17 June marks the anniversary of the execution of three of the earliest martyrs of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement – Fouad Hijazi, Atta al-Zeer and Mohammed Khalil Jamjoum – by British colonial occupiers, in Akka prison.
The execution of these Palestinian strugglers has remained for years an ongoing story of resistance that continues to inspire strugglers through 100 years of resistance to colonization and occupation. Indeed, the song written to commemorate Hijazi, al-Zeer and Jamjoum, “From Akka Prison,” today remains one of the most well-known and powerful poems of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement.
Hijazi, al-Zeer and Jamjoum were seized by the British colonizers for their role in Al-Buraq Revolution of 1929, named for the al-Buraq Wall in Jerusalem. The uprising was sparked after Zionist groups came to the wall and planted Zionist flags, declaring that “This wall is ours.”
In Jerusalem, Haifa, Yafa and Safad, Palestinians rose up against British colonization and the declared Zionist plans to colonize Palestine and declare it a “Jewish state.” Hundreds of Palestinians were seized by British forces and 26 sentenced to death by hanging; there was such an outcry by the Palestinian people that most of these sentences were converted to life imprisonment, with the exception of Hijazi, Jamjoum and al-Zeer.
Fouad Hijazi was 26 years old, from Safad; Mohammed Jamjoum was 28, from al-Khalil, as was Atta al-Zeer, 35.
Born in Safad in 1904, Hijazi received his primary education in his hometown; his university education was completed at the American University of Beirut. He actively participated in the Buraq Revolution and wrote a message to his family the day before his execution, which was published in the newspaper on 18 June 1930. In the message, he said, “On 17 June of each year, this should be a historic day in which speeches are made and songs are sung in the memory of our blood spilled for the sake of Palestine and the Arab cause.”
Mohammed Khalil Jamjoum was born in 1902 in al-Khalil; like Hijazi he attended university at the American University of Beirut. Atta al-Zeer was born in al-Khalil also, in 1895. Throughout his life he worked as a farmer and a manual laborer and was known from his earliest days for his courage and physical strength.
On 17 June 1930, Palestinians organized a general strike throughout Palestine as large crowds gathered in major Palestinian cities across the country – in Yafa, Haifa, al-Khalil and Nablus. After the executions, their bodies were handed to the men’s families, who had been denied the right to bury them in their home cities. Thousands of Palestinians streamed through the streets of Akka in honor of Jamjoum, Hijazi and al-Zeer, figures and symbols of Palestinian resistance to British and Zionist colonization. The three revolutionaries were executed on that day, but their anti-colonial message and commitment has continued to resonate through generations of Palestinian struggle for national liberation.
Abu Maher al-Yamani, co-founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian labor leader and historical leader of the Palestinian national movement, left his village of Suhmata for the first time at the age of six with his father. There, he “was surprised to encounter the execution of three Palestinian martyrs by British colonial authorities on that day, June 17, 1930 – Fouad Hijazi, Mohammed Jamjoum and Atta al-Zeer. The awareness of the child Ahmed al-Yamani was awakened, viewing the executions and the bodies of the martyrs in the gallows of the courtyard of Akka central prison; this incident greatly affected him and remained an image in his mind that could not be forgotten.”
Their story has been embedded as well in the Palestinian culture of resistance. Palestinian poet Ibrahim Tuqan’s poem, “Red Tuesday,” commemorates the three, noting “their bodies in the homeland’s graves/their souls in the reaches of heaven.”
The popular song, “Min Sijjin Akka,” or “From Akka Prison,” continues to be sung and celebrated throughout Palestine. The origin of the poem is not precisely clear; some say that it was written on the walls of Akka prison by a revolutionary named ‘Awad, himself awaiting execution by the British colonial rulers. Other scholars note that the poem was likely composed by a working-class popular poet and in Haifa, Nuh Ibrahim, perhaps the most famous Palestinian poet of his time and carrying his own legacy of resistance. “He was not a poet of the elite and he did not write poetry for social occasions or holidays. Instead Ibrahim is known for composing for the 1936-1939 Palestinian Revolt and to peasants working their grapevines, orchards and wheat fields. He spoke and wrote in everyday language, as a provocateur and broadcaster for the revolt, in which he also participated as a fighter,” wrote Samih Shabeeb.
The lyrics of the song are known today throughout Palestine and continue to be sung at national events, weddings and cultural celebrations. Ibrahim himself died struggling for Palestine eight years later, as a fighter in the movement of Izzedine al-Qassam in the 1936-39 revolution in Palestine. After being imprisoned in Akka prison himself, he was killed by the British colonial army in a battle in the Westen Galilee.
The ongoing relevance of the Buraq Revolution and the legacy of the execution of the three martyrs of 17 June 1930 is not limited to its cultural resonance. Just weeks ago, Palestinian Authority official Jibril Rajoub was widely criticized by Palestinian organizations and strugglers inside and outside Palestine for his statements on Israeli TV about the al-Buraq Wall being under “Israeli sovereignty.” Indeed, Palestinian youth activists and journalists like Nassar Jaradat and Zaher al-Shammali are currently politically detained by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, seemingly for their publicly posted critiques of Rajoub’s avowed willingness to abandon the same Palestinian national site and symbol struggled for by generations of Palestinians.
Days later, on 16 June, the eve of the anniversary of the execution of Hijazi, Jamjoum and al-Zeer, three young Palestinians from the village of Deir Abu Mashaal, Bara’a Ibrahim Saleh Atta, Osama Ahmed Mustafa Atta and Adel Hassan Ahmed Ankoush, were shot down by Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem after they stabbed several Israeli occupation military Border Police officers, killing one and wounding several, only meters from al-Buraq Wall itself. Bara’a Atta and Osama Atta, both active in the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were both former prisoners in Israeli prisons, imprisoned as young teens; Osama Atta was the leader of the PFLP child prisoners during his imprisonment. The third Palestinian youth, Adel Ankoush, was active with Hamas.
In statements by the PFLP, the leftist Palestinian party referred to the Palestinian resistance action as the “Promise of Al-Buraq,” explicitly recognizing the action not only as a refutation of U.S. and Zionist attempts to confiscate Palestinian land and rights, but also recalling the Buraq Revolution martyrs of 87 years prior.
Today, in 2017, over 200 Palestinian prisoners have died in Israeli occupation prisons since 1967. 72 of them were killed as a result of Israeli torture, including three hunger strikers, Izhak Maragha, Ali Ja’afari and Rasim Halawa, killed by torturous forced feeding in 1980. The Israeli state constantly threatens the reimposition of the death penalty, while putting it into practice in reality, with escalating extrajudicial executions – particularly against Palestinian youth; “arrest raids” that are in fact assassination raids as in the targeting of Basil al-Araj (for whom this anniversary marks 100 days after his assassination and three months exactly following his funeral) and Moataz Washaha; and the policy of “slow death” of medical neglect and mistreatment inside occupation prisons.
On this anniversary, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network remembers and honors the martyrs of 1930 and their ongoing legacy and role as a symbol of resistance and anti-colonial revolution that reverberates through generations to defend Palestinian land and Palestinian rights, in Jerusalem and throughout occupied Palestine, from Zionism, imperialism and colonization.