Our Palestinian detainees have been battling the Israel Prison Service (IPS) with their empty stomachs since 24 April, embarking on the longest-known mass hunger strike in the history of the Palestinian prisoners movement. Hunger is the only remaining weapon they can use against the IPS and its well-armed Israeli occupation soldiers.
They launched this hunger strike to call for an end to their detention with no charge or trial based on secret “evidence” submitted to a military court that is kept from the detainees and their lawyers — an unjust policy that Israel calls administrative detention. One hundred and twenty administrative detainees launched this mass hunger strike which grew to involve nearly three hundred prisoners, according to the rights group Addameer.
Our dignified prisoners are striking in protest of Israel’s violation of an agreement reached with the IPS after the 28-day mass hunger strike that ended on 14 May 2012. According to that deal, the use of administrative detention — the key issue behind the hunger strike – would be restricted and administrative detention orders would not be renewed without fresh evidence being brought before a military judge. However, Israel did not abide by the agreement and has continued its practice of arbitrary administrative detention.
Administrative detainee Ayman Tbeisheh from Dura village near Hebron in the occupied West Bank has exceeded one hundred days of refusing food in protest of his administration detention orders which have been continuously renewed since his last arrest in May 2013, according to al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. Tbeisheh has spent a total of eleven years in Israeli jails, including nearly five years under administrative detention.
According to Addameer, Tbeisheh first began to refuse food on 22 May 2013, immediately after his four-month administrative detention order was confirmed in a military court. He suspended his strike after 105 days, when he thought he reached a deal with the IPS. But this was soon broken as his order was again renewed, despite his deteriorated health.
Ayman Tbeisheh told Palestinian lawyer Ibrahim Al-Araj, who managed to visit him during his previous hunger strike, “I will continue this open hunger strike until I put an end to the ghost of administrative detention that keeps chasing me.”
Soon after he regained some of his physical strength, he re-launched his hunger strike on 24 February 2014. Tbeisheh has since been placed in Assaf Harofe Medical Center where he lays shacked to a hospital bed that may become his deathbed at any moment.
Ayman’s condition is no different than the rest of administrative detainees whose hunger for freedom and dignity drove them to launch the mass hunger strike that has been continuing for 51 days. Eighty hunger strikers have been hospitalized as a result of their ongoing hunger strike, but they persevere in this battle for dignity.
Despite their weak bodies that are drained of energy, their hands and feet are shacked to their hospital beds. They are threatened with force-feeding on a daily basis, an inhumane and dangerous practice that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is close to setting into law.
My father, who spent a total of fifteen years in Israeli jails, calls force-feeding “a death penalty.” He participated in the Nafha prison mass hunger strike in 1980 which lasted for 33 days. He was subjected to force-feeding and thankfully survived. But his comrades Rasem Halawa from Jabalia refugee camp and Ali al-Jaafary from Dheisheh camp were victims of this murderous practice that aimed to break their hunger strike, and were killed after being subjected to force-feeding.
The Israel Prison Service escalates its oppression of the hunger strikers as their health constantly deteriorates. They put them in windowless isolation cells, keep their hands and legs shackled for tens of hours, deny them family and lawyer visits, and they even deny them an access to salt, which is necessary for their survival.
The strikers are committed to “hunger until either victory or martyrdom,” the same asKhader Adnan, Hana al-Shalabi, Mahmoud Sarsak, Samer Issawi and other ex-detainees who freed themselves after heroic battles of hunger strike against the IPS.
Below is my translation of a letter our administrative detainees managed to smuggle on 8 June to call upon humanity and people of conscience for popular and international support of their battle for justice. The ex-detainee Allam Kaaby read it during a press conference in front of the sit-in tent erected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza in solidarity with our Palestinian prisoners’ open-ended mass hunger strike:
Despite the chains and the prisons’ bars and walls, this is a will from those who are standing at the edge of death to the guards of our homeland, Palestine.
After leaving the isolation cells which are no longer able to tolerate our pains, illnesses and corroded bodies, from our hospital beds to which we are shackled by chains and guard dogs, from amidst the jailers who keep watching our heart monitors that may announce our death any moment, from the edge of death, we send our call which could be the last for some of us. It might be the time to announce our will before we embrace our people as dignified martyrs. Our call is our voice, our scream, our will. We are the administrative detainees who are heading towards immortality, towards embracing the sun of dignity which might mark at the same time, the end of the battle for dignity. We raise our voice, hoping that it will reach our revolutionary people.
First, we call upon you to intensify your support of the hunger strikers who are not yet martyred; the fighters who fight our fascist enemy with their bodies deserve from you a stand of loyalty that prevents the continuation of our bloodshed which will never stop until the achievement of our just demands.
Second, the pains of hunger damaged some of our organs but some organs must be still in tact. As death is waiting for us, we declare that nothing will stand in the way of our sacrifices, even death. Therefore, we donate our functioning organs to the fighters, poor and oppressed people who are in need. We are waiting a visit from the International Committee of The Red Cross to endorse these donations.
Third, we call on you to stay faithful to our blood and the blood of all martyrs who sacrificed their souls over the course of our Palestinian struggle. Faithfulness is not just through words, but through revolutionary practice that knows no hesitance nor weakness.
Fourth, hold on to our historical and legitimate rights and never give up an inch of Palestine, from the river to the sea. The right to return is the bridge to our historic rights. These rights cannot be restored without resistance, which is the only language that our enemy understands.
Fifth, don’t fail prisoners who remain alive after us, as those who sacrifice their freedom as a price for their people’s freedom deserve freedom rather than death.
To our dignified people in Palestine and diaspora, to the free people and freedom fighters worldwide, we will let our screams be heard despite the darkness of Israeli jails, which are graves for the living. To people of dead conscience worldwide, our Palestinian people will continue the struggle until victory. We bid farewell with smiling faces.
Reading their words which embrace pain and disappointment must make us all ashamed as we watch them die slowly. Changing our profile pictures to a picture that shows solidarity with their battle for dignity cannot do them much help. We have to move beyond superficial solidarity to serious actions that will bring meaningful change to them. Act before we count more martyrs among Palestinian heroes behind Israeli bars. Their death would be our shame.
“It doesn’t matter if he goes to Gaza,” said Zahra Sharawna, Ayman Sharawna’s mother. “To be freed is the most important thing.” I understand how these words could come from a mother who fears for her son’s life. She, driven by her motherly emotions, simply wants him to live, even if many Israeli apartheid checkpoints separate her from him. But I must question was that actually the victory that Ayman Sharawna’s hunger strike aimed to accomplish, to get out of prison alive regardless of release conditions? I don’t think so.
A Palestinian’s fight has never been about oneself. It has always been a collective resistance of different forms, for the sake of collective justice for all Palestinian people. Some national principles identify our struggle for freedom. Every Palestinian revolutionary should be armed with them. One is embracing our right to return as the most sacred and ultimate goal.
“One whose hands are in water isn’t like one whose hands are in fire.” This traditional saying always comes to mind when I encounter a complicated situation many people would find it easy to judge superficially. I am not in a position to imagine the kind of inhumane pressure to which Ayman Shrawna was subjected. However, being a daughter of a former prisoner who served 15 years, and having intensively read and heard many ex-detainees’ prison experiences, makes me better able to guess.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned Israel’s expulsion of Sharawna to Gaza calling it a “forcible deportation” which is a violation of international law. As such Israel alone is responsible, and we must consider that Sharawna is not acting of his own will.
But still, I was shocked to hear that the man who remained steadfast for nearly eight months of hunger strike, who tolerated all the pain and pressure attached to it, succumbed to such blackmail, to be expelled to Gaza for at least ten years in exchange for his release. This wasn’t the victory of which I personally expected to hear. I reacted to the news with a shocked face and stony eyes, unable to shed a single tear.
Emotionally, I could celebrate and agree with Ayman that “both are my people, whether in Gaza or Hebron.” But I can’t help listening to my inner worries. I believe that our emotional reactions and stances will only serve the Israeli occupation’s long-term goals: turning the Gaza Strip into a ghetto isolated from Palestine, and expelling as many people as possible from the occupied territories in the West Bank and ‘48 Palestine. My fears that this will open the gate for Israel to intensify its systematic policy of ethnic cleansing against more Palestinian political prisoners left me unable to taste the victory in Ayman Sharawna’s release.
These worries flooded my mind, but Samer Issawi’s statement on deportation lessened my stress and cultivated hope instead. His opinion was just what I expected, wonderful and strong from a stubborn man of dignity and poise, who continues his hunger strike of nearly seven months and doesn’t give up his principles for the sake of his own physical relief. He is aware of the long-term aims behind the inhumane practices of the Israeli occupation. He believes that his detention, a violation itself, cannot be fixed with a further violation.
According to him, this hunger strike isn’t a personal battle; rather, it’s a collective one. He refuses to be released with the condition of deportation, even within our historic Palestine.
Fawwaz Shloudi, a Palestinian lawyer, managed to visit Samer Issawi after many attempts and asked him whether he will ever agree to be deported to Gaza in exchange for his freedom. Samer answered:
Regarding the Israeli occupation’s offer to deport me to Gaza, I affirm that Gaza is undeniably part of my homeland and its people are my people. However, I will visit Gaza whenever I want or feel like it, as it is within my homeland, Palestine, which I have the right to wander whenever I like, from the very north to the very south. I strongly refuse to be deported to Gaza as this practice will just bring back bitter flashbacks from the expulsion process to which our Palestinian people were subjected during 1948 and 1967.
We are fighting for the sake of the freedom of our land and the return of our refugees in Palestine and the diaspora, not to add more deportees to them. This systematic practice by Israel that aims to empty Palestine of Palestinians and bring strangers in their place is a crime. Therefore, I refuse being deported and I will only agree to be released to Jerusalem, as I know that the Israeli occupation aims to empty Jerusalem of its people and turn Arabs into a minority group of its population. The issue of deportation is no longer a personal decision, it is rather a national principle. If every detainee agrees to be deported outside Jerusalem under pressure, Jerusalem will eventually be emptied of its people.
I would prefer dying on my hospital bed to being deported from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is my soul and my life. If I was uprooted from there, my soul would be uprooted from my body. My life is meaningless away from Jerusalem. No land on earth will be able to embrace me other than Jerusalem. Therefore, my return will be only to Jerusalem and nowhere else. I advice all Palestinians to embrace their land and villages and never succumb to the Israeli occupation’s wishes. I don’t see this issue as a personal cause that is related to Samer Issawi. It is a national issue, a conviction and a principle that every Palestinian who loves his homeland’s sacred soil should hold. Finally, I reaffirm for the thousandth time that I continue my hunger strike until either freedom and return to Jerusalem or martyrdom! (original translation by author)
International law prohibits the expulsion and transfer of people in occupied territories, be it deportation to another country or forced relocation within the occupied territory. Security Council Resolution 607 “calls upon Israel to refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories” and “strongly requests Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by its obligation arising from the Convention.” But these words, as history proves to us, are merely words. We have experienced enough empty words and conventions and “international human rights laws” that do NOT apply to us, as if our humanity is in question.
If the United Nations and the all the world’s governments keep of taking this submissive stance on Israel’s crimes and watch, reacting only with silence, we should NOT normalize their violations even if it costs us our lives. People like Samer Issawi teach us how to stand firm and not compromise our rights. Thank you, Samer, for teaching us how meaningless life is without freedom and dignity.
Reading “With My Own Eyes” by the Israeli lawyer Felicia Langer brought painful scenes to my mind, but my faith in humanity grew deeper. While the Zionists might proclaim “woe to the vanquished,” there were Jewish people in Palestine, such as Langer, who, more profoundly, recognized it was “woe to the victor.” Langer was one who fought bravely against the unjust Israeli system throughout her 23-year career. She defended my father Ismael Abusalama in Israeli courts. He has always spoken about her with admiration and respect for her humanity and firmness.
My father’s story of arrest recorded by Felicia Langer
In her book, she wrote that she met my father on April 6, 1972 in Kafaryouna, an Israeli interrogation center. “Ismael Abusalama, a 19-year-old man who lives in Jabalia Refugee Camp, is a refugee originally from Beit-Jerja.” She mentioned Dad’s cousin who was killed by the Israeli occupation forces after the Six-Day War in 1967. Langer quoted my father’s words, “I saw how children were being brutally shot dead in the Camp’s streets by the Israeli border guards. I witnessed the murder of a little girl who was just leaving her school when an Israeli soldier from the border guards shot her dead. They raid the camp with their thick batons beating up every human. They break into the houses inhabited by women without knocking at their doors. They mix the flour with oil during their aggressive inspections deliberately and without any necessity.”
On page 352, she recorded a painful story of my father’s that she witnessed. While reading it, my heart ached to imagine my father in such brutal conditions. She wrote, “After his arrest in Jabalia Camp on January 1, 1972, they dragged him to the Gaza police center while beating him with batons all the way. They showered him with extremely cold water in winter while soldiers continued to attack him with batons everywhere, and punched him very violently to the extent that he lost his sense of hearing. This continued for 10 days.” She quoted my father saying, “They threatened me with being expelled to Amman and assassinating me there if I didn’t say what they wanted to hear.”
I have no doubt that she tried hard to expose the reality and prove my father and other detainees innocent, but Israel’s unjust judicial system was perhaps stronger than her then. Her dedicated investigations and defense of the truth didn’t stop Israel from sentencing my father to seven life sentences and 35 years! I appreciate her book, which exposes the injustices of the Israeli occupation and the rotten justice system in Israel. She has always repeated that the aggressor can never win. And I have faith that Israel will never win and Palestine shall be free.
Surprisingly, I only learned this story from her book and haven’t heard it from Dad. When I read that story about him losing his sense of hearing, I asked him about it and he confirmed and continued, “but I was never sent to hospital.”
“Detainees suffer intensively from medical neglect,” he said. “Small health problems can become critical with constant negligence. I thankfully survived, but many others didn’t and were left with permanent disabilities or health problems that led in some cases to their death.”
He stopped for a moment and continued, “Actually, such cases, maybe death isn’t the appropriate word. Murder sounds better.”
Medical neglect is one of the major brutal policies the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) practices intentionally against Palestinian political prisoners which Langer aimed to highlight in her book.
“IPS deliberately aims to harm Palestinian detainees’ physical and mental health in any possible way,” my father repeatedly says and many released prisoners have agreed. Because of this, access to proper medical care has been always on the top of detainees’ demands whenever they go on mass hunger strikes.
Akram Rickawi’s 102-day hunger strike in protest of medical neglect
Akram Rikhawi, whose 102-day hunger strike ended July 22, 2012 , has chosen to shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of disabled and ill political prisoners who grieve daily behind Israel’s bars and suffer its medical neglect. Since his first day of detention in 2004, he was held in Ramleh prison hospital, described by him and many prisoners as “a slaughterhouse, not a hospital, with jailers wearing doctors’ uniforms.”
Akram ended his hunger strike in exchange for an agreement by Israel for his early release. As part of the agreement, Akram was supposed to be released on January 25, 2013. But it’s been more than a week since that date passed, yet we have heard nothing regarding his release. This is more evidence that Israel never keeps any promises or agreements.
Ramleh stands as a nightmare for many detainees because of the inhumane procedures for them to receive a medical check, such as the long hours of waiting, being shackled from hands to feet, being aggressively treated during transfer from jail to hospital, and being treated as inferior by the racist doctors there. Many former detainees I interviewed repeatedly described this procedure as “torment.” One said, “Only when pain becomes intolerable will many prisoners call the IPS to allow them a visit to Ramleh Hospital Prison. They fear the humiliation and torture once their call is met after a long wait.”
As the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer recently reported, “Since 1967, over 200 prisoners have died in captivity, fifty-one of them from medical negligence. Alarmingly, there is a recent trend of prisoners who have died shortly after they are released from medical complications that went untreated during their detention.”
On January 22nd, I came home from my last exam of the semester very happy and relieved that I could finally sleep without worrying about loads of studies. I put myself in bed and decided to check my Facebook before I closed my eyes. I saw a video shared by my friend Loai Odeh that turned my happiness into sadness and my relief into distress. My desire to sleep escaped me.
