In that political framework, Omar started his national struggle. A friend of Omar says: “We discovered in Omar an early eagerness and readiness for sacrifice. We were attracted to the idea of challenging the Israelis by throwing stones across the fence of barbed wire, when we were still twelve to thirteen years of age. Our living on the line of fire and the sight of the Israeli caravan heading for “Hodassa” in the heart of the Arab sector have provoked in us a deep-feeling of frustration. Omar and I thought for a long time on how to challenge the Israeli caravan. We succeeded in hitting it with a sound-device, homeland from cork and wire. This has caused a collision of the wagons, and the overthrow of its cargo of vegetables and fruits. That success has encouraged us to repeat it many times”.
Now, the “Cause” became Omar’s focal point. His personal initiatives were not limited to one area. One of his brothers says: “Omar started at an early time to get in contact with the tourists visiting Jerusalem with the aim of explaining to them the Palestinian problem. That led him to learn English. Very often he would bring home with him those tourists sympathetic with the Palestinian cause and ask his mother to extend her hospitality to them”. Physical exercises used to make Omar feel strong and ready for confrontation. He learned swimming, wrestling and weight-lifting.
After primary school, Omar moved to Al-Rashidiyeh secondary school known to be the bastion of nationalists and a centre for organizing mass protests. Hundreds of Palestinian cadre militants graduated from there. Upon joining this school, Omar left behind his individual initiatives and started the organized militant work.
In the middle of the fifties, the political arena has witnessed a revival of the sole of the national, pan-national and progressive parties, within the context of the general national awareness in the West Bank and Jordan. Omar grew up amidst the struggle against the U.S. plan for the settlement of the Palestinians, against Baghdad pact and the aggression of 1956. Dr Samir Ghosheh says: “We were surprised to see the quiet and serious Omar at the head of the popular manifestations in Jerusalem, protesting against Baghdad pact. The marches were brutally repressed by the Jordanian security men and that caused the martyrdom of Raja Abu Amache. I realized that the quietness and seriousness of Omar were shielding a strong militant power”.
During the tripartite aggression on Egypt, there was a great popular ebullition in Jerusalem and other cities in the West Bank and Jordan. The National forces proposed to train the people on the use of arms and first aids in preparation for an eventual Israeli attack. They succeeded on imposing that demand on the Jordanian government. Omar was among the activists who responded to that call shouldered that mission, and trained assiduously the people on the use of arms and civil defence. He was resolute on armed struggle until the last movement.
As a result of his active role in ignoring mass manifestation, the Jordanian security men started learning him. Omar’s father, along with the parents of other activist students were threatened by the Jordanian security men that their children will be expelled from the city if they continue to agitate.
Omar finished his secondary school in 1958. He then worked as a teacher in Jerusalem and applied at the same time to the University of Damascus to study English literature. He graduated with a bachelor degree. At the beginning of his university years, he joined the ranks of the Arab Nationalists Movement.
His organized militant work was reflected in his teaching. At the beginning of his lessons, Omar would explain to his students the current events and the urgent tasks a waiting the nationalists.
In other words, Omar’s creative work was to implement in his students the love of their homeland and the will to fight for it along with the curricular teaching necessary for their education. He was serious in both and that won him the respect and love of his students. Omar became subject to harassment and transfer from one school to another as a punishment for his leading militant role. One of these schools was in Beit Safafa, a town split between the Palestinian and the Israelis. This arbitrary division of the town and its citizens was a subject of provocation for Omar. He used it skilfully as an example to incite the students and their parents against the occupation. They responded to their teacher either by joining the protest mass movements of getting organized in the Arab Nationalists Movement.
Then Omar got transferred to the secondary school of Jenin. That school was an active arena for him.
Secondary school student are a reverse of national forces, quick to respond and move in the national struggle. He stayed there until he was arrested in 1966, in the context of a massive repression campaign launched against the national parties.
The relationship between Omar and his students was very close, not because of his leading national role, and his devotion to his carrier but because of his interest in them as human beings. He used to take them on trips to strengthen his ties with them and also to make them know better their homeland and its importance in history.
He volunteered to teach also in Al-Maqassed Schools to eliminate illiteracy among workers and small vegetable and sweet ventures. He managed to make many of them literate. His teaching was tightly linked with educating them politically and that owned him their love and admiration. His relationship with the simple people used to make him proud and very happy.
