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.
Feeling proud! Feeling high! Our defiant people in Jerusalem lifted my spirit which had been bruised through these last few weeks by the continuous entrapment in the besieged Gaza Strip, unable to leave for my graduation studies. I cannot put into words how proud I feel of our people in Jerusalem.
On Wednesday night, I had a long and exciting chat with my friend Amjad Abu Asab in Jerusalem who makes me feel very connected to Jerusalem, as if I am there amidst the bustle and lights of the old city’s streets. He described to me what happened and didn’t miss a single detail. Thanks to him, I could picture my dear city Jerusalem, Al-Amoud gate, the clashes and the demonstrations that happened there, the atmosphere, the anger, the smell, everything.
Amjad was one of the demonstrators who gathered at Al-Amoud gate in the old city. When I called him to ask about the situation in Jerusalem, I expected his voice to be filled with frustration and anger. His positive reply inspired me. “We managed to send a powerful message of rejection and defiance to the Israeli Occupation and the radical Jewish settlers who repeatedly break into Al-Aqsa mosque. The message that Jerusalem is Arab and Palestinian and we won’t be easily defeated.”
It does make me angry to know that our people go through such brutality on a daily basis, and that we can only support them behind the fences and walls as our physical presence is impossible under the Israeli apartheid regime. But it makes me very proud because our people are still determined and defiant. They pay a huge price for living in Jerusalem which is subjected to systematic ethnic cleansing policies but they pay the price happily because they know that “to love a land is to live and die for it.”
Amjad was one the people who was attacked by the Israeli soldiers. But that couldn’t depress him and he still told me the story with a positive tone. “I was beaten up with batons today,” he said with laughter.
I asked him how all these clashes started. “Many people gathered at Al-Amoud gate to rebel against the repetitive provocative raids of Al-Aqsa. Some radical settlers broke into the demonstration with two Israeli flags and kept waiving them amongst the angry protesters,” he replied. “There was a Palestinian salesman who sells shoes on a little table at Al-Amoud gate. One woman grabbed a shoe and threw it at that radical settler in response to his insulting provocations, and then all of a sudden all the protesters started showering shoes collectively at the soldiers.” The excitement and pride that I could feel in his voice as he narrated the story to me made me burst into laughter.
When our Palestinian people in Jerusalem threw shoes at the faces of the Israeli soldiers and radical settlers, they were attacked with tear gas bombs and batons. You cannot compare our people’s harmless shoes to the murderous weapons the Israeli forces used to suppress our people. But our people’s faith in our just cause empowers them with strength, poise and determination to stand firm in the face of Israel’s brutality and to keep resisting.
“A tear gas cannister hit my friend’s head and he was sent to hospital. He was rescued miraculously because the bomb hit the wall before it hit his head. Otherwise he could have been martyred,” Amjad said. Amjad’s friend was sent to hospital, but was thankfully released after a few hours. His situation is stable.
About 40 other Palestinians were injured in these clashes including three women, some paramedics and journalists. 15 people were jailed including three children, Ahmad Khanfar 14, Omar Al-Sheilk Ahmad 15 and Omar Abu Sarriya 14. Our Palestinian brethren in Jerusalem were terrorized, wounded and detained in the name of maintaining security and protection for the Zionist colonial settlers.
The Israeli Occupation Forces were savage and aggressive but they failed to make our people surrender. Israel’s brutality inspires our determination to keep up the fight. Every time they tried violently to disperse the crowd, they gathered again in different locations. The Israeli soldiers kept chasing them wherever they went.
Keep an eye on Jerusalem. Our people in Jerusalem face such challenges and risks on a daily basis. These vicious practices by the Israeli Occupation Forces have only one goal: to continue the systematic ethnic cleansing of our people.
At this very moment, passing through Rafah border crossing and travelling abroad for my MA studies in Turkey is no longer what I wish I could do. I don’t wish for anything more than for me to be in Jerusalem! This post is dedicated to my friends and strong people in Jerusalem. I would like them to know that we feel for you. Even if Israel builds a thousand more checkpoints to divide our people, we will stay united and feel for each other’s suffering. Keep your chins up you fighters of Jerusalem! They will not manage to Judaise our Arab Palestinian Jerusalem or our holy Palestinian soil. Free Palestine from the river to the sea!
‘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.
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!
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!
The sit-in tent for Palestinian political prisoners has been moved from the International Committee for the Red Cross to a central park near the statue of the Unknown Soldier in the middle of Gaza City. It is one of the few green places and thus one of the most lively places in Gaza, where people escape from their dark houses and seek fun and relief, or to simply waste their times observing others. However, the sit-in tent is now used differently, to send messages of solidarity with our Political prisoners who have been on a mass hunger strike since April 17, and to show anger with the Arab and international community and all human rights organizations, which keep calling for human rights, democracy and justice, but when it comes to our prisoners, they do nothing but watch them dying and remaining helpless.