The video’s Arabic title read, “The last words the martyr Ashraf Abu Dhra’ uttered before he fell in a coma.” I had no idea who Ashraf was then. A young man in weak physical shape lay on a hospital bed in the video. While struggling to make his voice as loud and clear as possible, he said, “When I got sick, they only prescribed me paradicamol and released me. When I went to the hospital the medics discovered that I have a severe inflammation. Thank God. My faith eases everything.”
A recently released prisoner fell victim to the IPS’s policy of medical neglect
Then I Googled his name and the ambiguity behind the pronouns he used became no longer ambiguous and learned that Ashraf, a 29-year-old from Hebron, was released recently after a detention of six and a half years in Ramleh prison hospital. Only then did I realize that the pronoun “they” refers to the IPS.
Ashraf was released on November 15, 2012. He spent only ten days outside Ramleh prison hospital at home, surrounded by his beloved family. But those ten days were an extension of the pain he suffered during his imprisonment. Then he fell in a coma until his death on January 21, 2013, which could have been avoided if he had access to better medical care. Israel must be held responsible for the murder of Ashraf.
As Addameer added in their report:
Ashraf had a long history of medical problems that predate his arrest; he suffered from muscular dystrophy and as a result became wheelchair bound in 2008 during his imprisonment. During his detention he contracted several illnesses including lung failure, immunodeficiency and a brain virus that eventually lead to his death.
Due to the frequent denial of medical treatment by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), Ashraf suffered a slow and painful death that was exasperated by neglect and the prison service’s refusal to provide court-ordered treatment. In 2008, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) submitted a request to the Israeli district court for Ashraf to receive physical therapy. Although the court granted Ashraf this request, the ruling was ignored by the Ramleh prison hospital, who refused treatment claiming that it was unnecessary. Ashraf was held in captivity despite his failing health for the entirety of his sentence, rarely seeing an independent doctor.
Ashraf’s lack of proper medical treatment in his six and a half years violates several international human rights laws, specifically article 56, 91 and 92 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that obliges the occupying authority to provide “adequate treatment” for each detainee and medical care “not inferior than the care provided to the general population.”
Serious actions must be taken before Samer Issawi become the next victim
Learning about the murder of Ashraf Abu Dhra’ made my worry over Samer Issawi double. Samer’s health is rapidly deteriorating due to his historic and heroic refusal of food which has continued 194 days in protest of his re-arrest for no charge or trial. His hunger is gradually taking over his body, but as he said earlier, “my determination will never weaken.”
He started his battle with a promise that he would only retreat from it as a martyr. Samer has tasted the bitterness of imprisonment for 12 years before. But once he was re-arrested in July 2012, with no charge or trial, he decided to rebel to send a message to his captors that they couldn’t decide his destiny. He doesn’t do this from love for death. He loves life, but in the form he has always longed to have, a life of freedom and dignity.
Serious actions are needed as Samer stands at the edge of death. He suffers from severe pain all over his body, especially in his abdomen and kidney. He has double vision, dizziness, and fractures in his rib cage from a brutal attack by Israeli soldiers while he was handcuffed to his wheelchair at a court hearing. This injury has caused severe and persistent pains that leave him sleepless day and night.
We shouldn’t sit idly and watch Samer slowly die. We don’t want to count more Palestinian detainee as martyrs. If Samer dies, it will be a glory for him, but a shame for us. Our silence allows Israel to cross all red lines. Save Samer from being the next victim of medical neglect after Ashraf Abu Dhra’. Act now to rescue the lives of Samer and all hunger strikers.
“His imprisonment is a scandal, a shame for France,” said the lawyer of George Abdallad who has served 28 years in French jails
The hero Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, a pro-Palestinian Lebanese leftist who has spent 28 years in French prison, was supposed to be freed on Monday and expelled from France to Lebanon.
Georges joined the Popular Front for the Liberation ofPalestine in the 1960s, before joining the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions. He was jailed because he was a true human, a true revolutionary who dedicated his life fighting injustice. He had a great faith in the just cause of Palestine. He sacrificed 28 years of his prime for the sake of the Palestinian people’s justice and freedom. The Palestinian people are excitingly waiting for his release.
However, there is a kind of dissapoitment in the Palestnian and Lebanese streets regarding his release conditions. His release has been postposed and his deportation order has been canceled. A French Interior Minister Manuel Valls refused to sign an expulsion order, a necessary condition for Abdallah’s release. Georges’ supporters fear the postponement is a first step to renew his detention. “We are hopeful, but we don’t know what will happen,” George’s brother Robert Abdallah said. “This case is outside of the judicial realm and is now a political issue.”
He was arrested in 1984 on the basis that he was complicit in the killing of Charles Robert Ray, an American military attaché, and Yacov Barsimentov, an Israeli embassy advisor, in Paris in 1982. The United States and Israel pressured France over the years to prevent Abdallah’s release, under the pretext that he had never apologized or expressed regret for the murders. A former director of the French intelligence agency, Yves Bonnet, later said that Georges was the victim of “an illegal intelligence conspiracy.”
“His imprisonment is a scandal, a shame for France,” Georges’ lawyer Verges told French channel iTélé Thursday. “It is time for French justice to act, not like the whore of an American pimp, but like an independent justice.”
This photo was taken in Jerusalem in front of the French Consulte today. Palestinian people organized a sit-in and held Georges’ photos calling for his release. They aimed to express their anger at the delay of Geroges’ release and their disapproval of the fasciest French policies. Freedom for George Abdallah!
Palestinian detainee Jihad al-Obeidi will be freed on 20 January after 25 years in Israeli prisons. His family has already started decorating their house in Jerusalem with colorful lights and Palestinian flags to celebrate Jihad’s freedom. They are excited to welcome him home and fill his place, which has been empty for 25 years.
Jihad al-Obeidi was charged for affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and accused of trying to kill Israeli soldiers. He was sentenced to 25 years of detention, despite never having attended a trial. He was absent from the court that sentenced him, after he was expelled for refusing to stand for its racist judges.
Jihad wrote to his family that the first place he will visit after his release will be the grave of his nephew, Milad Ayyash. Milad was a 17-year-old boy whose life was cut short in May 2011 as he fell prey to an Israeli criminal who still walks freely somewhere, having escaped from justice by virtue of being an Israeli settler. Milad was killed when the settler’s bullet pierced his chest as Palestinians from the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem commemorated the 64th anniversary of the Nakba.
The Nakba is the gloomiest period in Palestinian history, the year of mass killing, dispossession and systematic ethnic cleansing of three quarters of a million Palestinians from 513 Palestinian villages. The Zionist entity, what is called now Israel, was built on their ruins.
Killed by settler
Silwan residents were demonstrating outside an illegal settler home in the Beit Yonatan neighborhood of East Jerusalem – the site of yet another eviction by radical settlers attempting to Judaize that part of the city – when a window suddenly opened from the settler lair and shots rang out, leaving Milad to drown in his own blood. (See the photos of Milad’s funeral, taken by Mahmoud Illean.)
Tragically, Milad was born and killed during his uncle Jihad’s imprisonment. Milad never saw his uncle Jihad, as only first-degree relatives are allowed family visits – if they aren’t banned – according to the Israeli Prison Service’s inhumane rules. But Jihad was introduced to Milad through his photographs and his mother’s stories of him, which made Milad feel close to his uncle. Milad was attached to his uncle, as well as the Palestinian prisoners in general, as he is also the son of ex-detainee Saeed Ayyash, released in a 1985 prisoner exchange. Milad’s thoughts travelled to the day when his uncle Jihad would be free. He often shared his thoughts with his mother: “We will be Uncle Jihad’s first destination when he is released, right, Mum?”
The painful news of Milad’s murder broke Jihad’s heart. Filled with sorrow at his murder, Jihad decided to make Milad’s wish true and visit him first. He will visit his grave to show that Israel doesn’t kill our children, it immortalizes them, and that, sooner or later, Israel will be held accountable for all its crimes against humanity.
Solidarity hunger strike
Loai Odeh, a detainee freed in the Shalit deal and expelled from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip, sparked my curiosity to learn about Jihad al-Obeidi. During the open mass hunger strike launched on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day in 2012, dozens of people, including detainees’ relatives and ex-detainees, went on hunger strike in solidarity inside a sit-in tent in a Gaza park.
Loai was one of the hunger strikers who took the sky as their ceiling and trees as their walls, with a surrounding tent to protect them from the sun. He decorated the tent behind his bed with pictures of detainees who he feels most attached to, including Jihad Obeidy.
That motivated me to Google his name. I found a touching video of his parents that shows the torment Palestinian detainees’ parents typically endure, especially for the sake of their 45-minute family visits. The video began with Jihad’s 75-year-old mother introducing herself, saying, “I am Um Jihad al-Obeidi. I was born in Lifta.”
Lifta is a village on the northern fringes of Jerusalem, one of hundreds of Palestinian villages seized by the newly-established Jewish state in 1948. But it is one of the few not to have been subsequently covered in the concrete and tarmac of Israeli towns and roads, or planted over with trees and shrubs to create forests, parks and picnic areas, or transformed into Israeli artists’ colonies. The ruins of Lifta were threatened many times with being bulldozed and turned into luxury housing units.
A sigh, and a moment of silence, followed that sentence, as if Umm Jihad meant to remind everyone that her village is originally Palestinian, and that for the injustice Palestinian people face, we continue to struggle and pay the price of freedom. For many Palestinians, Lifta is a symbol of the Nakba, of their longing for their land and bitterness at their continued refugee status, a physical memory of injustice and survival.
Since Jihad was arrested, his mother fell into depression, then became ill with cancer. She went through chemotherapy and four surgeries. However, her longing to see her son again served as her source of strength. Her fear of passing away before hugging her son again never left her mind. She was able to visit him only once every year because her critical health wouldn’t allow her to travel far.
“May God grant us health and patience to see you freed,” Jihad’s mother says in the video, while hugging her son’s picture and kissing it. “It’ll be the happiest moment when you are set free. God willing, I’ll live long enough to hug you, away from Israel’s bars and jailers’ inspecting eyes, and carry your kids.”
Jihad will be free in a matter of few days, but these days feel like years to his mother.
Jihad’s parents, like all detainees’ parents, suffered from the Israel Prison Service’s (IPS) ill treatment, especially during family visits. In Jihad’s twenty-five years of detention, the IPS transferred him between almost every Israeli jail, so that he never enjoyed a sense of stability. They never considered the distance between his jail and his family’s house. For years, Jihad’s parents traveled long distances to reach prisons, then suffered verbal and physical harassment, humiliation, strip searches and long hours of waiting.
Promises and bitterness
“Jihad keeps promising us that he will never let us do anything at home when he is released,” his father said with a slight smile. “He said he will cook and clean and serve us with all his strength, as he could feel how much we tolerate Israel’s torture to visit him. Sometimes in the winter, during family visit, Israeli soldiers used to make us stand and wait outside prison, as the sky snowed over us.”
Despite these family visits symbolizing a lifeline to prisoners and their families, the happiness of uniting and exchanging stories is mixed with bitterness. “Our tears start streaming down whenever we see him behind Israeli bars,” his father said with tearful eyes. “Our hearts ache to observe how he is growing old there.”
Jihad’s parents’ painful story is about to have a happy ending with his release. But thousands of prisoners are still behind Israeli bars, and they and their families continue to suffer. Thinking of other detainees and their families, who share the same pain, Jihad’s mother said, “My son has served most of his sentence, but many others are serving lifetimes. I call on everyone to remember these prisoners and keep following their just cause. Support them so they regain their freedom soon and return to their families.”
My message to Jihad al-Obeidi: this post is dedicated to you, to congratulate you in advance for your physical freedom. Israel has only succeeded in imprisoning your body, but never your mind, nor your determination and everlasting hope for complete freedom.
I’ve always looked at you, and all your comrades who sacrifice their most precious years for the sake of our freedom and dignity, as heroes. You’re the most dignified and the most courageous. Be certain that your people in Gaza are as excited for your freedom as your people in Jerusalem. Israel’s apartheid walls and checkpoints will never manage to make us apart. I know your happiness will be incomplete, as more than four thousands of your comrades remain inside Israeli jails. But we will raise our voices higher and continue to fight until all jails are emptied.
I can’t kick the bad habit of biting my fingers when I’m stressed despite my constant attempts. My forefinger is swollen due to this habit and it really hurts; the cold weather makes it worse. The pain was intolerable this morning and it made me cry, but I quickly wiped my tears. I felt ashamed to think that our hero Samer Issawi suffers pains incomprehensible to the human mind.
However, he makes us all proud as he continues to fight injustice. His body has broken the limits of hunger. His hunger has broken the silence and will help defeat Israel’s injustice and oppression.
As the rain pounds continuously and the winds howl uncontrollably, Samer Issawi dominates my mind. I think back to my 24 hours of hunger strike on Monday, which caused me a terrible headache leaving me unable to focus on my studies for my final exams; I observe how very few people walk outside and how even fewer cars drive past my house. Then I think of Samer and I can’t but look to him with utter admiration and respect – proud of his shocking ability to refuse food for 168 days. My admiration for him made me give Samer’s dire situation priority over my studies and draw him a portrait.
How painful it is to imagine him now… to imagine how much he endures from Israel’s constant oppression, medical neglect, pain, hunger and cold. Personally, I can hardly leave my warm bed to go to the bathroom. I’m studying and typing away with trembling fingers while I lie under three heavy blankets. But Samer suffers in the cold. Mum takes very good care of me; she even brings me food to my bed so I don’t have to stop my studies and leave this warmth. But Samer suffers alone. Those around him aren’t there to ease his pain but to make him suffer more. He finds no one to comfort him. Instead, he is relentlessly harassed.
Nonetheless, while I’m cosy in bed, my thoughts are torn between my books and Samer Issawi. I can’t help but travel in my thoughts to Samer: lying in a cold, dirty, narrow solitary cell in Ramleh prison hospital, described often as a “slaughterhouse.” Starvation makes the hunger striker feel cold despite the weather.
Samer can barely stand on his feet and hardly turn his body on his borsh — a bed of metal that has a very thin mattress, which my father and friends who are ex-detainees often complained caused back-pains.
In winter, one of the most brutal practices that the Israeli Prison Service uses to oppress our prisoners is depriving them from their winter needs such as heavy blankets and warm clothes, often even depriving them of hot water. As a result, Samer’s sister Shireen worries about him more heavily. “The sky is snowing in Jerusalem,” Samer’s sister Shireen has said. “But unlike others, the happiness of seeing the layers of snow covering everything escapes me. When one has a little wound, its pain increases in cold weather. So imagine the situation of Samer who is hunger striking for 168 days and left without blankets or heavy clothes. Imagine him after he was physically attacked by the savage Israeli soldiers, causing him fractures in the rib cage. These are unbearable pains that one can hardly endure. But Samer lives and suffers these pains every moment, every day.”
He is shackled from his hands and feet to his bed or his wheelchair, and left with no means to defend himself. All this doesn’t deter the Israeli soldiers from repeatedly beating him up. Israel tried every inhumane way to put pressure on Samer Issawi to end his strike. He wasn’t the only target of this inhumanity: his family, his people in the village Issawiyeh, even sit-in tents installed in solidarity with him were targeted as well.
Israeli bulldozers recently demolished the house of Samer’s brother that was under construction and left it as rubble. But they couldn’t break his brother’s resilience. Instead he was thankful he didn’t meet the fate of other Palestinians who had their houses demolished while they were inside, burying them alive.
Moreover, Israeli forces get a sadistic pleasure in making the heart of Samer’s mother burn in worry over her sons and daughter. They arrested her son, Fares and her daughter Shireen several times and called them to the investigation centers on numerous occasions. Raising Samer’s voice to break the racist walls and reach beyond his cell to the hearts of humans of conscience was their only offense. The Israeli occupation forces attacked Samer’s house several times and couldn’t care less whether they raided the house at noon or after midnight. Moreover, Israel has cut the water supply to his family’s house. They enjoy making them live in panic day and night. Isn’t it painful enough for her to watch her son Samer dying every day?
Samer gets updates about his family through his lawyer. “With all the pressure that targets me and my family openly with no shame, Israel aims to force me to break my hunger strike,” Samer has said. In a message delivered through his lawyer, Samer has commented powerfully on these latest inhumane practices Israel committed against his family. “They reflect their feeling of defeat through enjoying punishing me and my family as if my arrest and my life being in danger weren’t enough,” Samer said.
