrested again in 1970 (28 months), 1973 (10 months), 1975 (45 days). Credits his early years in prison with giving him the opportunity to advance his understanding of Marxist theory and consolidating his commitment to the PFLP.

1975 – Graduated from the UNRWA Teachers Training College in Ramallah, specializing in Mathematics.

1976 – Rearrested by the Israelis (detained for four years).

Apr 1981 - Elected to the Central Committee of the PFLP.

1989 – Arrested and held in administrative detention for 9 months.

1992 - Arrested and held in administrative detention for 13 months.

Mar 1993 - Elected to the Politburo of the PFLP while still in administrative detention, reportedly in recogition of his education and organizing activities with other detainees.

1993 – Released from administrative detention, but declared a “wanted person” liable to re-arrest, shortly after release.

1994 – Elected leader of the PFLP in the West Bank.

1995 – Arrested by the PA and briefly detained in a sweep of PFLP members, under Israeli pressure.

Mar 1996 – Briefly detained without charge again by the PA in a sweep of known activists.

Dec 1996 – Arrested by the PA in a roundup of PFLP members on the West Bank, following a PFLP attack on Israeli settlers in Beit-El/Surda on 11 December. Released without charge on 27 February 1997 after conducting a hunger strike, the PA fearing the consequences if he should die in jail. Collapsed hours after release, and spent several days comatose and on a respirator in Ramallah Hospital.

2000 – George Habash steps down as General Secretary of the PFLP, at the party’s Sixth National Conference. Replaced by Mustafa Zibri (Abu Ali Mustafa), a member of the 'old guard' of exiled leaders based in Damascus, and regarded as a pragmatist in relations with Arafat and with Israel.

27 Aug 2001 - Abu Ali Mustafa assassinated when an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

3 Oct 2001 – Ahmad Sa’adat elected Secretary-General of the PFLP, regarded as a shift away from the pragmatism of Abu Ali Mustafa and in line with the more hardline principles of George Habash. Sa’adat declares at his inaugural press conference that the goals of the Palestinian people are "our right of return, and our independence, with Jerusalem as the capital” He also vows to avenge the assassination of Abu Ali Mustafa.

17 Oct 2001 – Four members of the PFLP assassinate the far-right Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Zeevi is known as a supporter of the forced expulsion of the Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, and as a proponent of “targetted assassinations”. Israel accuses Sa’adat of having ordered the assassination.

22 Oct 2001 – The PA condemns the killing of Zeevi as contrary to wider Palestinian interests as it gives Israel an excuse to take military action in the Occupied Territories. Jibril Rajoub, head of the West Bank Preventative Security Service, outlaws the military wing of the PFLP - the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades - and issues an ultimatum to Ahmad Sa’adat to turn himself in or face arrest.

24 Oct 2001 – IDF attacks the West Bank village of Beit Rima, apparently in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Sa’adat, shooting dead nine Palestinians including 5 local policemen sleeping in an olive grove.

15 Jan 2002 – Sa’adat is arrested by Palestinian special forces after being lured to a meeting in a Ramallah hotel with PA Intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi. The PFLP condemns the PA for caving to U.S. and Israeli pressure, and putting its own survival ahead of the national consensus by arresting the head of a PLO faction.

2 Feb 2002 – The PFLP's politburo announces that the movement will suspend its participation in the PLO Executive Committee until Sa’adat is released.

21 Feb 2002 – The PA’s General Intelligence Services capture in Nablus the cell of the Martyr Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades believed responsible for the assassination of Zeevi. They are held with Sa’adat at Arafat’s Ramallah compound.

Mar-Apr 2002 – Sa’adat besieged with Arafat in the Muqata by the IDF, beginning 29 Mar.

29 Apr 2002 - Under heavy U.S. pressure, Arafat accepts a deal to end the siege of his compound. The terms of the deal are not made public but it is apparent that Israel has agreed to lift the siege on Arafat in return for the PA agreeing to imprison under international supervision Ahmad Sa’adat, the four PFLP members accused of killing Zeevi (Basel al-Asmar, 'Ahed Abu Ghalma, Majdi al-Rimawi and Hamdi Qar'an), and Fuad Shubaki - the PA official accused of organising the Karine A weapons shipment. The four PFLP members are cursorily tried by a military tribunal inside the Muqata, and sentenced to terms up to 18 years’ imprisonment for killing Zeevi. Arafat rules that Sa’adat is a political leader, not a military leader, and so his case must be decided by the Palestinian judiciary.

1 May 2002 – All six are transferred to Jericho Prison on the evening of 1 May, where they are nominally under the control of the P.A. but actually guarded by U.S. and British monitors.

3 Jun 2002 – The Palestinian High Court of Justice in Gaza rules that there is no evidence linking Sa’adat to the assassination of Zeevi, and no legal grounds for his continuing detention. It orders his immediate release from jail.

4 Jun 2002 - The Palestinian Cabinet declines to implement the High Court ruling, ostensibly because it fears that Sa’adat will be assassinated if released.

13 Jun 2002 – Amnesty International calls for the PA to respect the finding of the High Court and release Sa’adat immediately, and for Israel to guarantee it will not take extrajudicial measures against him. Palestinian NGO’s call upon Arafat to uphold the rule of law. Sa’adat remains in jail.

20 Aug 2002 – Israeli Special Forces troops assassinate Sa’adat’s younger brother, Mohammed, a low-ranking member of the PFLP, at his home near Ramallah.

26 Aug 2002 – Sa’adat begins a 72-hour hunger strike to protest his continued detention.

23 Jan 2003 – Sa’adat’s wife, Abla, is arrested by Israeli troops at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, and prevented from addressing the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where she was a scheduled speaker.

23 Nov 2005 – The PFLP announces that Sa’adat will run in the PLC elections of Jan 2006, in the hope that this will raise awareness of his imprisonment and bring pressure to bear for his release

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