On the eve of the June war of 1967, the national forces with their different parties were dramatically weak as a result of the brutal repression campaign waged against them by the Jordanian regime.
Under the pressure of the momentum created by the unjust aggression, they called for the organization of the “Popular Resistance Groups”, in the village, towns and cities of the West Bank especially in Jerusalem. Omar was among the activist who urged the people to join them. He was a firm advocate for the coalition of different national parties in front of the common enemy. Witnesses to that are the joint national popular protest movements that have confronted the Jordanian regime and its capitulationist policy in face of the Israeli aggression on the village of Al-Samouh. Nabil Qablawe said “Omar had a good relationship with the Jordanian Communist party. He tried also to bring the other national force into a joint common stand. At that moment I felt that Omar really enjoys a spirit for alliance work. He was very close to the idea of a ‘national front’ something yet unknown in the annuals of the national movement.”
When the Israeli aggression on Egypt and Syria started in 1967 the Palestinian national movement in the West Bank took the initiative in mobilizing the masses, and organizing the popular resistance to meet the serious and urgent task.
Omar’s house in Sheikh Al-Jarrah was turned into a training centre on old, scare arms and on first aids. Omar used to repeat: “The Israeli will not take Jerusalem without resistance”. When the Israeli bombardment of the city began, Omar headed towards Mount Olive to participate in the fighting and suppressive the transport of the dead and wounded. He used to say: “Do not bury the martyrs without due honors, put signs on their tombs so as to make them in the future a memorial worthy of their bravery”.
The resistance in the West bank was insignificant due to the poorly equipped people in front of the ultra modern trends of the Israeli army and the cowardly withdrawal of the Jordanian army except for a few officers and soldiers who fought heroically until the end. In the wake of the fall of the West Bank and other Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation, a new era of Palestinian struggle started. It shed behind it the illusions that the Arab armies will liberate Palestine and reinstate the rights of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians took their destiny into their own hands which meant armed struggle under the banner of their own independent national forces. The different Palestinian factions were formed. Omar took the task of organizing and training the first Fidaiy groups in the PFLP, banking on his knowledge of the teachers, students and people in general. The first groups were formed in Jerusalem, Jenin, Qalquilia and Nablus. His work embodied both military training and political education through propaganda and printed pamphlets addressed to a large sector of the population.
He organized the union of the teachers with the aim of challenging the education, policy of the occupier.
The role of Omar grew bigger in the first weeks and months of the occupation of the West Bank. The political and military work of the different Palestinian factions began to increase, and to develop.
They succeeded on inflecting on the enemy human losses and material damages. The Israelis were retaliating with massive and brutal repression.
Omar was among the most wanted by the Israeli army but he managed to go underground and continued his militant work. His house was searched very often. When the Israelis failed to capture him, they took his brother as a hostage until he gives himself up. He realized the impossibility of working under these conditions. At that movement he took shelter in Jordan, joining the Fedaiyies in their positions on the River Jordan. He joined a military training course in Egypt. He also had a military training in Syria. In 1968 he became member of the military leadership of the PFLP. He participated in the heroic battle of Al-Karameh, the battle that represents the turning point in the development of the Palestinian resistance movement. He planned military questions across the River Jordan. During the congress of 1968, Omar was elected central committee member of the PFLP and was one of the exponents of the Marxist-Leninist trend within the organization, and one of the founders of the DFLP.
In spite of his important political leading role, Omar remained attached to armed struggle inside the occupied territories, the focal pint of resistance. He was convinced that Fedaiy cells should be built inside, especially in the province, among the people and with the participation of the youth from the occupied land. He believed firmly in that policy, taking into accounts his deep knowledge of the people and the unlimited sacrifices they can endure. Omar used to say to his comrades in the bases: there is no alternative but to strengthen the “inside” with the revolutionary cadres to develop the armed resistance, and to build the political organization that would consolidate the steadfastness of the people against the occupation.