“After they shamelessly fabricated a play in which Israel played the victim’s role and accused me of being the attacker while my family and I were aggressively attacked openly in the Israeli racist court despite my critical health situation about a month ago,they hurried to demolish my brother’s house. Why now?” Samer asked.
“This demolition is a threat Israel tried to convey to me. That house was practically my future home in which I was planning to marry and establish my own family after my release from the 10-year imprisonment in Israeli jails, in the swap deal for [Israeli soldier Gilad] Shalit. Moreover, reacting to the failure of the Israeli intelligence in misleading public opinion and fooling them about the reasons for my re-arrest, they cut the water from my family’s house ignoring the hardships they suffer. That was another threat for me that aimed to pressure my soul to submit and surrender.
“All that wasn’t enough for the Israeli occupation which turned my family’s life into a living hell. They continue to provoke my family every now and then and call my sister Shireen and my brother Fares to interrogation centers and arrest them aiming to prevent them from delivering my message to the world and break my determination which will never weaken or shake.
“Where are the international human rights organizations when all that is happening? Israel continues to commit crimes against us and the world responds with silence. Are the Palestinian people excluded from international law? Or are we not humans, therefore these laws don’t apply to us?”
However, despite all the pains Samer Issawi suffers, he conveyed a message of gratitude for everyone who supports him, through his lawyer who has visited him and witnessed his terrible condition. Samer gained more hope and faith in humanity fromthe latest international hunger strike in solidarity with him, organized by Malaka Mohammed, in which about 3,000 people from different nationalities fasted for 24 hours. Moreover, hundreds of demonstrations were organized worldwide to call for his release. “I send my greetings to all who are fighting with me in this battle and who go out for this cause, I don’t consider them in solidarity, but they are warriors,” Samer said.
Let our voices rise higher, break through the racist walls and reach Samer to provide him with more strength to withstand the torment. Let us double our efforts to rescue his life. Let us make his words echo all over the word and chant after him, “freedom and dignity is more precious than food.” He shouldn’t be left alone in this fight against injustice.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin Luther King once said. Let King’s words inspire you to join Samer’s fight against Israel’s injustices. His death would be a threat to your security, your humanity, to your values of justice and human rights. We need our Palestinian legend Samer Issawi alive as he deserves to live in dignity and freedom.
Ayman Shrawna has suspended his 178-day hunger strike for ten days, as he has been promised by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) that it would review his case and release him by the beginning of next year. He is allowing himself to have only fluids, but has threatened to continue his strike if the IPS fails to fulfill its promises. This leaves Samer Issawi alone in this battle of empty stomachs, continuing his historic hunger strike that has lasted for 183 days.
While surfing on Facebook this week, I saw a video my best friend Loai Odeh had shared of the attack on Samer Issawi in an Israeli court. It made me feel sick and angry, but not shocked.
“Your humanity and determination is always stronger than their brutality and savagery,” Loai wrote to his friend Samer, whom he grew up with in Jerusalem, and with whom he shared a cell in Israeli jails and was released in the prisoner exchange deal last year. Loai had first thought that Samer was luckier than him to be able return to Jerusalem. By contrast, Loai was expelled to the Gaza Strip from his hometown, where every corner guards his and Samer’s precious childhood memories.
“I know how stubborn he is,” Loai told me when Samer was kidnapped by Israeli forces on 7 July and declared an open hunger strike to protest his re-arrest. “He will not break this hunger strike until he is set free, even if it costs him his life.”
Loai spoke beautifully to me about Samer many times, which made me feel spiritually close to him. “Samer is stronger than all these hardships.” Loai keeps repeating these words over and over again as he counts the days of Samer’s mounting hunger strike.
I remember when Loai called me last Sunday, December 16, saying that it was Samer’s birthday. “He is celebrating his birthday in hunger, in a cold dark cell,” he said after a few seconds of silence that interrupted our call.
“Keep being free,” Loai wrote as a birthday greeting to Samer. “Keep your head held high over their barbed wires and racist walls. You shall be among us, my comrade.”
Despite the grave conditions Samer suffered on his birthday and still suffers, he and all the Palestinian people still have something to celebrate: his indestructible will. He is armed with a determination that makes physical necessities like food meaningless. This steadfastness is more harmful to the Israeli military than any weapon. It drove them to attack him and his family, and to destroy sit-in tents erected in solidarity with him in Jerusalem, especially in his home village, Issawiyeh. We are all proud of Samer, who reminds us that our cause is just.
As I read Facebook status updatesby Shireen, Samer Issawi’s sister, her simple but powerful words moved me so much that I burst into tears. She vividly narrated how Samer and her family were attacked three days ago in the Israeli court, which she described as “racist.”
“Seven Israeli occupation soldiers savagely attacked Samer, ignoring his critical health condition and the fact that he was shackled to his wheelchair,” she wrote.
His family saw this brutality against Samer, and tried to protect him and prevent soldiers from beating him, but were dragged outside the court. Shireen wrote that the judge of the court was also there, watching idly. Instead of trying to do anything to end this brutality against a sick, shackled prisoner lingering at the edge of death, he ran out of the court. This judge and the IPS should be held accountable for their crimes against humanity.
Yesterday morning, I heard Samer’s mother speaking to Palestine Today TV live by telephone. She described how she saw her dying son being beaten. “All he did was try to shake hands with me,” she said. “This might have been the last chance for us to see, touch, or say goodbye to each other.” Her shaking, sorrowful tone still echoes in my ears.
She also described how Israeli soldiers raided their house in Jerusalem the same day, broke into Shireen’s room, and kidnapped her. Shireen has done nothing but try to give a voice to her brother. She has worked very hard organizing solidarity hunger strikes and protests. She has spoken to human rights organizations and international media, calling on people around the world to support her brother. But she is a threat to Israel because she is a strong voice of truth.
One of Shireen’s status updates reflected how she felt during the day she spent in an Israeli cell. “When they pushed me into that narrow, horribly dirty and cold isolation cell, I felt more spiritually united with my brother Samer,” she said. “I can’t put into words how proud I felt that my brother Samer can endure these hardships. He is a legend, as he remains resolved to continue his hunger strike despite all the difficult and painful circumstances he has endured.”
This cold weather makes the hunger strike a lot more difficult. The colder it gets, the more food the hunger striker needs. All our Palestinian political detainees suffer as the IPS refuses to supply them with winter clothes, sheets, and shoes, in attempt to break their will. Israel will never succeed. No matter how and to what extent the IPS oppresses our heroes, they will remain strong and defiant.
In Gaza, we have set up a tent to express solidarity with Samer Issawi, Ayman Shawana and all Palestinian political prisoners. Groups of people from different generations keep coming back and forth to the tent expressing their solidarity in different ways. Yesterday, I attended a poetry reading organized by the Islamic University of Gaza, featuring the Egyptian poet Hesham El-Jakh. I could see a group of students holding Samer Issawi’s posters while waving the Palestinian flags. Observing how our heroes inside Israeli jails unite the Palestinian people everywhere makes me proud and happy.
Don’t hesitate to do anything you can in support of Palestinian hunger strikers. Your silence gives the IPS impunity to continue its cruelty against our detainees, violating international humanitarian law. Your silence can lead to the killing of our heroes. Act now to end our hunger strikers’ suffering. We want our hero Samer Issawi to stay alive.
Samer Al-Barq was promised release after his historical hunger striker three months ago but is still in custody
I wrote this entry when Samer Al-Barq was on his 110th day of hunger strike, in protest of the continuous renewal of his administrative detention order.
On his 117th day of hunger striker, the Israeli Prison Service IPS accepted to release him on condition he would be deported to Egypt which approved to welcome him on its lands. Samer Al-Barq agreed to the conditions of release because of the dire condition he reached hunger striking; especially as this strike started a week after he had ended a previous 30-day hunger strike on May 14.
However, three and a half months have since passed and he is still detained. The Israeli Prison Service is continuously procrastinating the process of deportation. Samer’s deteriorating health conditions have been critical for some time yet no concrete action has been taken by the Israeli Government to ensure his release and safety. Instead, on November 22, the IPS clearly deceived Samer and renewed his administrative detention order toan additional 3 months,although they promised him to be released after the historical hunger strike. This is a utterly absurd. No charge has been held against him. He is detained indefinitely based on secret information that neither Samer nor his lawyer can have an access to. He is not permitted to stand a trial and that leaves him with no legitimate tools to defend himself. This is simply inhumane.
According to Samer Al-Barq’s father, the latest attack on Gaza has frozen the process of Samer’s deportation to Egypt. His documents and legal papers are still with the Egyptian side but Israel tries its best to make this process take the longest time possible. Samer has been in a terrible condition and is still subjected to medical neglect. He went on a week hunger strike in October in protest of deferment of his release, though his health condition puts him at acute risk if subjected to further strikes.
Samer Al-Barq’s father is calling on every human of conscience and human rights organizations, to support Samer with every means possible to put an end for his continuous suffering. He also urges the Palestinian Authority to intervene and put pressure on the IPS to release his son soon.
“Dignity and freedom are more precious than food.” This is the belief that arms our Palestinian political prisoners and strengthens their determination against Israeli jailers.
The revolution of hunger strikes inside Israeli jails continues. Palestinian icon Khader Adnan’s hunger strike against administrative detention lasted for 66 days and ended with victory. This awakened our heroes’ pride to continue what Khader Adnan started and put an end to indefinite internment without charge or trial.
Waves of individual hunger strikers have joined the battle since then, including Hana Shalabi, Thaer Halahlah, Bilal Diab, and Mahmoud Sarsak. The victories these former administrative detainees won freed them from Israel’s hands and inspired more to carry on the fight.
Currently, four other administrative detainees are on hunger strike: Hassan Safadi, Samer Al-Barq, Ayman Sharawna, and Samer Al-Eisawy. Each has his own story of bitterness and poise.
The other evening, I went with a group of friends and relatives to the beach to escape the power cuts at our houses. I planned to enjoy the sunset and breathe fresh air while chatting about my sister’s wedding in a month. Instead, I found myself saying how ashamed I felt for getting preoccupied with studies during my exams and not blogging about the hunger strikers. That started an endless, emotional conversation about them. It was very late when we realized that we had been so absorbed by the conversation that we missed the sunset.
“Why haven’t Samer Al-Barq and Hassan Safadi reached any victories yet, even after their hunger strikes broke records?” we wondered.
Who should we blame for the critical condition they face? Should we blame Palestinian leaders, for whom the issue seems unimportant? Or those politicians who trade with Palestinians’ lives? Or divided factions who care for their own gains more than the public interest? Or the popular movement inside Palestine that is not doing enough? Or the deteriorating economic situation that chokes people in Palestine and pushes them to burn themselves like Ehab Abu Nada? Or the international community and human rights organizations who stay silent while watching these crimes against humanity in Palestine, either in Israel’s jails, in the Gaza Strip’s open-air prison, or in the occupied West Bank?
I feel confused. I can excuse my oppressed people, for their priorities have reversed. They also face slow death under Israel’s stifling apartheid regime. All they care about is surviving each day. They don’t dare to have future plans because they don’t want to be wishful in a place unsettled politically, economically, and socially.
But what about free people around the world? Our hunger strikers are freedom fighters, struggling for justice, for humanity. Why turn your backs on them?
When I returned home from the beach, I phoned Samer’s family in Jayyous, a small village near Qalqilya. My hands shook when I spoke to his father. I thought he would appreciate a call from Gaza. He did, but in my heart, I felt useless and ashamed that my call came late, as he is expecting to hear the news of his son’s death any moment. I knew, though, that my words would be useless. I tried to pull myself together and not to cry as I told him, “I pray you strength, and that you will hug your son alive and victorious soon, inshAllah,” but I wasn’t strong enough to control my shaking voice.
Every minute, if not second, can make a difference in Samer’s life now. He began a hunger strike two days before the mass strike started on Prisoners’ Day, April 17, to protest his administrative detention. An end to administrative detention was one of the mass hunger strike’s demands. In exchange for its end, an agreement was reached on May 14 between the Israeli Prison Service and the higher committee of the hunger strike, with Egyptian mediation, to meet our detainees’ demands.
Addameer reported, “The agreement included a provision that would limit the use of administrative detention to exceptional circumstances and that those held under administrative detention at the time of the agreement would not have their orders renewed.”
Accordingly, Samer ended his strike. But a week after the 28-day mass hunger strike ended, he discovered that his administrative detention order had been renewed. That pushed him to resume his hunger strike to protest this violation of the agreement. His renewed hunger strike has lasted 110 days.
“Since Samer started his hunger strike, we have been banned from seeing him,” his father told me on the phone. “To pressure him to end his hunger strike, the IPS denied his right to family visitations. We have heard nothing from him since then, only from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”
I asked his father if I could speak to Samer’s mother. “His mother barely speaks at the moment,” he replied. “She is traumatized and depressed by what her son is enduring. She weeps over Samer all day. She stops only when she falls asleep. She was hospitalized a few times. Pray her strength!”
I stayed silent for seconds, unable to say anything. I couldn’t imagine how painful it is for a mother to witness her son’s slow death. But he resumed angrily, “It drives me mad to see my son detained until now for no reason.”
“Nothing at all was found against him?” I interrupted.
“Not at all, except him being a religious man with a beard who lived in Pakistan, earned his master’s degree in science analysis, and taught science in its universities,” he continued. “He married there to a Pakistani woman, but barely lived a year in peace with her for unknown and mysterious reasons.”
“He was kidnapped from Pakistan by Jordanian intelligence and detained in Jordan for about five years without charges. Then Jordanian intelligence delivered him to Israel in July 2011, to hold him indefinitely, again without charges. Since then, his administrative detention order has been renewed seven times. The last was on August 22, after over three months of his hunger strike. His rapidly deteriorating medical condition didn’t stop the merciless IPS from extending his detention.”
Samer’s time in detention was very tough. He spent three years of isolation in Jordanian jails. When he was arrested by Israel, he endured even more brutality, especially during his hunger strike. Trying to pressure him to end his strike, the IPS transferred him to Ramla Hospital Prison, or the “slaughterhouse,” as many ex-detainees describe it when recalling the medical neglect, humiliation and discrimination they endured there.
Akram Rikhawi, who suffers several medical problems, and who went on a 102-day hunger strike against the medical neglect he and his disabled and ill comrades endured inside Israeli jails, described the Ramla Hospital Prison as “a slaughterhouse, not a hospital, with jailers wearing doctors’ uniforms.”
The IPS pressured Samer and his comrade Hassan Safadi to end their hunger strike using various methods. They were put in a narrow isolation cell, with barely any space for their shared wheelchair, and shackled them to their hospital beds, even though they could barely move. Even worse, they were physically attacked by jailers whenever they protested against their terrible conditions in Ramla. On August 13, Hassan’s head was slammed against the iron door of his cell twice, causing him to fall to the ground, unconscious. Prison guards then dragged him through the hall, past all the other prisoners.
Samer’s father told me, “A delegation from the ICRC and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel visited us recently and said that Samer’s death is imminent, unless a miracle happens to rescue him. He has lost more than 20 kilograms so far.”
To convince Samer to end his hunger strike, Israel agreed to deport him, but not within the Palestinian territories, because he poses ‘a threat’ to Israeli security. Remember that the deportation of Palestinians, within or outside the Palestinian territories, is a war crime under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. But while Israel searched to see if any country will receive him, he is welcome nowhere! No country wants him because he is a “global threat.”
Yesterday, Samer’s father protested at the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah to ask it to receive Samer in Egypt.
At the end of the call, I asked his father to tell me what he wished to tell the world. He replied, passionately and quickly, “His hearing is on Sunday, September 9, and no one knows if the court will decide in Samer’s favor or against him. Besides, I don’t even think that Samer can wait for days. He’s motionless on his hospital bed suffering gravely,” he said.
“Every minute matters in his life now. I want them to know that my son isn’t on hunger strike in search of death. He is simply desperate for a real life with freedom, dignity, and justice. I urge them to take action, or if he dies, the responsibility for his death will be on our shoulders.”
