Violent arrest sparks protests against Palestinian Authority in refugee camps

Protests broke out in two refugee camps in the Palestinian Authority after the violent arrest of the son of Zacharia Zubeidi, one of six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from Gilboa Prison.

 Islamic Jihad gunmen attend a funeral of one of the Palestinians killed late Saturday night in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank village of Burqin. (photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)
Islamic Jihad gunmen attend a funeral of one of the Palestinians killed late Saturday night in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank village of Burqin.
(photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)

Dozens of gunmen on Friday night took to the streets of two refugee camps in the West Bank to protest against the Palestinian Authority following the violent arrest of the son of Zakari Zubeidi, a popular Fatah gunman held in Israeli prison.

Zubeidi, a former commander of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah faction, was one of six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from Gilboa Prison several weeks ago. All six fugitives were recaptured by the Israel Police and IDF.

Zubeidi has been charged with carrying out terror attacks against Israel.

The anti-PA protests, the largest of their kind in recent years, are yet another sign of mounting tensions between the PA and unruly Fatah gunmen and activists, especially in Jenin Refugee Camp and Balata Refugee Camp, near Nablus.

Zubeidi hails from Jenin Refugee Camp, where he is considered by local residents a “hero,” especially after the high-profile and rare escape from Israeli prison.  

 A Palestinian demonstrator uses a sling during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beita, in the West Bank, January 7, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA) A Palestinian demonstrator uses a sling during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beita, in the West Bank, January 7, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)

The gunmen and activists have often accused the PA of “abandoning” them by depriving them of financial aid and jobs. They have further taken the PA to task for its continued security coordination with Israel.

Friday night’s protests began after PA police officers in Jenin were caught on camera beating and arresting Zubeidi’s son, Ahmed.

A PA security source said that Ahmed and two young  men from Jenin Refugee Camp – Ayham Sa’di and Aws al-Shalabi - were stopped for a routine checking because they were suspected of driving a stolen car.

The three men resisted arrest and assaulted the police officers before they were apprehended, the source claimed, adding that the suspects’ car also hit a police vehicle.

A video of the violent arrest of Ahmed Zubeidi went viral on various social media platforms, driving scores of gunmen to take to the streets in the two refugee camps.

In Jenin, gunmen opened fire and hurled explosive devices at two PA security installations. No one was hurt.

In Balata Refugee Camp, several masked gunmen opened fire into the air during a protest against the arrest of Ahmed Zubeidi.

Although Zubedi’s son was released from detention early Saturday, gunmen continued to fire at PA buildings in Jenin.

Abdel Rahman Zubeidi, a brother of the jailed Fatah commander, said that the attack on his nephew was “deliberate.”

He claimed that this was the second attack of its kind in the past two months. “We do not know the reason for this barbaric and brutal assault on Ahmed,” Abdel Rahman added.

Jibril, another brother, called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to order an investigation into the assault on his nephew.

A masked gunman from Jenin Refugee Camp accused the PA leadership of “failure to honor the blood of the martyrs and the suffering of the prisoners.” He threatened that his men would not remain silent if the PA security forces continued to target residents of the camp.

“We remain loyal to our prisoners and martyrs,” the gunman said. “If there are some mercenaries in the [Palestinian] security forces, they need to be controlled and disciplined. We will not allow anyone to attack the son of a prisoner or martyr.”

Hamas and several Palestinian factions and human rights organizations condemned the use of force against Ahmed Zubeid and called for an immediate investigation.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum denounced the incident as “dangerous and irresponsible.” He pointed out that this was not the first time that PA security forces attack relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The Palestinian group Lawyers for Justice, which documents human rights violations by the PA, said that Friday’s incident in Jenin “has become a common policy [of the PA] in its violent dealings with the Palestinians.” The group called for holding to account the officers who carried out the violent arrest.