On the night of 28 October 1968, Omar put his words into action. At the head of a Fedaiy group he crossed the River Jordan, heading for the mountains of Ramallah, to practice what he was preaching. They crossed many dangerous pass ways, but before arriving there, they were ambushed by an Israeli Patrol near the village of Kafer Malek. They fought back until they ran out of ammunitions. The Israeli Patrol managed to capture them. On that day, the spokesman of the Israeli army declared that they have ambushed a group of guerrillas and captured its leader, a 27 year old man, educated and resident of Jerusalem.
When imprisoned, comrade Omar was armed with theoretical consciousness, since he was one of the leaders of the Marxist Leninist trend, and convinced with the necessity of a joint struggle on abroad front’s formulas. He was experienced in struggle since the war of June 1967, added to commando experience in Jordan. He was imprisoned at the brim of his revolutionary enthusiasm which stems from the Palestinian national enthusiasm, after Karamah battle which registered the first victory on the Israeli army.
Since the first moment of his detention, he began to translate his enthusiasm and consciousness into action. He clashed with Israeli soldiers till his ammunition was over. He did not stop at this point but carried on the political battle when he asked the Israeli officer to treat the commandoes as war-prisoners, and to be committed to Geneva Convention.
In the court, he transformed his sentence of “sabotage action” to a question of a people who suffer from military occupation in their homeland, and who have a legitimate right to resist it by all means.
Comrade Omar has presented a new revolutionary style of treatment with the Israeli occupation authorities, when he transformed his trial to trial of the Israeli occupation. Even though the result of Omar Al-Qassem trial was a file-imprisonment, but this style of political confrontation with the occupation has become a political tradition to the Palestinian militants. The detention camps were then crowded with young commandoes who followed the groups of resistance in the framework of general national enthusiasm. Hence they had not the experience of treatment in prisons, no consciousness of the dimensions of the Palestinian struggle.
Comrade Omar and few militants had the experience and the consciousness to carry on this great task of struggle. In his long march, Omar has stated a doctrine which he always repeated before comrades; the role of a militant begins in prison, i.e. struggle in prison is integral with struggle outside. We should stand our ground in this front “detention camps”, and we will stand steadfast despite the deficiency in the balance of forces. With the declaration of the establishment of de DFLP on February 22, 1969, comrade Omar began to form the organization of the DFLP in the Israeli prisons and detention camps. He remained a leader of this organization till his martyrdom. Long and hard struggle started in prisons, starting with small issues and ending with big demands. Detainees were prevented from practicing sports in the ground of the detention camp, especially massive exercise. Omar began playing individually in the courtyard. Prisons administration protested and transformed him to and individual’s dungeon for o weeks. Afterwards he resumed his exercise in the courtyard. The prison administrator asked to see him and gave him permission to exercise alone, but Omar refused the proposal saying: “It is not a matter of permission for an individual but for all detainees. Then prison administration was obliged to allow all of the detainees to exercise sports in the courtyard of the prison.
In the first period of detention, prison administration resorted to imposing a system of military productive work, on the detainees. Omar began a prolonged discussion with his comrades to stop the work, especially the grids used for tanks and armoured cars. His call for boycott found a positive immediate response. Although comrade Omar was isolated in fail after he was charged of provocation, yet this important achievement of boycott continued. The experience extended to other detention centres and became comprehensive.
When the front action developed among the detainees, with the development of mental and political consciousness, struggle in prisons was escalated. This happened after the success of the strike of July in 1970 in which all detention camps participated under the slogan of breaking the Israeli sword of terrorism held over the necks of the detainees, and improvement of detention conditions. Comrade Omar was one of the prominent leaders of this strike, who defined its demands and followed all the phases of its achievement. The proof to this is the attempt of the prison, administration to isolate comrade Omar and three militants in individual’s cells to foil the strike. This attempt failed and the strike succeeded in achieving its demands. Thus the tyranny of the Israeli terrorism was crushed vis-à-vis the steadfastness of the heroic detainees and their valiant challenge. The prison administration transformed comrade Omar from Ashkelon prison to Al-Ramlah prison, as a punishment for his active role in the success of the strike.
With all the new gains, the struggle of the detainees was developed and escalated. Prisons were transformed to real arenas of struggle. In an attempt to stop this process and to return to the previous phase, prisons administration opened the neo-Nazi prison of Nafha in the desert, especially for the activists and leaders of detainees. Comrade Omar was transformed to this dreadful prison among the first group of detainees in 1980. The great challenge is that the detainees decided to fight the battle with the prisons administration, aiming at blocking the way against this base conspiracy on the detainee.