“Godono di spezzare i cuori delle madri sui loro figli”: Gaza piange la madre di un detenuto – di Shahd Abusalama
PS: My Italian friend Angela Bernardini translated my latest article about Aisha Islieh to Italian! Grateful for her, I decided to share her translation on my blog for my Italian audience!
“I detenuti passano la loro detenzione in attesa delle visite delle loro famiglie” papà ha detto una volta, ricordando che i servizi carcerari israeliani IPS lo punirono negandogli le visite dei familiari durante i suoi 15 anni di reclusione. “Nonostante tutta la sofferenza e l’umiliazione legate alle loro procedure, le visite dei familiari sono importanti per i prigionieri, come l’aria che respiriamo”.
“The detainees spend their imprisonment waiting for their families’ visits,” Dad once said, recalling the Israeli Prison Service IPS punishing him by denying him family visits during his 15 years of imprisonment. “Despite all the suffering and humiliation attached to their procedures, family visits are as important to prisoners as the air they breathe.”
Following the capture of Gilad Shalid in June 2006, Israel collectively punished Palestinian political prisoners from Gaza by banning family visits, one of their basic rights and a lifeline between detainees and their families. “Under international humanitarian law, Israeli authorities have an obligation to allow the detainees to receive family visits,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Our detainees’ determination proved stronger than the jailers’ guns. In exchange for ending the one-month mass hunger strike in May, they made Israel comply with the international humanitarian law and reinstate family visits to Gaza Strip detainees after almost six years without them.
On July 16, 48 family members were finally allowed to see to their relatives in Israeli jails for the first time since Shalit’s capture, through barriers for 45 minutes. However, Israel imposed its own conditions on the visits. Only wives and parents were allowed to visit. Detainees’ young children weren’t, “for security reasons.” Fathers must imagine their children growing up without them, or wait for the miracles of their smuggled pictures.
Last Monday, August 6, the fourth group of detainees’ families gathered in front of the ICRC to visit their relatives in Nafha prison. The day before a visit, the ICRC usually announces the names of approved relatives.
Among those who received permits were the parents of detainee Yahya Islaih, who was captured on August 24, 2008 and sentenced to 12 years. His 75-year-old mother and 80-year-old father arrived very early at the ICRC, dressed very traditionally and beautifully. Yahya has not met his parents since his arrest. I used to see Yahya’s mother Aisha in the sit-in tents for political prisoners. She barely missed any protest, despite her advanced age. Last Monday was supposed to be her first reunion with her son in four years. But destiny stood between them.
Aisha breathed prayers of thankfulness that she had been blessed with another opportunity to talk to her son, and see him through a barrier after five years of separation. While sitting in the bus, wishing that time would move faster, she felt the gasp of death and leaned on a neighboring woman’s shoulder.
Later that morning, as I was getting ready to leave for the weekly protest for political prisoners, I read the terrible news. I found it difficult to believe that this had really happened. I thought that we only hear such stories on dramas. But it did happen. When she was so close to meeting her son again, she passed away. Death separated them, just as Israel had for so long.
I left home with tears in my eyes. When I arrived at the protest, people were very quiet. Everyone was in shock. I could read the sorrow in every eye. The elderly mothers of detainees cried while hugging the banners of their sons. Each seemed to wonder, “Will we share Aisha’s fate?”
Amidst silence and sorrow, the 75-year-old mother of detainee Ibrahim Baroud who has been detained for 27 years stood and began shouting. “Enough tears. Tears won’t bring her back to life! Just pray for her soul to rest in peace.” Om Ibrahim Baroud was in the first group issued permits to visit their sons on July 16. That was her first visit to her son, after 16 years banned “for security reasons.” “How would an elderly mother like me threaten their security?” she always complained. “They are simply heartless and merciless, and enjoy breaking mothers’ hearts over their sons.”
The world blamed her when she hurled her shoes at Ban Ki-moon’s convoy when he entered Gaza. She was angry and disappointed by his prejudice when he refused to meet prisoners’ families in Gaza, after repeatedly visiting Gilaad Shalit’s parents. But they didn’t know to how much she had suffered at Israel’s hands. Read the story of this incident, when shoes and stones welcomed Ban Ki-moon to Gaza, here.
After the protest, I went to say hello to her. “Are you joining us for the funeral, Shahd?” she asked, every wrinkle in her face revealing her sadness. “Yes, grandmother,” I answered, even though I hadn’t known of the plan. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go or not. Honestly, I fear funerals.
But when I said yes, she caught my hand so I could help her to the bus, and pushed me forward as if she sensed my hesitance. “When I saw her last Monday, she congratulated me for having visited my son, and sighed while hoping that her turn to see hers again would come soon,” Om Mahmoud said.
When we arrived at the funeral, we learned that Aisha hadn’t been buried yet. She was in a narrow room with two doors. It was crowded with women. They entered one by one from a door, kissed her, prayed for her, and then left through another door. I glanced at the scene, then pushed myself away, trying to postpone my turn. I recalled meeting my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni for the last time as a dead body.
I stood next to a woman who happened to be Aisha’s niece. “Yahya wrote her a letter once, asked her to remain steadfast and know that she would see him again,” she said with tears streaming down her cheeks. “He asked her to wear her traditional Palestinian dress when she comes to visit him again. And she did. After she learned that she would visit him, she was very happy. She ironed her new dress, which she had kept for Yahya’s wedding after his release.” She burst out crying and continued, “But she neither visited him, nor would she ever attend his wedding.”
Finally my turn came. I entered, one foot pushing me forward, the other backward. I saw her body and kissed her forehead. I still can’t believe I did. Traumatized, I returned home in the afternoon and slept. I couldn’t stand thinking of her, nor her son, who would never see his mother, alive or dead again. I felt like I wanted to sleep forever, but I woke up after twelve hours.
Please pray for Aisha’s soul to rest in peace, and for her son to remain strong behind Israel’s bars. Her story is more clear and bitter evidence of the suffering our detainee’s families endure because of Israel’s violations of their basic rights and their families’.
‘Don’t tell my mother that I am blind’: Muhammad Brash grasps for light in the darkness of Israeli jail
Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by the Palestinian resistance from his tank and held for five years, is known worldwide as a “victim” of the “terrorist” Palestinians.
But seeing how little the world knows of our Palestinian political prisoners infuriates me. There is not only one. Nearly five thousand Palestinians are behind Israeli bars, which are more like “a grave for the living.” as my dad ad, who spent 15 years in Israel’s prisons, frequently describes his detention.
Last night, while following the latest news on political prisoners, I saw a headline reading, “The medical situation of the detainee Muhammad Brash is deteriorating.” I’m certain few have read that name before.
Muhammad Brash, like every Palestinian hero locked up in Israel’s jails, has his own story, a human and heroic story that would touch any heart. I didn’t know him before I coincidentally – and tearfully – read his letter, “Don’t tell my mother that I have become blind.”
I want to introduce you 32-year-old Muhammad Brash to you in depth. But I’ll let his own poetic words first tell you who he is. Here is my translation of his letter:
Don’t tell my mother that I can no longer see. She can see me, but I can’t see. I fake my smiles when she shows me the photographs of my siblings, friends, and neighbors, as she doesn’t know that I have become blind after illness spread in my eyes until the darkness filled me.
Don’t tell her that I waited several years to have a cornea transplant surgery. But the Israeli Prison Service kept procrastinating and procrastinating, giving my eyes every reason to leave me.
Don’t tell her that the last thing I remember from the sweet days when I could see was a small child, running toward me, waving the Palestinian flag, and yelling, ‘A martyr, a martyr.’
Don’t tell my mother that the shrapnel of the bombs which managed to hit me is still settling in my body, and that my left leg was mutilated and replaced with a plastic one. Don’t tell her that the other leg rotted and dried of blood and life.
Don’t tell my mother that the prisoner survives a lifeless existence and is treated as subhuman. He is sentenced to see only ashes and iron, darkness and hopelessness.
Tell her I am alive and safe. Tell her I can see, walk, run, play, jump, write, and read. Don’t tell her I shoulder my pains on a walking stick, and can see every martyr as a moon, soaring in the sky and calling me with the power of lightning, thunder, and clouds.
Don’t tell her I suffer from sleepless nights, and that I live under the mercy of painkillers until they drug my body. Don’t tell her that I keep losing my things, and I barge into the iron beds or another prisoner sleeping close to me, to wake him to help me reach the bathroom. Don’t tell her that wakefulness always hurts me and sleep never visits me.
Don’t tell her that Israel, a country in the 21st century, has turned its prisons into places where diseases are planted and bodies slowly ruined.
Don’t tell her that I have learned the names of horrible illnesses and strange medications, along with all types of painkillers, while watching my friend Zakariyya fall into a coma, with an ending unknown to me.
Don’t tell my mother about the sick prisoners whose diseases launched fierce wars against their bodies: Ahmad Abu Errab, Khaled Ashawish, Ahmad al-Najjar, Mansour Mowqeda, Akram Mansour, Ahmad Samara, Wafaa al-Bis, Reema Daraghma, Tareq Asi, Mutasim Radad, Riyad al-Amour, Yasir Nazzal, Ashraf Abu-Thare, Jihad Abu-Haniyye. The merciless Israeli prisons slaughter them; there is an illness and a carelessness in a country that enjoys slow death sentences and funerals for others.
Tell her that I never stop dreaming of being wrapped in her tender arms. My nostalgia for her is great, and her soul never leaves me. Tell her that I have kept her gifts: my Arab tongue, my purity, my symbols stuck on the wall, all of which soothe my pain every time the light disappears around me.
Tell her that I always embrace her holy prayers, to survive the dark cloud that surrounds me after the pain has spread in my body and tortured me. I might return to her or I might not, but I leave the answer to this question open, although I’ve chosen to be spiritually close to her heart. Tell her I am sorry I have no control over my future.
Tell her I am not too far from her, and I get closer every time a bird flies and a fire burns in my eye, and barbed wires wound me, carrying me to her arms.
Learning about Muhammad
This letter began my spiritual relationship with Muhammad Brash’s persona. He became a new source of inspiration in my life and deepened my faith in the cause of the Palestinian political prisoners.
Muhammad somehow managed to smuggle his moving letter from Eshel prison during the campaign of disobedience, the 22-day mass hunger strike launched at the end of September 2011. He shared his own experience of medical neglect, attempting to shed some light on the Israel Prison Service’s inhumane practices against him and his comrades. Quality medical care always tops the list of our detainees’ demands whenever they start a mass hunger strike.
Eager to know Muhammad Brash in depth, I searched every possible source for more information on him. I wished I could visit his family and listen to their story first-hand. Sadly Israel’s apartheid made it impossible for someone from Gaza to meet another from West Bank, even though it’s only a couple of hours away.
A message from Muhammad’s brother
After a long search, I found a Facebook page called The Detainees Muhammad and Ramzy Brash. Only then I realized that Ramzy Brash was Muhammad’s brother, who shares his prison cell and is also sentenced to life-long detention. I left a post on their page saying how moved I was by Muhammad’s letter. Shortly after that, I received a message from his 22-year-old brother, Hamza Brash, saying he was ready to tell me all about Muhammad.
Muhammad’s family is originally from Abu Shosha village, which was ethnically cleansed in 1948. His grandparents fled to al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, where they still live.
Brother killed by Israeli soldiers, Muhammad wounded by a bomb
At the start of the second Intifada – which began in September 2000 – Israeli occupation forces invaded al-Amari, massacred people, and demolished their houses. An armed soldier shot Muhammad’s 15-year-old brother Subri, cutting his life short while he was throwing a stone. This moved Muhammad to join the resistance and defend his people’s dignity and sense of security.
At the same time, Muhammad worked as a policeman. In 2001, he had a night shift, guarding a Palestinian police station 50 meters from an Israeli checkpoint. As he entered his car to return home, it exploded. Later he learned there had been a bomb inside it. There was suspicion over who had done it, but his brother responded, “We have only one enemy: Israel! The rest of the story will prove to you that their denial of the responsibility for this crime is a lie.”
“Muhammad was found quite far from the explosion,” Hamza told me during a phone call. “People thought they had found a martyr. But thankfully the bomb didn’t kill him. It only left him blind with one leg.”
Muhammad was carried to a governmental hospital. But even while he was half dead, he was attacked again. “A masked man entered his room and stuck his fingers in Muhammad’s eyes, already blinded from the bomb,” Hamza said angrily. “After that, he was sent to a private hospital and was never left alone without guards.”
Arrested in 2003
“But how did he end up in prison?” I asked. “On 17 February 2003, the Israeli army besieged Al-Amarai preparing for a detention campaign,” Hamza replied. “We never expected that Muhammad would be the target. After his disability, how could he threaten Israel’s security?”
“A huge force of Israeli soldiers raided our house,” he said. “They found Mahmoud leaning against a wall, trying to stand. They attacked him and started shackling and blindfolding him, as if he could see or run away. The soldiers started harassing him because of his disability.” Hamza told me that he heard the head soldier telling Muhammad, “We wanted you dead, but when we heard that you were alive, we thought you should be our guest.”
Mohammed didn’t fear them. Hamza heard Muhammad telling the head soldier, “I’m sorry for you, you coward!” The head soldier laughed at him wondering “How come?” Then Muhammad answered him with pride and slight smile, “If you weren’t a coward, you wouldn’t come besiege the whole camp with thousands of soldiers to arrest a disabled man like me!”
At first, the Israeli court sentenced Muhammad to seven lifetimes. But then it was reduced to three life sentences plus 35 years in light of his health condition. “As if this merciless court made a difference! ” Hamza said angrily. “A life sentence was enough to make Israel’s prison his grave.”
Muhammad has served ten years of his sentence, and no one knows if he will ever be released. Ever since his arrest, he has suffered from medical neglect every day. It’s this that left Muhammad in two forms of darkness: His blind eyes that see no colors but black, and his dark cell where he dies every day and may spend the last day of his life.
More than 50 prisoners are either physically or mentally disabled. And as Dad said, recalling his imprisonment, “Being detained by the merciless jailers of the Israel Prison Service is enough to threaten your psychological health.”
Most of Israel’s shameful crimes, which offend any sense of propriety in any heart with any shred of conscience, were committed in the name of security. But how can they justify them in Muhammad’s case where he can hardly endanger their safety?
Read Mohammed Brash’s letter to his mother in Italian. The translation is done by the wonderful Italian activist Angela Bernardini
The Palestinian football player Mahmoud Sarsak walks freely in Gaza’s streets and alleys, breathing victory among the steadfast people of the Gaza Strip. He acquired his strength to hunger for 96 days from Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Gandhi’s promise came true, and Mahmoud actually won the battle of empty stomachs. Read my account of visiting Mahmoud Sarsak after his release.
Mahmoud was released from the Ramla Hospital Prison on July 10 after he revealed Israel’s crimes against humanity and made it submit to his demands. But his happiness remained incomplete. His thoughts are still in a place he described as “a hospital for torture, not for treatment,” with his comrades he left there, especially Akram Rikhawi, Palestine’s longest hunger striker in history.
About 6:00 pm on Thursday, the 99th day of Akram Rikhawi’s hunger strike, I saw a tweet: “Help us in spreading the truth about Prisoner Akram Rikhawi who might die at any moment #PalHunger”. As I read it, I felt anger at the world’s silence. I called Mahmoud Sarsak to ask for Akram Rikkawi’s home address. He kindly answered, saying, “Come to Rafah and I’ll take you there.”
Excited, I called some friends to join me, quickly got ready, and hurried to Rafah. The one-hour drive to Rafah felt like it took ages. We arrived there around 8:30 to find Mahmoud waiting. “Is it too late already to visit Akram’s family?” I asked him. He shook his head and said, “Their part of Rafah camp is filled with Yibna refugees. They stay up very late, especially Akram’s family. I don’t think they ever sleep!”
Before Mahmoud’s release, the Israeli Prison Service sent him to Akram to pressure him to break his hunger strike. Mahmoud took it as an opportunity to meet Akram for one last time, and to carry messages he wanted to deliver to his family. Akram was very happy for Mahmoud, and had faith that his victory would follow Mahmoud’s sooner or later.
