"Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy."
-- First Commandment of the society in George Orwell's Animal Farm.
On the night of April 15, a few weeks after the final performance of a Palestinianized version of Orwell's classic upon the stage of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp, an unidentified two-legged arsonist set fire to the theatre's main door.
Motives may be many, suspects are yet nil, and thankfully the damage was confined to the exterior of the theatre complex as the fire was extinguished before drafting inwards toward the stage, classrooms and computer lab.
At a press conference the next day, the Freedom Theatre's general manager, Juliano Mer Khamis (pictured), who re-founded the theatre in 2004, called on the Palestinian Authority security services to bring the culprit(s) to justice.
Somewhere in the vicinity of Juliano was a man named Zakariya Zubeidi, a man who is sometimes referred to in the Israeli press as a "reformed terrorist."
Zubeidi might be better called a "redeemed child" rather than a reformed terrorist. As a lad, he was active in the original Freedom Theatre started by Juliano's late mother, Arna. [Shameless plug: for more background, see an article by the Tuque Souq's alter ego published in This Magazine about the Freedom Theatre.]
In 2002, a child no longer--whose home and family were threatened by an Israeli military onslaught known as Operation Defensive Shield--Zubeidi joined the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade and fought for the defence of the camp. Shortly thereafter, when the senior leaders of the Brigade were dead or captured, Zubeidi reluctantly became its new commander in the camp, which put him at the top of Israel's most wanted list (for assassination) for a time.
But, accruing wisdom and stoicism with age, Zubeidi, now 33, left the militant group for the Palestinian Authority security services. He also has a few ambiguous civic titles in the refugee camp. [That's Zubeidi, pictured, inside the Freedom Theatre.]
Nowadays around Jenin he's mainly known as the one guy who survived it all.
[For even more, see this recent Globe & Mail article by Patrick Martin about the Freedom Theatre and Mr. Zubeidi.]
When the story of the fire hit the Israeli press a few days later, leading daily Ha'aretz published an article claiming that, apparently for security's sake after the fire, the Freedom Theatre had named Zubeidi as its new director.
Juliano Mer Khamis vigorously denied this in an email sent to the Theatre's email list, implying that it is within Zubeidi's role as a member of the security services in Jenin to help bring the arsonists to justice, and to help protect the theatre.
"The Freedom Theatre called upon Zacharia Zubeidi and all supporters of the organisation to take clear action to protect it from these forces," read the letter.
Whether via bad journalism or bad translation, neither of which are usually attributed to Ha'aretz, the media got this one wrong.
But at least Ha'aretz gave us some gossip: rekindling the rumour that Zubeidi is romantically linked with Tali Fahima, the Israeli activist who, five years ago, went to live with Zubeidi in Jenin as a human shield when she learned that the Israeli military was planning to assassinate him. Both she and Zubeidi have denied the rumours.