The first step was when a committee was formed to lead the strike in Nafha prison and other detention camps. This committee planned for an open strike in all the detention centres, under the slogans; “prison authorities should give up its repressive measures”. Here began the long battle of strike.
The steadfastness of the detainees was heroic. Two detainees fell martyrs. Prison administration handled the matter in the same way, i.e. it transformed four detainees, including comrade Omar to Al-Ramlah prison. There has been an attempt to foil the strike by force, restoring to violent beating.
Meanwhile comrade Omar was about to die when a hose was inserted into his stomach and taken out violently without using the alimentary substance.
This action was described as an attempt of assassination, planned for by prison administration. The strike succeeded and realized its main objectives.
Struggle entered a new developed phase in detentions centres’ Front. Comrade Omar identified this phase saying: “After we exact our demands in prison, we should announce supportive struggle with the struggle of our people in the occupied territories and contribute to it from there. Such struggle began before the great strike of Nafha and was escalated afterwards. Detention centres struck to denounce project of autonomy and the civil administration, to topple the heads of municipality, elected in the West Bank, and to reject deliberate aggression against Bassam Al-Shakaa, Karim Khalaf, and Ibrahim Al-Taweel. Detention camps struck in support with Jerusalem electric company, since it was exposed to seizure, as a national institution.
Detention camps began to celebrate the day of land, as well as al other national occasions, by strikes and other activities. Generally speaking, struggle in the detention camps has become an integral part of the struggle outside. Ever since detention camps have their own national traditions in their dealing with the administration or the court, on the one hand, and in the relation among detainees and the role they play in prisons, on the other hand. These traditions that detainees put forth by their hard struggle and precious sacrifice, have become a great weapon in the hands of the whole Palestinian national movement. Prisons have become schools to prepare revolutionary fighters who have a deep faith in their struggle till victory is achieved.
When the Israeli authorities were obliged to set free the majority of militants through a process of prisoners exchange, prisons administration tried to destroy the gains and traditions that the heroic detainees achieved, but the revolutionary leader ship of prisons, foremost of whom is comrade Omar Al-Qassem blocked the way to this attempt.
In this context comrade Omar wrote a letter in which he says: Prisons are exposed to a brutal attack nowadays, aiming to liquidate the achievements of the captivated movement to set them back into the previous detention conditions that were prevalent in the first years of detention. Vis-à-vis this attack, which is concentrated in Jened prison, we should continue our struggle, not only to defend what we have achieved of gains, but also to improve them. The strike of February 1987 succeeded in the confirmation of those revolutionary gains and traditions.
During the great popular Intifada in the occupied territories, comrade Omar stated the tasks of the captivated movement, to Al-Hadaf magazine which issues in prison. He said: “In the conditions of the Intifada, and through its positive effects on the international level, we may announce an open comprehensive hunger strike, demanding the Israeli government to concede our position as political detainees, to whom the fourth Geneva Convention is to be applied. If we reach an agreement with the Unified National Leadership to fight this battle, our main task would be to exact our characteristic as political prisoners”.
The said achievement would not be mentioned on the long hard way of struggle without the militant Omar Al-Qassem and his likes of militants, experienced in struggle for they constitute a strong symbol for thousands of militants. The prominent characteristic in comrade Al-Qassem was his steadfastness represented by his deep conviction while exposed to serve measures and threats were about to kill him. After 25 days of the hunger strike in Al-Ramlah prison he, along with three of his comrades, were put in individuals’ cells. He was let to choose either to break the strike with all his strength, and loudly shouted, while was carried by soldiers after he lost ability to walk because of violent beating: “Don’t eat. Fear nothing”.
His stand whetted us with enthusiasm and strength. In Ashkelon prison in 1987, while the prison administration tried to suppress the Intifada of the detainees, it called for comrade Al-Qassem and ordered him to kneel down, but he refused strongly. They assaulted him, but he faced them with all his strength and indescribable courage till they overcame him. They tried to suppress him before the detainees by means of beating and torture. His mouth and nose bled, yet he insisted not to respond to the administration’s conditions.