The camp was very dark. I could barely follow Mahmoud’s steps. As we walked through one of the alleys, I recognized our destination from the huge banner of Akram hanging on his house. I could feel his family’s indescribable strength and faith from the way they welcomed us in with hopeful eyes and big smiles. There wasn’t any light in the house, but the smiling faces of Akram’s children filled it with light. Shortly after we arrived, we received word that Friday would be the first day of Ramadan. For Akram’s family, the news held some bitterness, as according to his wife Najah, it is “the eighth Ramadan without Akram.”
We all sat on the rug close to a lantern, the only light in a sitting room filled with photos of Akram. As his wife Najah started speaking, I learned that Akram is the son of a martyr, the brother of another martyr, and has a brother detained in Nafha Prison: a typical Palestinian family’s sacrifices for the sake of freedom and dignity. His father died in the First Intifada, while his brother was killed in the 1990s during a ground invasion by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in Rafah. His detained brother, Shady, became disabled after he refused food for 22 days during the mass hunger strike in Israeli prisons which began this year on Prisoners’ Day, April 17.
Akram Rikhawi has chosen to shoulder the responsibility for hundreds of disabled and ill political prisoners who grieve daily behind Israel’s bars and suffer its medical neglect. He also decided to rebel against the racist treatment that he received at the hands of some Ramle doctors. That was the main reason for his hunger strike. “After more than 100 days on hunger strike, Akram is in a wheelchair and cannot move either his left hand or leg,” Najah said. “Hunger has perhaps overtaken his body, but can’t easily defeat his will.”
“Before he started refusing food,” she continued, “he wrote a few articles on the suffering of sick prisoners and the medical neglect they endure, describing Israeli Prison Service violations against Palestinian detainees. He hoped they would pay his critical health conditions more attention and care. Instead, they punished him for speaking out by placing him in solitary confinement.”
Akram’s family described the Ramla Hospital Prison as “a slaughterhouse, not a hospital, with jailers wearing doctors’ uniforms,” using Akram’s situation as their best evidence. “He was detained at Ramla from the first day of his detention,” Najah said. “Before his arrest, he suffered only slightly from asthma. His health started to deteriorate when he was given the wrong medication.” She explained how this caused him severe health complications. “He had only one health problem, but medical neglect in Ramle Hospital Prison caused him six, including high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic problems, and osteoporosis, sight problems, and queasiness.”
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) previously reported that its doctors had found an “alarming deterioration of Akram’s asthma, which continues to be unstable,” adding that they believed he “has been given very high doses of steroids as treatment, which can cause severe long-term and irreversible damage.”
Najah managed to visit him twice. But since the ban on the family visits for the families of Gazan detainees in 2006, which followed the capture of Gilaad Shalit, they no longer can. “We can neither visit him, nor receive letters or phone calls from him. Our two main sources of information we rely on have been the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and released prisoners, who coincidentally met him after being sent to Ramla because of health problems they suffered.”
My admiration reached its utmost when I learned that Najah was actually the wife of Akram’s martyred brother. “I was a young widow of five children when my first husband Mo’taz was killed with cold blood by the IOF,” she said. “Akram was still single, and decided to take responsibility for his brother’s orphaned children and widow. So he married me. Allah blessed us with eight more children.”
Then a young woman interrupted our conversation. “I’m Yasmeen, my mother’s eldest daughter,” she said. “My father died when I was four years old. I can barely remember him. But I recall very clearly how tenderly my father Akram raised me. I never felt like an orphan around him. He always treated his children and his brother’s alike and loved us all the same.”
“He was always like a best friend to me,” Yasmine continued. “I was having my high school exams when he was arrested. During my final exams, he used to stay up with me to study. He never allowed me to prepare anything. He would bring food to my room. He used to wake me up for the Fajer prayer. Allah has made everything up to me when he guided Dad Akram to marry my mother.”
“I was the dearest to his heart, and he sometimes teased me, saying that I was the reason for his detention,” she said. “On June 7, he walked me to school in the morning before my exam. He spent the entire trip reminding me that I should have faith in Allah and not worry. Then he headed to Gaza City. On his way home in the afternoon, the IOF stopped the vehicle at the Abu Ghouli checkpoint between Gaza City and Rafah and demanded to see all the passenger’s IDs. After handing over his ID, Dad Akram was immediately arrested. In his first letters from prison, he wrote that his friends had warned him that the situation was worrying, and that he should remain in Gaza. He refused, saying he needed to check how I did in my exam.” Yasmeen said this with a slight smile on her face. After Akram’s detention, she could barely continue her examinations, and finished them with an overall score of 55.
Then a 17-year-old girl walked in, looking very upset. “This is Akram’s eldest daughter,” Yasmine said as the girl sat silently in the corner. “She’s repeating the same experience I had since Dad’s detention. This morning, the high school results were announced. She is sad that she got 75%, while she has been always one of the brightest students. It was difficult for her to concentrate on her studies while expecting that she might wake up any morning to mourn her father’s death.”
The family’s situation was heartbreaking. I listened carefully to their sad stories and struggled to hold my tears. I felt most moved when his wife pointed at her twin youngest sons and said, “A little while ago, they came to me asking what their father looked like. Was he tall or short, fat or slim? Their age equals the years Akram served in detention. They only know him from photos.”
I could feel the family’s anger and disappointment with popular and international solidarity. “What are the human rights organizations, Hamas, the PA waiting for before they move?” his daughter Yasmine asked severely. “Are they waiting for him to return to us in a coffin? Would they be happy for eight children to become fatherless, and five others to be orphaned for a second time? If Dad dies, we will never forgive anyone who could have done something, but chose to look away.”
Don’t choose to look away. Akram Rikhawi is in desperate need of your urgent actions to save his life. It is late, but it is not over. You can still do something, anything, to contribute to his survival.
It was 5:00 pm when I decided to escape my home for a place the power-cut hadn’t reached on June 18. Badia, the restaurant closest to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), is always my first option. Whenever I need to leave the sit-in tent to work on my laptop, I get there after walking less than five minutes. I was drowning in stress from my final exams. I had to double my efforts studying, as I had spent more of the last semester worrying about hunger-striking Palestinian political prisoners than my classes.
Even with stress from being unprepared for any exam, it was difficult to concentrate. My thoughts were filled with the revolution of empty stomachs inside the Israeli jails. June 18 marked the 90th day of the hunger strike Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak had launched against his unjustified three-year detention under Israel’s Unlawful Combatants Law. His hunger for freedom had pushed his life to the edge of death.
I lost track of time while alternating between news Web sites and literary ones for my class. Dad called me, reminding me to return home early. Just before I closed my laptop, I refreshed my Twitter page to see a Tweet saying, “Israel to Release Mahmoud Sarsak on July 10.” I quickly collected my things and ran toward the ICRC, so excited I even forgot to pay my bill.
Even the smell of the air seemed different when I stepped outside. Freedom filled the atmosphere. The chants I heard from the ICRC at Badia’s entrance made me run. The first person I recognized at the sit-in tent was the heroine Hana’ Shalabi, the ex-detainee who hunger-struck for 43 days to win her freedom, under the condition of expulsion to the Gaza Strip for three years. I ran to her and she hugged me happily, saying, “Congratulations on Mahmoud’s freedom!” Everyone was raising victory signs and singing for freedom. Then a man with a huge tray of sweets arrived and started distributing them.
I arrived home very late to find Dad waiting in the dark garden, looking upset. I didn’t want anyone to spoil my happiness, so I walked toward him chanting happily, “We defeated the jailers!” I was sure he hadn’t heard about Mahmoud, as our power was still cut. “Mahmoud will be free on July 10,” I said while looking at Dad, whose face turned into a smile. “People are still celebrating at the ICRC. Hana’ Shalabi was even there.” I was smart enough to find a way to negate his anger.
People in Gaza waited eagerly for July 10, a day that will be commemorated in the history of Palestine. All Palestinian television and radio channels reported this magnificent event. Thousands of people welcomed Mahmoud by the Erez crossing, the same place he was arrested around three years ago. As the ambulance arrived at the Gaza Strip side of Erez, Mahmoud appeared in its window, holding a football with one hand and waving with the other to the crowd of people excitedly waiting to see him.
Despite hating long drives, last Friday, I was crazy enough to tolerate a one-hour trip to visit Mahmoud’s house in Rafah, knowing he might not even be home. A group of foreign activists joined me in my adventure. “And what if he isn’t there?” my friend Fidaa, a Palestinian-American human rights activist, asked. “We’ll wait for him to come back!” I answered immediately.
We arrived at Star Square, near where the star Mahmoud lives. Thanks to posters and graffiti spread all over the walls of the Rafah refugee camp’s alleys, it was easy to find his house. “The groom just left for Gaza City,” his neighbors told us, but we were still excited to be at the house where “the groom” grew up and to meet his parents, who raised him to be a revolutionary.
Mahmoud’s parents were very friendly and welcoming. His house was small and simple, yet full of warmth and joy. It was crowded with neighbors, relatives, and strangers who, like us, had travelled the Gaza Strip to meet Mahmoud. Many of us had no relation to him, but following his struggle since the early days of his hunger strike made us feel connected to him. Mahmoud Sarsak, a Palestinian hero, has become a symbol of our resistance.
“Words can’t describe the happiness I felt when Mahmoud regained his freedom after his unjust detention,” his mother told me. “It felt like my son had escaped the grave! But Mahmoud wasn’t afraid of his. He chose a battle that would lead him to either freedom or martyrdom.”
We asked her how she had gotten news about him during his detention. “Of course, three years passed without a single visit, the same suffering that all Gazan detainees’ families have shared since 2006,” she replied. “So we relied on the ICRC for updates on his situation.”
“We were denied any news for an entire year,” she continued. “After that, we were thankfully able to receive letters from Mahmoud through the ICRC for a short period of time, but I can’t read. Whenever we received a letter, his brother Emad would lock himself in a room and cry for hours. After pulling himself together, he would come out and tell me not to worry, as Mahmoud was doing fine and still playing soccer.”
“During Mahmoud’s strike, I was physically and psychologically exhausted. My sons had to take me to the hospital several times. But I felt like I had returned to life once I heard that Israel had agreed to free him in exchange for an end to his hunger strike. I pray for all detainees’ mothers to experience such relief and celebrate the freedom of their sons.”
The house grew increasingly crowded with visitors. So we left to give others the opportunity to talk with Mahmoud’s wonderful mother.
But I couldn’t give up on meeting Mahmoud himself so easily. We had already travelled from the northernpost point to the southern tip of the Gaza Strip looking for him! So I called his brother Emad, whom I had met frequently in the sit-in tent. When he picked up the phone, I told him I had just visited his family with a group of friends, and that we were very happy to meet his parents. He appreciated our visit, and suggested we meet them in a Gaza restaurant. Excited, we accepted his offer.
We arrived at the restaurant by sunset. My heartbeats grew faster as the time for our meeting drew closer. I could see Emad waiting for us by the entrance. He welcomed our group inside and introduced us to Mahmoud, who nicely asked us to join his table. I felt very nervous sitting directly across from him, but proud that I could look him in the eye while speaking to him. He wore two gold medals and a scarf combining the Palestinian flag and keffiyeh.
“Thanks to Allah for your release,” I said. “How does it feel to be free again?”
“My happiness is incomplete, as the revolution of empty stomachs is still going,” he answered. “My thoughts are with my comrades Akram Rikhawi, Samer Al-Barq, and Hassan Al-Safadi, who are suffering critical conditions in the Ramla Hospital Prison. I was released from there, and know perfectly the medical neglect detainees suffer there. The Israeli Prison Service doesn’t transfer us there for treatment, but for torture.”
His humbleness added a lot to his charm. He kept repeating that he wouldn’t have achieved his victory without the popular and international solidarity he received. “It’s not my victory, it’s yours. I gained my strength and poise from you.” It was obvious that he had lost a lot of weight, but he was still healthy. Joe Catron, an American activist who has met many freed prisoners, said later that he had never seen a recent hunger striker in such good shape.
Mahmoud’s smile didn’t leave his lips the whole time. He paid us all his attention. When I asked him if Gaza seemed different after three years, he laughed and said, “It looks so different to me. Gaza is a very beautiful city despite its small size. I love its beach, its pure air, and its kind people. I missed everything about Gaza. I just missed being home.”
Fidaa asked Mahmoud if he expected to be arrested three years ago when he went to the Erez crossing. “Not at all!” he said. “I was thrilled to achieve a dream to play football in a national team contest in the West Bank, in the Balata refugee camp. When they ordered me to a security meeting, I wasn’t afraid. I expected they would ask me to collaborate with them. I was confident and prepared myself to reject them. I was shocked when they aggressively shackled me.”
I interrupted, asking, “Why do you think they arrested you if you have never participated in resistance?”
“Resistance isn’t only about armed struggle,” he said. “Resistance can be through pen, brush, voice, and sport. We are all freedom fighters, but each of us has his or her own weapon.” His eloquent, passionate answer impressed us even more than we already were.
“Sport is a form of non-violent resistance,” he continued. “Being a representative of Palestine’s national football team makes me a threat to Israel. I’ve always been passionate about building Palestine’s presence in the sports world. I represented Palestine in several football matches locally and internationally, and had the honor of waving its flag wherever I played.”
The more he spoke, the more I admired him, especially when finally I asked him what had changed in his character after his imprisonment. “My faith in our just cause has become deeper and stronger,” he replied. “My determination to unveil the Zionists’ inhumane and fascist practices, and their violations of our basic human rights, has become my reason to live.”
The time grew late, and we had to end our amazing conversation. Mahmoud Sarsak is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. I will remember every word he said as long as I live. According to him, we all contributed to his victory. Let’s unite to achieve more victories for Akram Rikhawi, Hassan Al-Safadi, and Sammer Al-Barq. Make them reasons for your life, and fight injustice any way you can.
Its 10 pm, time for the power-cut in our region of Gaza city. Guess what? This time I didn’t sigh. I laughed thinking of one of my friends who mastered guessing if I have power at home or not, just from hearing my voice’s tune when he calls on the phone. He always teases me by saying, “Is your body connected to an electrical wire? You turn off whenever power cuts off!” Usually, I would just escape from the darkness to sleep. This night, I’ve decided not to allow my frustration to take over and immediately make use of the charge left in my laptop.
I put my headphones in my ears to listen to Sameeh Shuqair’s song “Think of Others,”trying to cover the horrible noise of generators that already took over the region. Think of Others is originally a poem written by my favorite Palestinian poet and my teacher of life and humanity, Mahmoud Darwish. “You’re such a dreamer.” Many of my friends describe me this way but I am not sure whether it is a good or bad thing. What I know is that Mahmoud Darwish is one of the people who had a deep impact on my life as his words always took me to my fantasy world that I always dreamed to live in, a pure world that is full of love, peace and people of conscience .
While listening to the beautiful lyrics of Think Of Others, my thoughts were for our political prisoners in the Israeli jails. I translated its lyrics not only for you to share with me the joy of the song, but also to demand you to listen to our detainee’s appeals to think of them.
As you fix your breakfast, think of others. Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.
As you fight in your wars, think of others. Don’t forget those who desperately demand peace.
As you pay your water bill, think of others who drink the clouds’ rain.
As you return home, your home, think of others. Don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count planets, think of others. There are people without any shelter to sleep.
As you express yourself using all metaphorical expressions, think of others who lost their rights to speak.
As you think of others who are distant, think of yourself and say “I wish I was a candle to fade away the darkness.
The mass hunger strike that was launched by more than two thousand of our political prisoners ended on May 14. Ending the policies of detention without charge or trial, and solitary confinement was on the top list of the strikers’ demands. I was lucky enough to witness that emotional scene of people’s reaction to that victorious news of its end in the sit-in tent in Gaza city. I can recall clearly their happiness that was mixed with tears of pride and joy.
Sweets started being distributed all over, even taxi drivers dropped by to get their share. The songs of victory didn’t stop playing in the background while people were waving Palestine’s flags, chanting, and dancing, celebrating our detainees’ success in forcing the IPS to endorse an agreement that was supposed to be enforced. It was one of the best moments I lived in my life.
Despite that, I learned a very important lesson for life: I shouldn’t get too excited over anything before I see it happening in front my eyes, especially when it comes to promises or agreement that Israel endorses as Israel is the last to stick to any.
