Kozu Okamoto..the only political refugee in Lebanon

In 1972, Kozo Okamoto wanted to end his life with two of his comrades in the Japanese Red Army through a deadly suicide attack at Lod airport in Israel.

An attack that killed 26 people. But 50 years later, he is still alive, a political refugee in Lebanon.

He is the only political refugee in a country that does not have an asylum policy.

He spent many years in Israeli prisons and was released as part of an exchange of prisoners and detainees between Israel and the Palestinians.

Okamoto, 74, looked thin and gray in his hair during the commemoration of Operation Lod on Monday at the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut.

This man is still wanted by his hometown, Japan. But among Palestinians and Israeli opponents, he is seen as a “hero.”

When he boarded an Air France flight from Rome on May 30, 1972, he was carrying a fake passport bearing the name given by the Japanese Red Army, Daisuke Namba, after the man who tried to assassinate the then Crown Prince and later the Emperor of Japan. Hirohito in 1923..

But Ahmed was his de guerre name given to him by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the faction that was famous at the time for the hijackings and that trained Okamoto and planned Operation Lod.

Due to the hijackings, airlines at the time tightened their control over passengers, but baggage controls were still limited.

At Lod Airport, which is today Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Okamoto and two of his comrades in the Japanese Red Army took their bags, quickly pulled out their bags, and started firing around them.

The operation killed 26 people, including a Canadian and eight Israelis.

The remaining 17 dead were Christian pilgrims with U.S. citizenship from Puerto Rico.

The small island commemorates to this day in San Juan.

As soon as the attack was over, the three attackers were scheduled to blow themselves up. Two of them were killed, but Okamoto was wounded and arrested immediately.

human waste

During his arrest, Israeli officers deceived Okamoto, offering him a handgun to kill himself if he cooperated with them during interrogation.

Indeed, Okamoto agreed, but the other side did not honor its commitment.

During his trial, Okamoto seemed to be hoping for a death sentence, a sentence that has only been handed down once in Israel against Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

His court-appointed lawyer described what happened at the time during an interview in 1976, saying, “Okamoto worked for the prosecution.”

Okamoto was sentenced to life in prison.

He spent most of his years in prison in solitary confinement and was released through a massive swap deal between the Palestinians and Israel in May 1985. He looked pale and exhausted at the time.

Upon arrival at Tripoli airport in Libya, Okamoto, who was held over the shoulders of PFLP elements, seemed to lose focus.

“When he came out of detention, he was more like a human body,” AFP quoted Abu Yousef, a Lebanese People’s Front official close to Okamoto, as saying.

He says the Israelis “worked to destroy his psyche”, noting that they were forcing him to eat with his hands tied behind his back “like dogs”.

Long after his release, he returned to eating with his hands, but continued to eat the last bite of his plate with his tongue, according to Abu Yousef.

After spending several years in Japanese Red Army and Popular Front camps in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, Lebanese security arrested Okamoto in 1997 in a case of document forgery.

Under pressure from Tokyo, Lebanon deported four members of the Red Army to Japan in 2000, but under pressure from Palestinian factions and demonstrations supporting it, Okamoto was released and Beirut granted him political asylum.

Okamoto has since lived under the auspices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose influence waned after some countries called him a “terrorist” because of the operations he carried out in some countries, but he treats Okumato with respect and reassures him. all his needs.

Abu Yusuf says, “This is the smallest task.”

routine life

In a rare appearance, Okamoto attended Monday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Lod Airport operation at Camp Shatila.

To this day he puts a ring on his finger, which was given to him by a prisoner who was with him in an Israeli prison.

Abu Youssef describes him as “a solid person who does not know the word painful or tired,” adding: “He still speaks to this day about Palestine and rejects the occupation.”

Okumato is the youngest in a middle-class family of six siblings in southern Japan.

Since his release from prison in Lebanon, he has led a simple and largely routine life.

He eats his breakfast between seven and eight in the morning, then lunch at twelve-thirty, then dinner at six in the evening.

He loves coffee and sweets. As he was an avid smoker, he quit this habit at the request of his doctors.

Today he spends much of his time watching cartoons, like Tom and Jerry, and petting his two cats.

“He (Okamoto) will not pose a threat to Israel or Japan,” said Mii Shigenobu, the daughter of Japanese Red Army founder Fusaku Shigenobu, who was released on Saturday after 20 years in a Japanese prison. psychological.

“I can not rule out the possibility that his life is still under threat,” said May, who grew up in Lebanon.

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