When a group of the DFLP’s revolutionary armed forces carried out the heroic operation of Maalot in Galilee (Al-Jaleel) prison administration called for comrade Al-Qassem. They blindfolded his eyes and led him in a helicopter to Maalot. He was taken then in an armoured vehicle. They asked him to call on the Fedayeen to surrender, resorting by this to “an Israeli trick”. Comrade Omar refused to carry out this task; “the trick”. When they insisted, using various pressures, comrade Omar shouted through the loudspeaker: “Comrades, carry out the orders of your leadership in details and don’t respond to any other demands”. Soon the soldiers snatched the loudspeaker and beat him into the armoured vehicle. He was brought back to prison, and transformed then to a cell, as a punishment for his valiant action.
Omar’s steadfastness was also embodied during an interview with Navon in 1987, in prison. Navon asked Omar to promise not to carry out any political activity in return of setting him free and allowing him to live in Jerusalem. Omar firmly replied: “I have spent twenty years in prison and I do not mind my own fate rather than the cause of my people. As long as the incubus of occupation oppresses our people, I will struggle. There will come the day when I will be free”.
In addition to Omar’s major characteristic of national steadfastness, there are other characteristics which made his revolutionary role comprehensive, the most important of which is his intellectual and political role in the detention camp.
This role stems from his democratic unionist frontal conception about all forces. He was one of the leaders who called for national unification early in prisons. He struggled to mobilize all national forces regardless of their size or ideological conception. This attitude constituted an access to his political, intellectual, and cultural role in the framework of the whole captivated movement.
It is agreed on by consensus that comrade Omar is one of the first leaders who introduced the progressive ideology to the detainees. We may find many progressive comrades inside and outside the territories who are disciples of comrade Al-Qassem on the intellectual and theoretical levels. At the beginning, he has been summarizing his memories for circulation and discussion. Afterward he began to translate books from the library, and re-wrote them. Other times, he summarized them to circulate them among detainees. He also depended on his communications with the leadership of the DFLP in the occupied territories. These correspondences were discussions of political and theoretical issues that would help him in his lectures and summaries.
He received very valuable letters, according to what he has been stating in prison. When the captivated movement exacted an access to books and newspapers, main subjects became available to all detainees.
Comrade Omar resorted to open lectures at night to discuss subjects as the development of Palestinian national cause, the political programme of the DFLP an its ideological and political literature, historical materialism, dialectical materialism, and the history of philosophy. In big political gatherings, he made prolonged explanations and Analyses to the dimensions of such issues, definitely the events of September 1970, October war, and the transitional programme adopted by the PLO in 1974.
In a smaller framework he organized cadre courses. On of these courses lasted for nearly a year, and graduated a group of comrades in a cadre position.
He showed a special concern in the popular war, and the Vietnamese and Algerian experiences. He was also interested in literature and poetry. One of these comrades said: “In one of our meetings, comrade Omar asked one of us to read a story written by Michael Naimeh. Who en the story was read, he made a discussion and Analysis about it, with participation of a big number of detainees”.
On the eve of the PNC 19th session in Algeria, comrade Omar led the political discussions in all prisons and detention centres to formulate the present tasks of the Palestinian national movement during the Intifada. He played the major role in unifying the political attitudes of the detainees, who demanded the 19th session to declare the establishment of the Palestinian state, and the formulation of the Palestinian programme.
In addition to his political and intellectual role, comrade Omar had some other activities like issuance of papers, writings, dialogues and the likes. He was one of the first detainees to take the initiative of issuing papers into the detention camps. When detainees of a certain organization came to have their own paper, he proposed the project of a unified magazine. This project succeeded sometimes, retreated in others. He was mainly interested in writing about the positions and affairs of the detainees. He wrote 34 topics which tackled a valuable representation of the detainees’ conditions, the phases of captivated movement, experiences and lessons of the strike, and the behaviour of detainees on various levels.
Evaluations of some comrades who were with comrade Omar in the detention camps most of the time, indicate that he issued “126” booklets which discuss various items, including the political phases of the current Palestinian revolution. He always encouraged talents through writing especially to Al-Mulhaq Al-Adabi magazine, which graduated a considerable number of writers. He also dedicated a long time for teaching the English language in particular, and the Arabic and French languages in general, and some other academic subjects, aiming at improving the cultural level of detainees.