Hearing that the isolated detainees will be moved from solitary confinement cells to normal jails fills me with joy. My happiness reached its peak as I heard that Hassan Salameh, who spent 13 years of his detention in a solitary confinement where he ended up having intimate relation with cracks on the walls or the insects, has been moved to Nafha Prison and has eagerly registered at Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip to study history.
But later I got frustrated when I heard of the story of the Gazan engineer Dirar Abu Sisi, the only one left in isolation. After seeking details of Dirar’s case, I became sickened with Israel. Dirar was kidnapped from a train on 18 February 2011 in Ukraine, his wife’s country where he was seeking citizenship. Dirar was handcuffed, blindfolded and placed in a coffin after his kidnapping and once he opened his eyes, he found himself jailed in Israel.
He has been never engaged in resistance or in any political party. Israel has nothing against him but fear of his geniality. Israel has accused him of “conspiring” with Hamas, however even his professors in Ukraine — were he studied — have refutedIsrael’s claims that he studies weapons systems with them.
However, I feel that Israel is trying its best to fabricate any accusation against him. They are very concerned with devastating his mentality. His family has said that Israel fears him because he managed to modify the turbines in Gaza’s sole power plant, so they can run on a cheaper form of diesel that comes from Egypt, rather than on fuel imported from Israel.
He was just “the brain of the power system” who managed to light up Gaza when he repaired the sole power plant in Gaza, which produces 25% of its total electricity needs, after getting destroyed by the Israeli occupation forces during the so called Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Due to that, cowardly Israel fears Dirar Abu Sisi despite his detention and continues to practice its inhumane policies of solitary confinement against him, which exemplifies an open violation of the latest agreement reached with Egypt regarding our prisoners.
Amnesty International says that Israel has renewed at least 30 administrative detention orders and has issued at least three new ones since the deal was signed. Due to these continuing violations, the battle of empty stomachs continues, led by Mahmoud Sarsak, a 25-year-old Palestinian national footballer who’s playing now the hardest match of his life, the match of defending his life’s dignity.
Sarsak has been on hunger strike for 84 days. He was captured at Erez checkpoint when Israel stepped in his way toward achieving a dream he was always longing for: participating in a national team contest in the West Bank, in Balata Camp. This was on 22 July 2009. Since that date, he has been held without trial and without charges and was banned from family visis just like all other detainees whose families are in Gaza.
Even after the release of the Israeli prisoner who was held in Gaza, last October, and the deal that Israel signed after the last mass hunger strike, nothing new has happened regarding coordinating family visitation for the families of detainees from Gaza. Mahmoud Sarsak is in grave condition according to an independent doctor from Phyisicians for Human Rights – Israel who examined him. However, the sporting world and the international community in general are barely paying attention.
I appeal to you to deeply, ponder the words of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem and think of others! Whatever insignificant support you can contribute at easing the life of Dirar Abu Sisi and rescuing the life of Mahmoud Sarsak will help. And remember, their victory won’t be only theirs, but a triumph for humanity!
“Samer will get engaged!” My friend Loai said with a big laugh. “Oh my God! Really? When?” I burst out with an endless list of questions and exclamations in my head.
Samer Abu Seir is an ex-detainee who was released in Shalit’s prisoner exchange and deported from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip. Getting married should not be surprising for a single man at the age of 46. However, Samer is one of the few released prisoners who was cautiously considering getting married especially after he spent more time in the Israel jails than he spent outside. I remember when I first met him and asked him how long he had been detained and he answered me sarcastically, “Nothing! It was only a matter of 24 years passed like a blink of an eye.”
He always thought that he needed time to keep up with the updates of the outside world that occurred without him noticing. He always felt that he needed to be accustomed to seeing the blue sky, the green trees, the crowded buildings, walking on Gaza’s beach and feeling its breeze smoothly hitting his cheeks, instead of being under that dark-gray ugly ceiling, in a narrow jail, and between the same four surrounding walls where neither sunshine nor air could sneak in.
“What was the reason behind this sudden decision?” I asked. “His 83-year-old mother is in a grave situation,” Loai replied. “He rushed this just to make her happy, so if she dies, she can rest in peace.”
Samer has grown up fatherless. He lost his father when he was a little child when he was away in Jordan. His widow mother had raised him along with his other two brothers and two sisters by herself. He thinks the whole world of her. She is a symbol of motherhood who had raised her children on the noble values of love, dignity, and sacrifice for Palestine. She believed that there is always a price for everything you fight for, and she has instilled these beliefs in her children. Samer and his family have paid the price in many ways. The simplest example of pain that he has always endured was that his family never gathered for a meal. There was always at least a member missing.
Samer had always suffered the ban of family visits for long periods, especially during his detention in solitary confinement for 3 years and a half. These times were the most difficult that Samer lived inside prison as he constantly kept thinking about his mother and fantasizing how her wrinkles beautifully spread in her beautiful loving and peaceful face. The family visits were his only connection with the outside world. Once a family visit ended, he eagerly waited for the next one.
Moreover, Samer had always led unsettled life in prison as he was moved around to every one of Israel’s prisons. Samer’s constant thinking of his mother made it more painful for him to tolerate such inhumane practices of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). Samer’s mother never let that or any of the humiliating actions she received from strip searches and insults hold her away from having 45-minute meeting with her son through a barrier between them.
Even after Samer was released, she didn’t stop suffering. She handled the pain of Samer’s 24 years of imprisonment without complaining, and then she kept suffering the pain of him being forcibly deported away from her. This is another violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits deporting people within or outside the occupied territories.
While thinking about Samer’s motive to get married, I recalled his cute old mother who arrived to Gaza almost a week after the prisoners’ exchange, challenging her age and deteriorating health condition. Last November, I joined my family to a celebration of freedom where almost no one was taking seats, all people were happily performing Dabka, the folk dancing of Palestine, and waving Palestinian flags as revolutionary songs were playing loudly in the background.
There, my eyes fixed on an elderly woman wearing the Palestinian traditional dress. She could barely walk or stand but her happiness gathered all the strength inside her to dance slowly and erratically. My eyes were following her with joy and wondering who she was. I asked Dad about her. “She is Samer’s mother. Wherever you see her, she is dancing. When she gets out of the car, she dances. when someone visits her at home to congratulate her with her son’s freedom, she dances. Look how happy she is!” Dad answered smilingly. “She reminds me of your grandmother who was just like that when I was set free. All the Gaza Strip would hear of my freedom because of her. She’d be dancing and singing songs of freedom wherever she went.”
Samer was enthusiastically going to officially get engaged today’s evening and let his mother declare his engagement from Jerusalem through Skype. But destiny stood against his intentions of making his mother happy. Sadly, this morning he woke up on hearing the news of his mother’s death and what was to supposed to be a wedding turned out to be a funeral.
I am thankful that at least she lived long enough to celebrate her son’s freedom. This reminds me of another story I wrote last December of a mother of two former prisoners who have been deported from Hebron to Gaza, and who died a week after she arrived to Gaza and wrapped her two sons between her arms once again. Please say a prayer for Samer and his family.
Twenty-seven years ago, my father’s eyes saw the sun after being in the dark of Israeli prison for 13 years. On 20 May 1985, my father regained his freedom.
“I was sentenced for seven lifetimes plus 10 years and I thought that this prison, Nafha, would be my grave. Thank God I didn’t stay that long there, and I was set free to marry your mother and to bring you to this life,” my father told me, smiling. He considered the 13 years of misery as not that long. Yes, it’s not that long if compared with the life sentence to which he was bound if the deal to exchange Palestinian and Israeli prisoners didn’t happen.
I can’t recall that Dad ever showing any regret or sorrow for how the precious years of his youth were stolen from him. His prison experience is instead his song of life. He believes that it is his treasure, the reason behind his rich culture and beliefs, his strong character, his intimate friendships, and the reason why he values life. I’ve always been proud that I am my Dad’s daughter, and I’ll always be. He is a mix of experience and knowledge.
The story of the exchange deal all started when Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine captured three Israeli soldiers (Yosef Grof, Nissim Salem, Hezi Shai) in revenge for thousands of Palestinian prisoners kidnapped by Israel without any apparent reason. After a long process of negotiations, both sides struck a deal that Israel would release 1,250 prisoners in return for the three Israelis that Jibril held captive. My father was included in the deal, and fortunately, he was set free. Among the prisoners released were the Japanese freedom fighter Kozo Okamoto who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1983.
History repeats itself
History repeats itself. On 18 October last year, we experienced a similar historical event with a swap deal involving the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was arrested by the resistance in Gaza while he was on top of his war machine (an Israeli tank). Just like what happened with Shalit, the capture of three Israelis caused uproar in the Israeli public opinion and international media at that time, but the thousands of Palestinian prisoners behind Israeli bars were not noticed, except for by the resistance fighters that have always forced Israel to meet some demands regarding the Palestinian prisoners.
When I deeply think about these events and the way the international media reacts, I get angry at how unjust this world is. Why did the world make a big deal of Shalit and the three soldiers when they were attested by the “terrorist” Palestinians while thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are left behind in Israeli jails enduring all forms of violations and torture and the world chooses to look away?
My father told the story with tears struggling to fall. He was staring at a picture stuck on the wall of his room; a painting that my father drew during his imprisonment of flowers blooming among barbed wires. “I cannot forget the moment when the leader of the prison started calling off the names to be released,” he said.
Among the prisoners was Omar al-Qassim, a leading member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Al-Qassim was asked to read the list of the names loudly. He was so excited at the beginning hoping that his freedom would be restored. Every time he said a name, a scream of happiness convulsed the walls of prison. Suddenly, his face’s features started to change. He became reluctant to speak because he noticed that his name wasn’t among the names. This was another incident of psychological torture that the prison’s manager committed against him. But he left him no chance to make fun of him. He withdrew himself silently and went to his prison to continue with his resistance. Sadly, he died in a horrible narrow cell after 22 years of resistance, pride and glory.
The tears of happiness and sadness mixed together. The freed prisoners were happy to regain their freedom but they were upset at leaving the other prisoners in that dirty place where the sun never shines. “We were like a big family sharing everything together. We all handled the same issues that we were united to fight for,” my father said. “Although I am free now, my soul will always be with my friends who are still suffering in there.”
My father has always said that “prisoners are the living martyrs.” He also described Israeli jails as “graves for the living.” Let’s unite and use all the means available to help 4,653 Palestinian political prisoner have fewer years of suffering. We share this responsibility as we can’t leave them as prey for those criminal jailers. Their freedom will be a triumph for humanity.
Note: Read this in Italian here. Many thanks for Emanuele Qalitry for translating it!
On May 10, 39 Palestinians from Bethlehem completed eleven years of deportation from their precious homes. On the very same day, eleven years ago, they were expelled from the Church of Nativity after a siege by the Israeli Occupation Forces that lasted for 39 days: 26 men went to Gaza, 13 to Europe. Since that tragedy, which marked another form of ethnic cleansing, this day has been called ”Deported Palestinian’s Day”.
Since the last swap deal in October, hundreds of Palestinians have joined this category, as 203 ex-detainees were convicted to indefinite deportation. Moreover, ex-detainee Hana’ Shalabi was recently deported from Jenin to Gaza after hunger striking for 45 days to protest having been re-detained after midnight by a huge, aggressive force of Israeli soldiers, and held under administrative detention on February 16. Israel has intensively deported people from the West Bank to either the Gaza Strip or countries such as Turkey, Syria and Qatar. Israel offered administrative detainees Bilal Diab, Thaer Halahla, and Jafar Ez Al-Din Qadan, all on hunger strike for over two months, deportation to Gaza, but they refused this horrible offer and bravely insisted on continuing their battle of empty stomachs against Israel’s injustices and violations.
On May 10, hundreds of people from all generations marched to the sit-in tent for Palestinian political prisoners in Gaza to share the continued suffering of the deported Palestinians. The experience of exile, with all its pain, repeats itself hundreds of times in Palestine at the hands of Israel, as it openly violates the same Geneva Convention it ratified in 1951.
One of the people I am very proud to have met through the weekly protest for Palestinian detainees is a deportee from the Church of Nativity, Fahmi Kanan. Fahmi has been a good friend of mine, despite our difference in age: He is 43 years old, while I am only 20. He makes sure to attend every Gaza activity organized in solidarity with the Palestinian detainees and their families.
I remember very well Mr. Fahmi’s touching words when I first met him and asked him about the reason for his dedication to the detainees’ cause. “I have never lived a settled life,” he said. “First, I was born in a land under occupation. Secondly, I lived the hard life of detention inside Israel’s prisons five times, each under administrative detention. I was only a 17-year-old teenager when I was first detained. Thirdly, when I’m not detained, wherever I walk within the Palestinian territories, I’m ‘wanted’ and chased by the Israeli Occupation. Fourthly, I was one of the people besieged inside the Church of Nativity in 2002, then deported to Gaza. Our sufferings take different forms, but all of them result from one thing – Israel.”
Afterward, I learned that Mr. Fahmi is the spokesman for the people deported from the Church of Nativity. Having a shared passion for a just cause, Mr. Fahmi and I get along well. He always brings his kids with him to the protest for detainees. I’ve gotten to know him as a person, not merely as a political activist. I believe that children are reflections of their parents. In Mr. Fahmi’s case, his children are outstanding reflections. I always tell him, “If I ever have a child, I’d like to raise her or him the same way you did.” I see a bright future for Palestine through his kids who are, despite their young ages, very well-educated about Palestinian issues.
On the second day of Eid al-Adha last year, I saw him with all his kids in the weekly protest for detainees outside the International Committee of the Red Cross. When I asked him how his family in Bethlehem was doing, he replied, “I was on the phone with Dad this morning, greeting him for Eid. He is getting older. He fears that his death will be soon as he suffers from some health problems. My heart aches when he tells me that he wishes he could see his grandchildren before he dies.” I asked his 11-year-old son Nasr whether he was enjoying his Eid or not. He replied with a sad look on his face, “I feel like it is the same as any other day. All our relatives are in Bethlehem, and Eid without family is tasteless.” His words touched me very deeply.
When I shared with Mr. Fahmi what his son told me, he answered, “My kids were raised without their grandparents or relatives around. The times I was questioned about them are countless, especially during our traditional and religious feasts. But thankfully, they are smart enough to understand that this is one of the prices that Palestinian people pay for being merely Palestinian. And they are proud!”
Yesterday, Mr. Fahmi made a moving speech that showed the humanitarian aspect of a deported Palestinian’s suffering. “The hardest times in a deported person’s life are the times of need,” he said. “Today, we should remember Abdullah Dahoud, one of the 39 deported from the Church of Nativity. Sadly, he could not be among us today. He died of sorrow over his mother and sister, who passed away without him seeing them for one last time. When he was once asked about his fondest wish, he said, ‘I wish I could read a verse of Qura’n next to my mother’s grave.’”
Palestinians consider the United Nations a partner of the Israeli Occupation because of its silence. Security Council Resolution 607 “[c]alls upon Israel to refrain from deporting any Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories” and “[s]trongly requests Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by its obligation arising from the Convention.” But when it comes to reality, the UN chooses to take no action against Israel’s violations. We, the Palestinian people, don’t want resolutions, we want actions! We want real justice, not just words tossed into the air!
This morning was very eventful one in the Gaza sit-in tent. As I arrived around 10:00 am, more than a hundred kids, each about four years old, entered the tent. They looked very beautiful and innocent. They came from Gassan Kanafani’s kindergarten carrying signs like “I want to hug Dad,” “I want Dad to be free,” or “Freedom for Palestinian political prisoners.”
They didn’t fully understand why they were there, but their participation put smiles on the faces of the hunger strikers and the detainees’ families, who joined their soft voices while chanting along with them: “Free, free Palestine!” All generations united their voices to call for the victory of our political prisoners’ battle of dignity, which continues for the 23rd day.
Soon after that, a 75-year-old woman entered the sit-in tent in a wheelchair, surrounded by a crowd of photographers and other people. I wondered who she was, then discovered that she was Hassan Salama’s mother. Despite her age and her medical condition, she insisted on visiting the tent to show solidarity with her son, who has been in solitary confinement for 13 years. She gave a revolutionary, emotional speech that inspired many listeners and made them cry, especially when she said, “My son is my sacrifice to Palestine.” She and all detainees’ mothers are symbols of the resistance.
