Kozu Okamoto .. The story of a hero for Palestine and the only political refugee in Lebanon

During Okamoto’s participation in the 50th anniversary of the Lod Airport operation at Camp Shatila (AFP)

In 1972, Kozo Okamoto and two of his comrades in the Japanese Red Army carried out an operation at Lod airport in Israel, killing 26 people. But 50 years later, he is still alive as 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 during the commemoration of Operation Lod on Monday at the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut. He is still wanted in his native Japan, but among Palestinians 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, Desuke Namba, after the man who attempted to assassinate the then Crown Prince and later Emperor Hirohito in 1923..

But Ahmed was his de guerre name given to him by the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”, the left-wing Palestinian faction that was famous at the time for the hijackings and which 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.

Near Okamoto: Israelis forced him to eat food in prison with his hands tied behind his back “like a dog”

At Lod Airport, Okamoto and two of his companions in the Japanese Red Army took their bags, quickly pulled out machine guns and grenades, 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. 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.

In an AFP photo after arriving at Tripoli airport in Libya, Okamoto, who was held over the shoulders of PFLP elements, appeared to be out of focus.

Abu Youssef, a Lebanese People’s Front official close to Okamoto, told AFP: “When he came out of detention, he was more like the remains of a human being.” 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 the camps of the Japanese Red Army and the “People’s Front” 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 Lebanon granted him political asylum.

Okamoto has since lived under the care of the “People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine”, which treats him with respect and provides for all his needs. “This is the smallest task,” says Abu Yusuf.

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 breakfast between seven and eight in the morning, then lunch at twelve-thirty and 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 despite his physical condition. and mental.

“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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