Seven years on, injustice remains: Remembering Omar Nayef Zayed

26 February 2023 marks the seventh anniversary of the death of Omar Nayef Zayed, former Palestinian prisoner who escaped from occupation prisons, in the Palestinian Authority embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he sought refuge after the Israeli occupation demanded his extradition 28 years after he liberated himself.

The self-liberation of six Palestinian prisoners in the Freedom Tunnel operation in September 2021 once again highlighted Omar Nayef Zayed’s case along with other Palestinians who had escaped the jails of the occupier.

On 21 May 1990, Omar Nayef Zayed escaped from occupation prisons four years after his arrest as he was transferred to a hospital in Bethlehem. He made his way to Jordan and then to Bulgaria in 1994. He married and had children and was a visible figure in the Palestinian community in Sofia. In 2016, occupation forces attempted to have him extradited from Bulgaria to occupied Palestine, and he took refuge inside the Palestinian Authority embassy where he was later killed on 26 February 2016. His fight against extradition sparked an international campaign to support him and demand his freedom.

Samidoun organized an international campaign against the extradition of Nayef Zayed, demanding the Bulgarian government reject the extradition request.

Throughout his time in the Palestinian embassy, Nayef Zayed was subjected to constant pressure by the PA ambassador and other PA representatives to leave the embassy, rather than fervently defending a liberated Palestinian prisoner from return to the occupier’s jails. He was denied visits from doctors, lawyers, solidarity delegations and Palestinian community delegations, and was repeatedly threatened with denial of visits from his wife.

Khader Adnan, former Palestinian prisoner and long-term hunger striker currently going without food in occupation prisons for over 20 days, said at the time that “Omar’s case revealed the shortcomings and the truths about our institutions, embassies and diplomacy abroad.” He called on the PA Foreign Minister to resign, saying that “The responsibility falls to the ambassador and the security team, and those who fall short must step aside. The first thing that should happen is to resign before our people, and then a thorough investigation at all Palestinian levels.”

This anniversary comes as the Palestinian Authority participates in the Aqaba summit convened by the United States with the participation of the Israeli occupation, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordanian and Egyptian intelligence. This Aqaba meeting is a “security summit” aimed at targeting and suppressing the Palestinian resistance, especially in Jenin and Nablus and in advance of Ramadan, as the Palestinian prisoners’ movement moves toward a unified, massive hunger strike to begin on 22 March. It has been broadly rejected by Palestinian resistance forces, political organizations and popular movements, in words and in actions.

In a statement, the Masar Badil, the Palestinian Alternative Revolutionary Path Movement, noted: “The Palestinian Authority’s repression of the people, the student movement and the resistance in the occupied West Bank of Palestine is not new. In fact, the Authority and the forces that comprise it are an integral part of the liquidationist camp since the Madrid conference in 1991, and especially following the Oslo Accords in 1993. It participates publicly and covertly in protecting the security of the Zionist entity, which is a crime against the Palestinian people for which accountability must be imposed by the Palestinian people.”

It also comes as the trial of the PA security agents involved in the assassination of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat has been postponed once again by the PA courts, almost two years after his assassination. Meanwhile, Palestinian political prisoners remain in the PA’s prisons, targeted for their commitment to resisting the occupation. All of these cases are not separate from those of Omar Nayef Zayed — they reveal the dangerous triangle of the Zionist occupation, imperialist powers and their junior partner, the Palestinian Authority.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network reiterates our call for justice and accountability for Omar Nayef Zayed. We reprint our statement from several years ago. Omar Nayef Zayed’s memory and legacy of struggle and resistance live on and cannot and will not be silenced or forgotten:

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network marks the second anniversary of the loss of Omar Nayef Zayed with a renewed call for justice and accountability for the death of this struggler for Palestine and former Palestinian political prisoner whose life was taken as he struggled once more for his freedom.

Nayef Zayed, 52, was a former Palestinian prisoner who was imprisoned in 1986, as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, accused with his brother Hamza and Samer Mahroum of being part of an attack on an Israeli extremist settler in Jerusalem. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he escaped in 1990 after a 40-day hunger strike. His escape from Israeli prison is almost legendary, securing his freedom amid close and intense repression.

After traveling in the Arab world for 4 years, he arrived in Bulgaria in 1994. Nayef Zayed was married to Rania, a Palestinian Bulgarian; they had three children. He owned a grocery store and was a leader in Sofia’s Palestinian community. In December 2015, moments before the expiration of the statute of limitations, the Israeli state demanded he be arrested and turned over to them by the Bulgarian police, after years of escalating “security cooperation” and security agreements between Bulgaria and Israel. He took sanctuary in the Palestinian embassy in Sofia while internationally, Samidoun and others campaigned against the extradition demand. Throughout this time, he was constantly subject to pressure by PA representatives to leave the embassy.

On 26 February, Nayef Zayed’s bloodied body was found on the ground of the garden of the embassy. Since that time, Samidoun has joined his family and comrades in an ongoing struggle to hold those responsible for Nayef Zayed’s death accountable and uncover the truth.

During Omar Nayef Zayed’s 70 days within the Embassy, he struggled for his freedom, facing a triangle of injustice and responsibility – the Israeli state, the Bulgarian state and also the Palestinian Authority, whose embassy and ambassador did their best to push Omar from the embassy and make his life there difficult or impossible, denying him visitors and threatening to remove him at any time.

Today, there has still been no justice or accountability on the death of Omar Nayef Zayed.  We once again revive the demand for truth, justice and accountability for Omar Nayef Zayed. This demand for justice is also being heard, resoundingly from Palestine and around the world.

Throughout his life, Nayef Zayed struggled for Palestine and for the Palestinian people; he was loved by his family, his friends and his comrades. We pledge to continue to organize and demand justice in this case and to remember his life, his struggle and his commitment to freedom, justice and liberation for the land and people of Palestine.