Growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp South of Gaza, I still remember many names that were always revered as our heroes. One of these names appeared out of place, in the ever-growing list of heroes. But for many Palestinians this name has always made sense, very good sense indeed. It is Kozo Okamoto, a Japanese activist who joined the rising Palestinian armed revolution of 1970. Why would anyone dedicate his life willingly to someone else's battle, without hoping for any sort of material gain? For Okamoto and many of his comrades, the love for principle was all the motivation they needed to validate their actions. And years later, Japanese Red Army Commander Okamoto, embraces Islam and embraces Lebanon as a homeland which he refuses to leave behind.
When Kozo Okamoto and two other Japanese nationals raided Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, killing and injuring many, their actions were perceived by Arab nations as heroic. The justification for such a reaction was simple: the military operation was all a part of the battle to liberate Palestine, which then called for freeing Palestine of an Israeli Jewish presence, which was born out of the cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. But many definitions have changed since Kozo Okamoto's attack. Now the 55-year old man and his fellow fighters are members on a "terrorist list" (which ironically was previously called a "heroes list" and now has received a title change). While Israel is still resorting to the same aggressive policies which were used since the time of its establishment, Kozo Okamoto is wanted for a trial in Japan, only a few days after his three year sentence ended in Lebanon, and 12 years after his 13 years of solitary confinement in an Israeli prison.
Replying to the Japanese extradition call, Lebanon courageously said "no."
The Lebanese refusal to send the freedom fighters back was a hard choice to make, because Japan's contributions to the rebuilding of the post war Lebanese infrastructure was too much to afford losing. Thus far $105 million have been given to the Lebanese government, and more was on the way as a part of an annual aid program. Yet the Lebanese rejection was heard loud and clear, joining the chanting crowds in the street defending Okamoto. Unfortunately, the Lebanese decision didn't redeem the initial mistake of imprisoning the five fighters for three years in the first place, beginning in 1997.
Many of the Israeli war criminals -- and there are many of them around -- were the citizens of other nations at one point. Many of them continue to hold dual citizenship. Yet they are still at large, travelling the world free while no one is chasing behind them, demanding extradition. Why is it that only the victims and those who came to aid the voiceless are the ones being extradited back and forth?
Okamoto and his friends have done plenty to support Palestinians in their honorable quest for freedom and liberation. Their only wish is to remain in the land that they love and consider home.
No matter how fast ideologies change in the Middle East, and no matter how dominant and influential Israel and its allies are, Kozo Okamoto, Masao Adachi, Kazuo Tohira, Haruo Wako and Mariko Yamamoto are still heroes in the eyes of Palestinians, Lebanese and those who dared to be human, now and forever.