Exile in Gaza is not the victory we want for our heroic prisoners
“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.
What was supposed to be a wedding ended up a funeral
“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.
On Deported Palestinian’s Day, a deported man describes his life as “never settled”
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!