Foremost of his concerns was to obliterate illiteracy. Omar said: “Illiteracy should be obliterated as soon as possible”. One of the comrades said: “When Omar knew that I do not read, he said: You will soon have an educational course. Some months later, when I wrote the first letter to my family, I felt how much great is this militant. When I learnt how to read and write, I asked him to teach me the English language. He laughed saying that learning languages for a person in my position is like fruits and I should eat first Myjadarah and Mahshi then a melon. In other words, I should study politics and the conceptions of the organization, and the language comes after. He refused to give Marxist books to detainees who have not yet read and discussed the history of the Palestinian struggle”.
“Comrade Omar was really committed to struggle”. One of the comrades said, “I do not exaggerate to say that Omar and his likes had not a time of their own, but they have been living for their people. They were the candle which burns itself to lighten the way for others”.
The committed character of Omar has its deep human dimensions that affected his comrades in prisons. He, for example had a special treatment with Arab Syrian, Egyptian and Iraqi detainees, since they were separated for their families and were not visited. He always made sure that he met all their necessary needs through his relations with his family and the families of the Palestinian detainees. He insisted that they share him his visits.
When there have been prisoner exchanges, the majority of his comrades were set free. His name was not in the same list. His great attitude then embodied the deep human dimensions of his character. In a gathering that included all the detainees who were to be set free, he said: “It is a great national achievement. Now we live a national wedding and we should do all the best to let it succeed. We, who will stay in prison, should never be sad so that our comrades and brothers, who are to be set free, do not feel destitute of the happiness of freedom, that we should share with them”. He proposed to celebrate this occasion and participated in it actively. When the detainees were set free, he wrote to one of them: “I feel so much happy for your freedom, as if I swim in a sea of ecstasy. This is not an exaggeration because it is not possible for a person like me, after all what has happened, to feel living without this deep overwhelming feeling of happiness for the freedom of a big number of dear comrades”.
He went on saying: “I am really pleased to know of the marriage of some of our freed comrades. As for myself, I could not imagine that my marriage would be postponed till now, yet I am optimistic to marry at the age of 50. Sometimes I think that I will not have young children or I will not be a grandfather, but this thought does not reflect the truth behind it because the apparent change in the age of a detainee gives me a feeling of being a father and a grandfather at once. Many of the detained young men see in me a father, which makes me happy, because I really love them as sons. Some of them are very young and love me as a grandfather, others see in me a brother. In fact I live among a family in which each one loves the other. Love is the fruit of giving, and the happy person is the one who could make a giving of his life. Yet I still feel an overwhelming desire for freedom”.
In one of his letters on July 31, 1986, Omar promoted his humanitarianism and translated his intellectual development in a scientific view of the conflict with the Israeli enemy. He said: “We will not allow hatred, fascist and racial Israeli practices to create a desire in ourselves to respond in the same way, and to have a racial look toward Judaism. We will fight the enemy in a way based on national and human values, and peace, though we suffer of the tragedies that they create by aggression and racial practices against the Palestinian people, the Arab people, and the Israelis themselves”.
The great heart stopped beating. The great national leader Omar Mohamoud Al-Qassem fell martyr in the prisons of the Israeli occupation on June 4th, 1989. He suffered of a chronic disease, as a result of the Israeli government’s procrastination of treatment, and refusal to set him free for medical treatment outside prisons. The Israeli government ignored all the appeals of the international and humanitarian institutions and organizations that called, for two months, to set the great militant free; and left him suffering of the chronic disease in the hospital of the prison.
The great leader fell martyr after a period of 21 years spent in prisons of occupation, which is the longest period spent by a political militant there.
He deserves the little of Palestine’s Mandela. Al-Qassem passed away, leaving a rich heritage for militants inside and outside prisons, and for the people who were inspired by his commitment and steadfastness, along with his comrades, an experience of steadfastness in the battle of conflicted wills, in the great popular Intifada, till the end of occupation and the achievement of national independence. Comrade Omar did all the best for the freedom of his people, and rose as a star that lightens the way for victory. The people pay their sincere son great respect, when 10.000 of sons of Jerusalem celebrated Al-Qassem wedding. Masses of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including hundreds of his disciples, followed Omar’s funeral procession, to confirm the continuation of Omar’s march, the way of freedom and independence.