We consider solitary confinement one of the most horrible crimes and among the most difficult punishments inflicted on our brave detainees by the Israeli Prison Service. Its main goal is to destroy the prisoner’s mind and devastate his psychological and physical health as quickly as possible. Ending this unjust policy is one of the most important demands our prisoners aim to achieve from this strike, as it constitutes a grave violation of their rights to personal liberty, bodily integrity, and dignity.
After that, hundreds of Palestinians marched in solidarity with the2002 deportees from the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. May 10 marks the eleventh anniversary of their exile. They were promised that they would be allowed to return after two or three years of deportation, after 11 years, they’re still refugees in the Gaza Strip. Deportation is a terrible violation of Geneva Convention IV and a form of ethnic cleansing that Israel continues to use against Palestinian people. Recently, administrative detainee Hana’ Shalabi was deported to Gaza and promised she could return to Jenin after 3 years of exile, but who knows if she’ll ever be allowed back or forced into exile forever?
Loai Odeh (in foreground) at a solidarity tent where supporters of Palestinian prisoners are on symbolic hunger strike.
Loai Odeh is a former political prisoner who was released from Israeli prison in theprisoner swap deal last year and forcibly transferred from Jerusalem to Gaza; before his release, Loai took part in the 22-day mass hunger strike launched at the end of September 2011 to protest cruel conditions and an escalating series of punitive measures against Palestinian prisoners.
Loai has published on Facebook very expressive, moving and informative diaries chronicling the experience of a hunger striker (see my translation of the first eight installements of Loai’s hunger strike diaries, pubilshed on 24 April). His last status update was on the 15th day of the hunger strike, just before he went on open hunger strike along with fifty other people on the 16th day of the mass hunger strike. They have taken the sit-in tent in Gaza as their shelter, which they say they will not leave unless our prisoners stop suffering. They couldn’t stand watching our prisoners going through slow death without doing anything in solidarity, so they have gone on a symbolic hunger strike that aims to draw attention locally and internationally to the prisoners’ just cause.
I took the initiative to translate the rest of Loai’s diaries from Arabic, hoping to inspire everyone who reads it, just like they inspired me.
On April 25, Loai wrote:
Today is the ninth day of heroism. Our strikers have already endured a long time of suffering and loss of weight. The provocative practices of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) keep escalating. The searches get more intensive and violent. But we should keep in mind that “search” policy according to Israel’s oppressive administration involves different processes.
During ordinary days, the purpose of searches is to find the contraband that our prisoners managed to smuggle in to ease their difficult lives. However, during a hunger strike, the only purpose of a search is to tire our strikers physically and psychologically. Soldiers burst into strikers’ rooms aggressively as if they were confronting armed fighters on a battleground, not hunger strikers with feeble bodies that can barely stand. Knowing that strikers are intolerant of noise, soldiers break into their rooms with loud screams and initiate a hand search in a way that one feels that he’s being beaten rather than searched. Whoever refuses to undergo these “searches” gets beaten up and is plunged directly into solitary confinement. The prisoners are then left in a yard outside with no place to sit for hours while their rooms are turned into a complete mess. The contents of the rooms are heaped into a single pile, indiscriminate of who they belong to, disheartening the prisoners when they return and discover the pile that they are faced with sorting through and straightening out. Moreover, they tear off their mattresses’ cover sheets that take strikers a long time to put back or replace. Even during ordinary days these searches are tiring, so imagine how they are during hunger strikes. Jailers subject prisoners to these searches several times a day, leaving them for hours under the burning sun or in the cold night air while conducting the searches.
However, our heroes’ determination and their solid commitment help them to neglect the guards’ provocative and humiliating practices as they realize that challenging is a needed weapon to go on and win over the IPS’s oppression. Solidarity movements have to use all the means available to help them have fewer days of suffering.
On April 26, Loai wrote:
Today marks the tenth day of the hunger strike. Despite the multitude of searches and the pains of hunger, our heroes manage to maintain their smiles. They are stronger as they are armed with souls that can never be submissive, even during hunger. Their sense of humor stemming from their pain becomes their sweetest memories during imprisonment. Abstaining from food for a long time doesn’t mean that they stop thinking about it. Instead, strikers start thinking about which meals they like or dislike. Actually the meals that they don’t like come to their minds even more intensely than the meals they prefer as they regret not appreciating the blessings and satisfaction of those meals when they ate them in the past.
In fact, it does often happen that after hunger strikes, many strikers start eating foods that they have never liked. The talk about these unfavorable meals which suddenly become desirable creates a humorous atmosphere among them during their strikes. One of them acts as if he is the one whose responsibility is to cook for everyone. They start imagining the smell and taste of their favorite meals while making funny comments that uplift their spirits and make them stronger.
It’s important to know that these thoughts of food arouse their hunger and thus cause their stomachs significant pain, and the laughter gives them headaches. However, they do their best to keep smiling regardless of the heavy price they are paying, believing in the importance of keeping their spirits at ease. They are stronger than all of us because they have high spirits, armed with conviction that the smiles of Palestine’s children are worth their sacrifice.
On April 27, Loai wrote:
Today is the eleventh day of the battle, the hunger strike for the sake of dignity and freedom. Fear of an organ failure increases as the physical sores worsen. All strikers start to suffer from toothaches and backaches that worsen due to the lack of proper medical care.
During ordinary days, their demands to have dentist appointments take months to be granted. Even when one finally gets an appointment, he has his tooth pulled or receives a temporary and incorrect treatment. And then there is the waiting room, which is extremely hot in summer and freezing in winter, where a prisoner is left for hours to wait in before he is allowed in to see the dentist. The waiting room conditions make these rooms seem like rooms for torture, not for waiting, and thinking of these rooms makes prisoners avoid demanding medical appointments, except for the utmost necessity.
Tooth and back conditions intensively deteriorate during the hunger strike. Pain gets unbearable, causing them sleepless nights. Despite that strikers tend to sleep, to rest, to stretch their bodies. Their backaches are caused and exacerbated by their thin mattresses placed on iron beds, which aren’t flat, preventing them from sleeping or resting properly.
These pains make them more determined to accomplish their goals as they believe that their victory will improve the medical care they get. “Stop medical neglect” is on the top of slogans that our prisoners are demanding of the IPS with their empty stomachs. It’s the duty of everyone whose conscience is awakened to support our prisoners so that they can achieve a victory that guarantees their simplest humanitarian rights.
On April 28, Loai wrote:
Today is the twelfth day of the hunger strike. After twelve days of hunger, our prisoners are increasingly eager to hear news regarding their strike that may contribute at ending their suffering. Usually, not all prisoners join the strike all at once. However, as more days of hunger strike pass, strikers’ number increases.
I assume that most of you wonder why all prisoners don’t join the hunger strike with their comrades. For this question to be answered, we should keep in mind that the success of the hunger strike depends on three main factors.
The first factor is the internal preparation, including the process of selecting leaders and their framework — the strategy for negotiating with the IPS, and preparing the needed publications to prepare youth for the battle by making them aware of the side-effects and the psychological circumstances that they may go through during the hunger strike.
The second factor is the external political situation. The political situation must be suitable to start the strike as it’s not logical to start it while a war, during a major international event (the World Cup, for example), or any overshadowing political event which might prevent the politicians or supporters from paying full attention to the strike.
The third factor is the popular support and the foreign pressure needed to sustain the strike. Without this factor, Israel won’t feel pressured to meet our prisoners’ demands. The 1992 hunger strike was recognized as the most successful strike in the history of the Palestinian prisoners’ cause. The reason it was so successful was that all three factors were aligned, especially the popular uprising to support detainees.
Not all prisons join the strike because the first factor – good preparation – is so important. Poor relations with the prison leadership or coordination between prisons prevents them from adequate preparation. The IPS concentrates on adding more obstacles that negatively affect and weaken the ability to prepare, chiefly by transferring the leaders of the prisoners movement between prisons to prevent them from meeting and coordinating a strike.
It’s good that the unprepared prisons don’t join the strike as their participation may cause confusion during the strike and limit its success or cause it to fail. During a strike, strikers are deeply influenced by all news. News about the rising number of strikers raises their spirits and creates pressure on the IPS. Conversely, news about the breaking of the hunger strike at a prison or even at a section depresses them. This can be destructive and pose a great threat to the success of the strike.
On April 29, Loai wrote:
Today is the thirteenth day of the battle. Our heroes start thinking about the achievements that they will realize when they win. They are also preoccupied with the demands they are hoping will be met from this hunger strike.
Allowing family visits is on the top of the list of their demands. Thousands of prisoners from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been banned from visiting for years for security reasons. Prisoners’ families in the Gaza Strip haven’t been allowed to see their relatives in Israel’s prisons since 2006; a source of major and persistent distress on our prisoners’ souls. Staying in touch with families is one of the most important needs for prisoners as their worries and thoughts about their families never cease.
The worry about losing a member of the family is the heaviest. Losing a member of the family while imprisoned – especially a parent – is their greatest fear. The ban on family visits ensures that the detainees’ worries about losing their beloved ones is enduring.
Moreover, the ban on family visitation separates the prisoners from the outside world and creates a barrier between them and their relatives. For those who are banned from family visits, receiving good news regarding their mothers, wives and especially their children is their biggest dream as they spend these years fantasizing about their kids growing up, and seeing them in reality becomes the most precious thing they could ever have.
Thinking about the possibility that this dream may come true after the strike strengthens the strikers’ determination and makes all the pains of their imprisonment and hunger strike bearable. This – seeing their children – is the greatest victory they hope for. The family visit is one of our prisoners’ basic rights and banning it is a horrible violation of all international agreements. It is our duty to support them in their quest to have this right restored.
Win and we have the honor of supporting you. We have faith in you ability and your just cause as your victory is the triumph of humanity.
On April 30, Loai wrote:
Today is the fourteenth day of the battle of empty stomachs. The IPS begins to take the strikers seriously and begins to meet intently with the leaders of the prisoners movement. They now realize that the strike won’t be easily broken and that they have to be more flexible, unlike how they behaved in the first days of the strike. Our leaders begin to firmly demand solutions to complicated issues and the IPS accepts many of the minor demands, hoping to end the strike. However, the strike’s leaders have determined that they won’t relent or show any flexibility unless the IPS meets as many of the demands they are hoping to achieve as possible.
Prisoners’ demands usually revolve around two or three main issues which constitute the heart of the strike. The other demands are of less importance. All these demands are ordered according to significance by the strike’s leaders in committees by the strike’s leaders in cooperation with all detainees. The preparation committees set meetings a day before the strike begins and every prisoner gives his suggestions regarding the demands. In the end, all these suggestions are collected and compiled. These demands are given to the IPS by the leaders to study when they are informed about the launch of the hunger strike. The leaders are forthright with the IPS about their demands, and they are insistent that they are the keys to ending the hunger strike.
Negotiations between the IPS and the strike’s leaders revolve around the demands. As the strike grows longer, the negotiating becomes increasingly serious as the pressure on the IPS increases.
By today – the fourteenth day of the strike – the need to send detainees to external hospitals increases and the number of strikers who suffer from serious medical problems increases and the severity of their conditions worsens. Their continual medical examinations become a burden to the IPS. Additionally, political and security pressure increases due to local and international solidarity with the prisoners’ just cause.
The withdrawal of the enemy’s administration from its initial, inhumane attitude gives our heroes the motivation to continue on their march toward victory. We have complete trust in the strike’s leaders that they will take the best offers once they are available and end the strike with a satisfactory victory that will make all of us proud.
On May 1, Loai wrote:
Today is the fifteenth day in the battle of empty stomachs. One of the most important demands that our prisoners are aiming to achieve from this strike is ending the solitary confinement policy.
The solitary confinement policy is regarded as one of the most horrible crimes and one of the most difficult punishment procedures that are committed against our brave detainees by the IPS. The segregation cell in which a prisoner lives on his own is very narrow and has a bathroom inside and is isolated from the rest of the prison’s rooms. The isolated detainee is allowed to leave the cell to a small yard for only one hour a day — foura. The jailer selects the time of this break according to his mood; it can be in the midnight or very early in the morning while the prisoner is sleeping and that indirectly aims to deprive the prisoner from having the one-hour break during these days.
Getting out to that small yard which is besieged by giant walls and is empty of people doesn’t happen before the prisoners’ hands and feet are shackled. This is another procedure to cut down their desire to leave the cell and to reach their goal to destroy the prisoner’s mind and devastate his mental, psychological and physical health as fast as possible. The prisoner’s isolation for long time means one has to eat alone, think alone, become happy or sad alone, talk to no one but himself, see nothing but walls, hear nothing but the chains’ sounds and the jailers’ loud voices — all that and even more causes that aim to be quickly achieved. Imagine how bad the situation of those prisoners who are put in isolation is when they are subjected to all that. No one can get out of this cell the same without having any damage, especially those who spent long time in isolation. One should enjoy a strong determination and an ability to do activities which contributes to maintaining his psychological and physical health to pass this difficult isolation with as little damage as possible.
We shouldn’t watch our heroes go through all of Israel’s inhumane policies and face a slow death without doing any action and here are our prisoners having the most difficult battle to get their comrades out of solitary confinement. It’s not only the political prisoners’ task to defend the isolated detainees’ rights. We share this responsibility as we can’t leave them as prey for those criminal jailers
People celebrate Loai Odeh’s freedom in October 18 and welcome him in Gaza
Loai Odeh is a former prisoner and my best friend, whom I am very proud to have met after his release. He joined the campaign of disobedience, the 22-day mass hunger strike, launched at the end of September 2011 to protest cruel conditions and an escalating series of punitive measures against Palestinian prisoners, until the swap deal by Israel and Hamas on 18 October. He was released after ten years of imprisonment and expelled from Jerusalem to Gaza, where we met at a festival. Since his release, his main concern has been the fellow prisoners he left behind. He always attends events in solidarity with them. He has been my main resource every time I had a question or needed to enrich my knowledge about prisoners’ conditions.
While following his updates on Facebook, I noticed that he had written new statuses taking the form of a hunger striker’s diary recalling his experience. This surprised me, as he has seldom posted since opening his account. His diaries are touching and vivid, giving a clear vision of the great challenge and determination that our prisoners enjoy amidst hunger and the fascist repression of the Israeli Prison Service.
The following is my translation of Loai’s day-by-day diaries from the first to eighth days:
On April 17, Loai wrote:
Today is the first day of the battle to defend our dignity. The battle’s leaders are our homeland’s heroes who are resisting with their empty stomachs for the sake of our dignity.
The first day of a hunger strike is the hardest. Abstaining from food or drinks has a great impact on strikers during the first three days. But what distinguishes the first day is the measures that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) takes against our prisoners, attempting to repress them. The jailers confiscate all their possessions, but are generous enough to leave them only the clothes they’re wearing. Moreover, they remove everything the cells contain in a very provocative way, damaging a lot of valuable items our prisoners have collected throughout their precious years in jail to ease the pain of their daily lives. On top of that, IPS conducts misinformation campaigns between rooms and prisons, so that no one knows whether he will be separated from his circle of friends and the environment to which he has adapted.
The journey of steadfastness and determination begins when the strikers manage to control themselves and overcome their desires and physical needs, armed with their desperate desire for freedom and victory which will bring them dignified lives.
We are all with you, as you’re our conscience.
On April 18, Loai wrote:
Today is the second day of the journey of respect and pride. Today is one of the hardest days of hunger strike as the body still isn’t used to not receiving its necessities from food and drinks, especially coffee. This causes lasting headaches. The pain of hunger is also at its peak.
The biggest challenge is for the smokers among our prisoners. For them, quitting cigarettes is more difficult than abstaining from food. It makes them lose their temper. But this condition simply vanishes once their will reminds them of their goal of defeating the jailers. Therefore, during these days, there is no place for irritation despite the constant harassments our prisoners endure at the jailers’ hands. Our prisoners prefer to not waste their energy responding to the provocations of IPS. Before the strike starts, all prisoners agree that strikers shouldn’t respond to any of the harassments and provocations they face, and that they shouldn’t exert any effort, to spare their energy for the days ahead. This battle is different from other clashes that happen on normal days between jailers and detainees. When there is no hunger strike, it’s not allowed to any detainee to accept insults, and if one is humiliated by a jailer and doesn’t reclaim his rights immediately, he faces punishment by the national committee inside the prisons.
