Monday, July 4, 2011

A true tale of a man

This is a true story, a story of an unsung hero who spent five years fighting together with the Palestinian people. This is the story of Yunus Ali, a Malaysian citizen, a former student activist in the early 1970’s and also a former member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1970’s.

I will try my best to tell his story as simply as I can because for me, Yunus is one of a kind. Not many of us were born with the courage to leave our own country and to fight together with people that we have never met before.

The story starts in 1974 when the Malaysian government was cracking down hard on student activists. Yunus was among the top student activists wanted by the government for his role in a series of demonstrations condemning the government’s actions against the poor peasants in Kedah. Knowing that the secret police were everywhere on his university campus, Yunus sought refuge at his long time friend’s house. His friend was also at that time married to Abu Yaakub, a former PLO ambassador in Kuala Lumpur.

Many activists from various backgrounds were arrested and were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Yunus and a few friends, however, managed to escape. I personally do not know what year he fled the country and arrived in Lebanon. Through Abu Yaakub, he arrived safely in Beirut. Yunus received six months training and later he was selected to a PLO Commando Unit. The unit was an elite force specialized in fighting against the Zionists and the fascist Phalangist terrorists. A couple of years later, Yunus became one of Yasser Arafat’s bodyguards. Then in the early 1980’s, because of the civil war in Lebanon, he fled to the United Kingdom.

In the United Kingdom, through his personal contacts, Yunus managed to pursue his studies in Sociology at North East London University. After years of living in exile, Yunus finally flew back home. It was in late 1988 and the situation in Malaysia was not getting any better. This time, he was caught. Along with more than one hundred activists and politicians, he was sent without a fair trial to a Kamunting prison for two years.

In December 2008, I first saw Yunus at a theater in Kuala Lumpur. For the first time I saw how he looked. I had heard about his stories from local activists and from the stories, I imagined that Yunus was a tough built guy with a fierce look. However, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw him that night, “You gotta be kidding”, I said. Yunus was a small built guy, filled with smiles on his face as people greeted him. “Is this Yunus Ali who fought against the Zionists in Lebanon? He doesn’t look like a commando at all,” I said to myself. As soon as the theater finished, I went home but still I could not believe that the short plump guy I had seen was Yunus.

In May 2009, after University I enrolled in a local Non Profit Organization (NGO) in Kuala Lumpur. The organization that I joined was run by Yunus and focused on free and fair elections in Malaysia and South East Asia. On that particular month, there was a by-election in Penang and that was also the first time I met Yunus face to face. In his blue Proton Wira, we had an ice breaking session since we had not known each other before. While I was driving his car, I asked him this question. “How did you get into Lebanon and became a guerilla fighter?” He smiled and did not reply to my question. We were driving along the Ipoh highway surrounded by beautiful green mountains when he suddenly said, “Do you see those big mountains?” Yes I said. “In Lebanon, I have to stay undetected on top of the hill for days. It was some part of my guerilla training method, and during my time, I’ve killed more Arabs than Zionists. These Arabs, they were part of the Phalangist movement with their fascist ideology. They received training and weapons from the Israelis as well. I chose to fight with the Palestinian people for one reason. Palestine is a sovereign state. I did not join them to kill people, and my intention was to help liberate Palestine from the oppressive Zionist regime,” he said without pausing.

In 2010, Yunus’s health condition was not good. He had been in and out of the hospital since early 2000 after being diagnosed with lupus disease. Yet, he managed to travel to several countries including Afghanistan in 2009 to monitor the general election. Although his condition was getting worse, Yunus was blessed with a strong heart. During Ramadhan in 2010, he cooked a huge pot of lamb curry to serve to us during the breaking fast. It was his last dish before he died a week later.

Although Yunus received a guerilla training routine, it did not change him in the slightest way. He was a very soft-spoken man with a low profile. Smiles were always on his face and telling jokes was his part of his character. His last words to a friend were “make love & make revolution”.

Yunus was not only a fighter, but a loving father, a caring friend, and an absolute believer in freedom and justice.

Yunus bin Lebai Ali (1951 – 2010)

Tulisan ini diterbitkan oleh majalah Gwangju News edisi Julai.

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