Ali Jiddah is an Afro-Palestinian activist living in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Ali’s nationalist feelings started growing up after the occupation in 1967. It was influenced by the occupation’s treatment to the Palestinians as he says. He was frustrated from the humiliation by the Israeli army. His frustrations grew bigger seeing the groups of Israeli settlers gloating and dancing in his neighborhood. Thus, Ali became politically active when he was 17 years old.
Jiddah was born in the old city of Jerusalem in the African quarter in January 13, 1950. He was born for a Chadian father and a Nigerian Mother. He is a second generation Afro-Palestinian. His father came to Jerusalem as a pilgrim in 1936. His maternal grandfather arrived to Jerusalem with the British army in 1917. He was a guard in Nur Shams prison in TulKarem. Ali’s maternal grandmother is a Palestinian Christian from Nur Shams.
Jiddah lives in Habs AlRibat side of the African quarter that is located near AlNazir gate of the Aqsa Yards. He is the fifth child of five boys and five girls. He was married in 1986 to a Palestinian woman from Akka. Today, he has two boys and three girls.
Ali Jiddah finished his primary and secondary schools in College des Frères in Jerusalem, New Gate. His education was sponsored by the French Consulate in Jerusalem because Ali’s father carried a French passport since Chad was a French colony. In 1967, Jiddah had one year left in school. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in June 1967. In the aftermath of the occupation, the French consulate has stopped sponsoring students in Jerusalem. Thus, Ali Jiddah was not able to his last year of school because. His father was not able to pay for Ali’s education.
Ali decided to work to save up money to continue his last year of school. He started working in Egged Public Transportation Company. In 17 years of age, Ali took night shifts, maintain buses. After two months, he moved to work in a Levi Jewelry shop in Jaffa Street in Jerusalem.
Resisting the Occupation
Ali Jiddah was arrested in August 5, 1968 with his cousin Mahmoud Jiddah. They were accused of being members of the Palestinian Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and planting bombs in several locations in Jerusalem. Ali and his cousin Mahmoud planted five bombs in different locations. The bombs exploded simultaneously leaving twenty-two Israelis injured. Members of Ali’s unit planted bombs in Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The sequence of bombings were in response of the Israeli Air Forces bombing of AlSalt city in Jordan in August 4, 1968 leaving 25 civilians dead and 29 injured. The Israeli attack was later condemned by the UN Security Council in resolution 256.
Ali was sentenced to twenty years in prison for his role in resisting the Israeli Occupation Forces. He was eighteen years old at the time. He spent seventeen years behind bars. In May 20 1985, Jiddah was freed from the Israeli prison in a prisoners exchange deal, named by Palestinians ‘the Galilee Operation’, between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Front for Liberating Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC).
Life in Prison
Ali Jiddah educated himself in prison. He enjoyed reading books. He was an admirer of the Russian literature. His favorite book is “The Mother” for Maxim Gorky.
In prison, Jiddah developed his skills in French and English languages that he studied in his primary and secondary education. Palestinian prisoner Hafez Dalqamoni taught Ali the Hebrew language. He used his languages skills to translate political books into Arabic. Since most political books were banned by the Israeli Prison Services (IPS), the neighboring Israeli criminal prisoners used to leak books to the Palestinians. Jiddah was in charge for the relations between the Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli criminal prisoners who continuously attacked the Palestinians.
Jiddah finished his last year of school (Tawjihi) in 1972. He received an average of 76.7 percent. Nonetheless, he was not allowed to seek a university degree.
Ali took part in many partial hunger strikes inside the prison. He also participated in a full hunger strike known as the Nafha Prison Strike in 1981 that lasted for 36 days. This mass hunger strike resulted in the death of two prisoners Rasem Halaweh from the Gaza Strip, Ali Jafari from Duheishi Refugee camp and Ali Maragha from Silwan. They martyred after the IPS tried to force feed them. The last hunger strike Ali participated was in 1985. For a whole month, prisoners only took bread and a cup of tea. The hunger strike was ended after prisoners received news from the Red cross of a near prisoners exchange deal, “the Galilee Operation”.
Ali was also the representative of the Palestinian prisoners in his prison. He was the spokesperson of 550 prisoners in Ramle prison, and later the spokesperson in prisons he was moved to. He spent twelve years in Ramle prison. Then he was moved to Beersheba for four years. He spent his last year in Nafha prison before he was released in a prisoner’s exchange deal.
Life outside Prison
After his release, Ali worked in Journalism. He was hired in the Alternative News Center in Jerusalem. In 1991, he moved to work as a Journalist in Al-Hayat office in Jerusalem. Following the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1994, Ali quit working in Journalism and started working as an alternative tour guide in Jerusalem until today. In 1998, Ali Jiddah published a book in Arabic “For You my son Mohammed”. Mohammed is Ali’s youngest son born in 1998.
Ali Jiddah is widely respected by the Palestinian community in Jerusalem from all factions. He also represents an idol to the Palestinian youth. His principled positions left him in bad terms with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Salim Shalabi, a prominent Fateh member in Jerusalem who passed away in 2008, told Ali Jiddah at one occasion that during a meeting former Palestinian president Yasir Arafat, he said: “Ali Jiddah has a lashing tongue, but I love him. I succeeded in buying loyalties from everyone except for him.”
Today, Ali Jiddah works as an alternative tour guide in Jerusalem. He makes a point in gathering tourists and teaches the history of his beloved city that he believes is constantly distorted by Israeli tour guides.
He lives in a small house in the old city. Today, he spends most of his time in bed due to sickness. Ali is diabetic. He also suffered from a fall in 2006. He was temporary disabled for 23 days before he underwent an operation in which doctors installed a platinum stick in his neck.
Ali lives a poor life. He is now struggling to educate his children. When asked about his economic situation, Ali Jiddah says: “I am poor and rich. I do not have money, but I am rich in people’s love and respect to me.”