The strong will that our friends behind bars enjoy turns all their sufferings into fuel that lights their flame of victory. Their faith in the just cause they have fought for makes them solid rocks that shatter the fascism of IPS.
On April 19th, Loai wrote:
The battle of the empty stomachs still continues. It’s the third day of the strike. The hardest stage ends here as the body starts using the muscles’ reserves of food to produce energy. It stops sending signs and pains of hunger. Here, strikers feel that things are getting better, not realizing that they have begun losing around 1 kg of weight per day. Actually, by now, it has become harder for them to move.
According to law, strikers have the right to stop standing for the daily counting procedure starting from the third day, as standing causes them dizziness, and sometimes unconsciousness. Though Israel’s oppressive administration, compelled by law, exempts them from standing for counting, they overstrain our prisoners with endless searches and announcements, which are very exhausting.
Despite everything, our heroes become more steadfast from these attempts to enslave them. The more inhumane treatment they endure, the more strength and resistance they have.
As the living martyrs are the leading defenders for our dignity, we will always remain loyal to their just cause.
On April 20, Loai wrote:
Today is the fourth day of challenge and championship. Today, silence begins to spread all over. By now, the striker tends to be silent and stops talking. All the voices around him seem loud. He becomes unable to join discussions. As days pass, his ability to hear voices shrinks, expect for these which lift the spirit up and strengthen souls and hearts. These voices are mainly the ones that bring news about popular support for their battle. This news becomes the source of energy, the strongest motivation for them to remain steadfast.
Our enemy is fully aware of that. Israel spells their fascist generosity against our heroes. They set up speakers and raise the volume to its loudest, constantly playing Hebrew music and news that will depress their spirits. They also circulate special news about them, like claims about the declining number of hunger strikers and names of those who have broken their fasts. They also do their best to give hunger strikers the impression that life outside is moving on normally and no one there cares about them.
However, all these inhumane attempts fail once a prisoner returns from a visit with his lawyer to tell them about popular events held locally and internationally to support them and their just cause. So don’t ever underestimate any activity you do, as they have small, smuggled radios with which they follow the news. Even children’s protests increase their inner determination to achieve their aims, as they feel that their responsibilities have broadened to include children, the future generation, which have spiritually joined their battle.
We have faith in your ability to win and we are with you until victory!
Loai Odeh and his childhood friend Bilal Odeh whom he saddly left behind. This photo was taken in prison.
On April 21, Loai wrote:
Today is the fifth of the days of challenge. The battle of steadfastness goes on. What makes it more powerful is the strength of their leaders, which has a strong impact on the strikers’ spirit. The news which informs the strikers that their heroic leaders have joined the hunger strike fills them with unspeakable and incomparable energy. Ahmad Saadat has bravely joined their battle, despite his critical medical condition after participating in the previous, exhausting mass hunger strike, which lasted for 24 days. Receiving such news supports strikers morally, strengthening their determination even more.
We will unite soon as you win the battle.
On April 22, Loai wrote:
Today is the sixth day of the battle of championship, the hunger strike for the sake of dignity and freedom. Today, the strikers’ stomachs start to get used to hunger. Strikers make sure they lick some salt several times during the day to avoid the putrefaction of their stomachs. This annoys the tyrannical Israeli Prison Administration to the extent that they sometimes confiscate even the salt prisoners keep to survive their battle. However, our prisoners hide small quantities of salt in the cracks of walls or under their mattresses.
But IPS is very generous with the fascist practices they rain on our heroes. They pump water into their mattresses and walls so they salt melts. How can they accept our heroes finishing their strike without any permanent damage? Most of our prisoners who joined long hunger strikes have sustained ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) as a result.
But our prisoners have smart ways of hiding salt, small radios, and everything that helps them to survive and persist. Even if IPS stripped them of everything they own, it will never manage to break their will. Their indestructible spirit will lead them to victory, as they are starving for the sake of dignity.
Your steadfastness brings us honor!
On April 23, Loai wrote:
Today is the seventh day of the mass hunger strike, the battle of challenge. Strikers’ bodies get more accustomed to hunger than the first days of striking. However, joint pains start and a feeling of coldness pervades their bodies and increases as more days of hunger pass. Their stomachs adjust to the lack of food and stop producing the juice needed for digestion as there is no food to be digested in the first place. This avoids the negative side effects for this juice on their stomachs and helps the feeling of hunger to stop.
However, the fascist Zionist guards keep practicing their outrageous actions attempting to tempt the strikers. Inhumanely, they bring the cooking equipment in front of strikers’ cells and start frying and grilling food such as eggplants that arouses their empty stomachs to produce the digestive fluids. As a result, the hunger pangs begin anew, and having nothing for that juice to digest causes sores which accompanies strikers for many years after the hunger strike.
These fascist procedures, which we haven’t heard of even during Nazism, makes our heroes more determined to defeat the IPS with their empty stomachs.
With this battle of empty stomachs, you bring us honor. We trust in your ability to win.
Loai Odeh and his mother reunite in Gaza after his release.
On April 24, Loai wrote:
Today is the eighth day of the battle. In the eighth day of the hunger strike, the strikers’ movements start to decrease notably as the joint pain and the dizziness which result from moving prevents them from doing so. These consequences leave them stretched on their mattresses motionless, dreaming about the day the hunger strike ends with victory.
During these difficult times, our prisoners try their best to stop thinking about their families but all attempts fail. Instead, their families constantly dominate their thoughts, especially their mothers. Mothers become their central concern as strikers realize that their mothers bear more pain than they themselves do. Despite the fact that our heroes think of their mothers more than themselves, they keep looking forward to a breaking dawn when their strike will end with a satisfactory victory that befits them, a victory that makes them proud. All respect for the mother that gave birth to and raised these heroes. Palestinian mothers are the source and root of revolution that never complain giving.
It’s our duty to tenderly embrace our prisoners’ mothers with all possible care till we celebrate the victory and the freedom of their sons.
Several thousands of Palestinians joined the marches on Prisoners’ Day in Gaza. (Joe Catron)
Last Monday, I couldn’t wait for my class to end at 10:00am. My dad doesn’t know how to send a text message, but somehow, while inside the lecture, I received one from him, urging me to come to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As soon as students were allowed to leave, I was the first one out the door. I walked as quickly as I could from school to the ICRC. I stopped a taxi, even though it was a ten-minute walk. I wanted to be there in time so I would not miss any of the weekly protest for Palestinian political prisoners. I expected that it would be a unique protest, especially since the following day was Prisoners’ Day. I was right.
It wasn’t the usual protest that I always see. The street was closed. No cars could pass. The hall inside the ICRC, as well as the sit-in tent in front of it, were filled with people. Artistic touches of anger, steadfastness, and hope were added.
As I arrived, I found Dad chatting cheerfully with a man I had never seen in the ICRC before. His story was worth hearing. His name is Zuhdy al-Adawi. My father and Zuhdy were both released in the 1985 swap deal after spending 15 years in Israeli jails. Dad was released to Gaza but Zuhdy, unfortunately, was deported to Syria. Since then, Dad had never met his friend. However, Zuhdy managed to return for the first time to his birth place about two weeks ago. “After 27 years of separation, we’re meeting here again,” Dad said happily with his arm on Zuhdy’s shoulder.
I could see people crowded around stands on paintings across the street. Dad grabbed my drawing book, which I had carried there to show my friends a new picture, and opened it while saying, “Shahd is an artist, too.” Zuhdy smiled at me and pointed at the exhibition saying humbly, “Awesome! Then you should look at those paintings and tell me what you think.”
“Are you the artist?” I asked excitedly. Zuhdy pulled me close to the stands and answered proudly, “All these paintings are my work from my detention in Ashqelon Prison. It was important for me to exhibit them in Gaza so your generation and the coming generations keep learning about the Palestinian prisoners’ issue through art.” My eyes were captured by his talent and creativity. Every painting told a story full of suffering and challenge. They summed up the Palestinian struggle and the pains and the injustices that Palestinian people suffer, especially the humiliating conditions our political prisoners endure.
“Expressing myself with colors was banned inside prison,” Zuhdy said angrily. “I used to cut pillowcases and use them as my canvas. I managed to smuggle some pastel and wax colors. I used to paint under fear. How could I paint while jailers surrounded me? But with my persistence and my friends’ collaboration, I managed to make these and smuggle them out of jail.”
Zuhdy’s expressive, creative paintings left me speechless. He made me feel happy, happy that the heartless jailers failed to imprison his mind or imagination. He lived in prison, but his heart and mind were free. To see more of his drawings, see Joe Catron’s album here or watch this video.
“Be sure that our prisoners resist in many different ways,” Zuhdy said. “Many writers, intellectuals, and painters arose in prison, from the unspeakable love for Palestine, and from the daily suffering, oppression, and injustice. We have full confidence that can defeat the jailers’ inhumanity. We have a just cause for which we sacrifice and in which we believe, and we are ready to use any possible means to call for our freedom and justice.” With these strong words, he ended his inspiring conversation with me. It will be stamped in my mind for as long as I live to keep on my path, using pencils, words, and every other way to make my people’s voice heard. People like Zuhdy make my pride at being Palestinian grow every day.
That night, we returned to the ICRC to join hundreds of people who gathered to celebrate “the flame of freedom”. Who could be more worth than Hana al-Shalabi to light this flame? She was there with her beautiful, elderly mother, who had joined her daughter on hunger strike despite her age. My heart leaped when I saw them. Excitedly, we surrounded the flame and watched the champion of empty stomachs, Hana al-Shalabi, light it to mark Prisoners’ Day with a symbol of loyalty to those who are still locked behind Israeli bars and a promise that they will be never forgotten, and that we will always call for their freedom. I hope one day, we will light up this flame when Palestine is free and Israeli prisons have been emptied.
On April 17th, many popular events were held throughout Palestine. Prisoners’ Day was different this year. It had a sweet taste as the day Israel released Khader Adnan, another hero of empty stomachs who hunger struck for a record 66 days to protest being held in administrative detention without charge. His freedom put bright smiles of hope on the angry faces of prisoners’ families.
In Gaza, Palestine’s flags colored its blue sky. I left home early, eager to join the events. Marches came from every street of Gaza. All ages and genders, and many disabled people, joined the protest. It was a remarkable scene of unity and compassion between Palestinians in Gaza. Even schoolchildren participated, with their tender voices chanting, “Rise our moon, rise and light the whole universe. We weren’t born to live in humiliation, but to live in freedom.” Marches came from all directions to unite in front of the ICRC. I felt a revolution inside me when I saw thousands of people uniting their voice: “Free, free Palestine.”
Among the protesters, ten-year-old Haitham Al-Zariey, holding a picture and chanting loudly, attracted my attention. “Who is the person in the picture?” I asked him. “This is my uncle Hussien,” he said with a smile of pride. “He has been detained for eleven years. I was born when he was in jail. A few years ago, I learned that I have an uncle held captive by Israel. I have never met him.” When I asked him what he wished he could tell his uncle, he answered, “I wish I could tell him that I am here chanting for his freedom, and the freedom of all other Palestinians in Israel’s prisons. I hope I can witness his freedom soon. I wish Israel at least allow us to visit him.”
I was thrilled by the little boy’s awareness of the prisoners’ issue. Haitham is a small example of the rising revolutionary generation who will go on demanding justice and freedom for all Palestinians. On Prisoners’ Day, we renew our promise to never forget those who sacrificed precious years for the sake of our freedom and dignity. Someday all chains must break. Freedom for all Palestinian political prisoners.
On Wednesday’s afternoon, as usual, I was sitting in the tent in solidarity with Khader Adnan. There were a few people there but I am always not satisfied with the number of people joining the protest for this person who is dying to live, this legend that no hunger, pain or pressure could break his determination to live free and dignified. Every day my dissatisfaction gets greater as I wake up without hearing of his release.
Around 2 pm, the number of people usually declines and that means that there are not many things to do. Making sure that I’d be one of the last people who left the tent, I stayed there thinking of Khader’s health, which is deteriorating as time passes. Time couldn’t matter more than it does now. According to a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, who was able to visit Khader the night of February 14, for his fifth medical examination since his arrest, Khader is under a very direct threat of death. All of his muscles, including his heart and his stomach, are under threat of disintegrating, and his immune system could cease to function at any moment. Khader’s body is at high risk of sudden heart attack or total organ failure, which would cause imminent death.
I was busy brainstorming about what I would do next to raise the awareness about his case and get people to move. Suddenly, 3 physically disabled people including a woman entered the tent on a cart designed for people with such disabilities, attracting all eyes on them. Each one was sticking a Palestinian flag to their carts and brought a beautiful banner combined with photos of Khader’s with Mahatma Gandhi’s. What can be more meaningful, expressive, touching and true than the message this banner delivers? Those disabled came to send a message to the whole world in general and India in specific on behalf the General Union of Disabled Palestinians (GUDP).
Impressed by this scene of solidarity, silence overcame the place, but all eyes kept following those three amazing humans. Awny Matar, one of the three and the head of GUDP in the Gaza Strip, moved his cart forward and stretched his arm to collect the microphone. While the audience was captivated, Awny’s voice filled the place with these words that was worth my efforts to translate it to you:
The decision of the Israeli military court of our brother Khader Adnan’s case is an illegal and racist one. It has failed all the efforts that were done by whoever tried to contribute. The Israeli courts still refuses to follow the rules and the international and humanitarian demands and still sticks to the prejudiced system of administrative detention, which contradicts human rights. Khader Adnan continues his illegal detention in Zeif hospital in Safed after two months on hunger strike.
In accordance to Yasir Arafat, Abu Ammar said “this revolution is not only the revolution of Palestine but it’s also of every free human around the world.” Thus, we, the General Union for Disabled Palestinians, announce February the 15th as patriotic, democratic and international day of solidarity with the detainee Khader Adnan.
We appeal to the grandchildren of Mahatma Gandhi generally and our brothers in the General Union of Palestinian Students in India specifically to do whatever they can to help Khader Adnan be freed. We should remember what our role model of peace Gandhi said and put it into serious and practical actions. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
What the hero Gandhi and his supporters did using peaceful resistance, Khader Adnan is doing with his battle of hunger striking since December 17. We proudly declare Khader Adnan as the Gandhi of 2012.
Our brave prisoners have always challenged the policies of repression and injustice and confronted with their bare chests and their empty stomachs all forms of torture and persecution that were exercised against them. It’s important that you know that there are more than 50 disabled Palestinians behind Israeli bars, despite their permanent disabilities caused by the Israeli occupation. Moreover, more than 250 children are held captive by Israel, committing scandalous violations of their rights, since their arrests have led to varying brutalities, from tying hands and legs, preventing them of sleep and taking breaks and standing a military trial, violating the fourth article of Geneve agreement. They exercise all these inhumane actions against prisoners including children and disabled under what they fabricate as the emergency law.
Isn’t that an obvious evidence of Israeli Occupation’s condemnation against children and disabled detainees? However, we have complete faith that those who paid their freedom as a price for all our freedoms will be free with their heads held high to celebrate their people’s glories and steadfastness.
Khader Adnan, the Gandhi of Palestine, equals Gandhi, the founder of the Indian country, in his battle of empty stomach and peaceful resistance. We strongly call for Gandhi’s grandchildren and the Arab league to stand with our people’s issues, especially the prisoners’ issue, and to put the release of Khader, detained children and the disabled on the top of your priorities in the international, Arabic and Islamic forums to rescue our prisoners’ lives, and most important, Khader’s life.
We should learn from Gandhi when he said “when a slave decides to no longer be a slave, his chains break down. Whatever crime or wound, no matter what the cause, that is made against another person is a crime against humanity. And depriving a person of his natural freedom is worse that starving the body.”
In conclusion, we appeal to every free human around the world not to forget Palestinian prisoners inside the unjust Israeli jails while making your breakfast, or returning home peacefully.
Freedom to the prisoners of freedom
Glory and mortality for all martyrs
Speed recovery for our injured heroes.