This article was authored by reporter Samuel Sokol:
In 2007 the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that it was willing to grant amnesty to members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the terror arm of PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, in exchange for a pledge that the group’s fighters lay down their arms and renounce violence.
Since that time, despite a still active Gaza branch and many documented attacks in the West Bank for which the brigades have taken credit, Israeli journalists and commentators have declared the organization disbanded.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when in the end of November,I read on the Palestinian news agency Qudsnet’s website that a spokesman for the Brigades, one Abu-Udai, had declared that the brigades were still extant and that they were only refraining from carrying out attacks due to a tactical decision by Abu Mazen [Abbas] to pursue a diplomatic track.
The brigades, he explained, had “stopped the armed struggle against the occupation” in response to the “request of the Palestinian leadership, headed by Abu Mazen, to give the opportunity for the political process.”
Abu-Udai, cited as a “leading figure in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades,” asserted that unless Israel accepted Palestinian demands, restoring the “rights of return” [sic] and ceasing “Judaizing Jerusalem,” the Palestinians would be forced to “resume armed attacks against Israeli targets in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
A quick Google search revealed that Abu Udai had been speaking for the brigades for some years and had been extensively quoted by Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
It quickly became clear that some terrorists had indeed laid down their weapons, but that others, mostly split into a network of small, not always interconnected cells, were still active. I further learned, or at least Abu-Udai would later claim, that they still retained, to a certain degree, under the orders of Abu Mazen.
“Actually, [it’s] all one group, Al Aqsa Brigade,” former terrorist and friend of Abu-Udai, Rami Kamel would later tell me, “but you know how they work. Each [local branch on each] side of the country, it work[s that] if you have a chance to do anything, you do it straightaway.”
After making an indecent number of queries as to Abu-Udai’s identity, I finally ran across Raed Othman, the director of the Palestinian Maan News Network.
Raed informed me that Abu-Udai was in fact Jihad Jeara; a fact later corroborated by another Palestinian journalist in contact with the brigades’ spokesman, and then by the militant himself.
Jeara, a former officer of the Palestinian Authority’s Preventative Security Service, was exiled to Ireland in 2002 as part of deal to end the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He has been implicated in several murders, including that of Avi Boaz, a 71 year old American living the Gush Etzion city of Maaleh Adumim.
As I spoke with him by phone, Jeara confirmed that he is indeed Abu Udai, an identity that he has used while speaking on behalf of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades over the past several years. The former Bethlehem-based gunman claimed that he was still involved in “resistance” against Israel.
“I never broke the law in Ireland,” he explained, “but it is my family and it is my land in Palestine and of course I will be always looking and care to have our freedom [sic] and I will do all my might and I will have all my power to continue about what I start.”
When queried whether he was involved in a still active faction of the brigades, Jeara replied that his organization now has “a ceasefire with the Israelis” in order to “give a chance for our President and our Prime Minister and to show the world that we are looking for peace.”
“But I mean what I said before,” he emphasized. “If the peace fails, it will bring the people to fight.”
Jeara predicted that the Palestinians will soon resume operations against Israeli targets.
In a statement several days before the recent murder of a sleeping family in the West Bank town of Itamar, Jeara told me that Israel “will not stop killing our kids, our people” and that “their lives, their kids, they are not more important than our people.” The brigades initially claimed responsibility for the attack, a declaration that they almost immediately retracted.