The solidarity is taking many forms, such as lighting candles, making marches, creatively performing plays, songs, poetry and Dabka, joining a symbolic hunger strike. In Gaza’s sit-in tent, 50 men and 45 women have joined a symbolic hunger strike in solidarity with the detainees since May 2, including prisoner’s wives, parents, sisters and former prisoners. Those people have been protesting day and night. The tent is their shelter as long as the revolution of hunger is going inside Israeli prisons. Having been in the solidarity tent daily, even more than in my house, I’ve witnessed most of the cases among hunger strikers whose health conditions got deteriorating. Several cases were sent to hospital for low or high blood pressure and so many people fainted or emotionally collapsed. Ambulances and doctors never leave the tents anymore as if they have full time job at the tent.
While observing the hunger strikers getting paler as more days pass, I can’t help but think of our heroes, our prisoners behind Israel’s bars and compare. The strikers here have access to water and salt and they also have a small dish of yogurt and soup per day. But our prisoners have nothing but water and salt, ‘in case it’s not confiscated by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).’ Strikers here can rest or sleep whenever they feel like it, but our prisoners keep being transferred between sections and prisons by the IPS attempting to exhaust them. Loai Odeh, a former prisoner who is also now on a hunger strike in solidarity, emphasizes that the IPS mercilessly prevents the strikers from resting, with these words he wrote recalling his experience of hunger strike during the campaign of disobedience. “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.”
While making the daily tour to show support and admiration to the hunger strikers in the tent, I was surprised to see Abu Hosny Al-Srafity wearing the strikers’ t-shirt that distinguishes them from others, and which beautifully designed with the Palestinian flag with “we’ll live dignified” written on it. Abu Hosny is a 66-year old detainee’s father whom I met since I started going to the weekly protest in the ICRC for political prisoners. Whenever we meet, we greet each other and have a short and informal conversation, but never had a real one that would make me feel like knowing him intimately. Finally, I had this conversation with him after I said “You, too?” out of surprise reacting to seeing that t-shirt.
“Absolutely!” He powerfully confirmed. “We took this step because we consider ourselves as partners in this battle of dignity but our hunger strike remains symbolic at the end of the day. It equals nothing of our detainees’ enormous suffering under the Israeli oppressive regime. They aren’t only hungry for food, they are hungry for dignity, justice, and freedom.”
He refused to let his age be a barrier in front of standing with his son Ali who was detained for 10 years and still has six to go. Doctors keep pressuring him to break his hunger strike but he refuses saying that “my life isn’t any more precious than that of my son.”
Our conversation was still in the beginning. What came next was heartbreaking. I was amazed at his high spirit and his determination but this profound chat we had clarified to me where he got that strength from.
“Ali is the only son left.” He said. “Left?” I interrupted. Then he moved his below to take a photo he kept below and started explaining. “I had three sons. My oldest son Hosny and my youngest Mohammed were killed and the one in the middle is behind Israel’s bars.” I felt raged and asked how. “In 2004, I was sitting with my wife chatting alone about the terrifying sounds of warplanes that occupied Gaza’s sky. We knew an attack was coming. Then a loud expulsion was heard and shook the land below us. We were in indescribable panic. My wife prayed, “May Allah stand with the mothers of the targeted people.” Then she answered the phone that informed her about the assassination of her oldest son, having no idea she was praying for herself.”
It was very hard to keep control of my emotions after hearing that tragedy. I continued looking directly at his eyes that were full of sorrow and listened silently. “Wait. The next story is even more shocking.” He said. “I was on my way home from a family visit with my wife and my seven-year-old son Mohammed in 1994. We were close to the eastern line, near Naheloz settlement. While standing in the street and waving for cars to take us back home, we suddenly glanced an Israeli car and a jeep driving too fast toward us. We got confused and scared. They intentionally smashed my son under their wheels, hit my wife and badly injured her and kept driving fast toward the settlement. It was horrible. It all happened so quickly that I couldn’t rescue my son who froze out of fear in front of that heartless driver who killed him and didn’t bother to even look back.”
Abu Hosny stopped talking to see my reaction but I was too shocked to utter any word after hearing that horrible incidents. His voice narrating the stories of the murder of his two sons kept replaying in my ears, and my tears kept flowing and the features of shock didn’t leave my face. He saw me in that condition and softly tapped on my hand and said, “Don’t be sad, my daughter. As long as we’re living on these holy lands of Palestine, we’ll never get fed up giving any sacrifice. These unjust and unsecure lives we’re leading are the source of our inner strength and determination. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t see me now hunger striking in solidarity with my son, the living martyr, with hope to celebrate his freedom soon.”
Let’s pray to all detainees’ families to celebrate the victory of their detained sons in their battle of empty stomachs against the armed merciless jailers and pray that this victory will result in allowing them to visit their sons after over 6 years of family visits’ ban. Let’s support our prayers with taking serious actions.
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.
Palestinian political prisoners are not only numbers
Last night, a new friend of mine noticed that I try to highlight the issue of Palestinian political prisoners in my writings. That led to a long chat about my interest in bringing out their stories. I started by describing how being the daughter of a former detainee has inspired a passion toward my homeland and the feeling of having a duty toward my people, especially our forgotten prisoners, within me.
I told him how attending the weekly protest with prisoners’ families in the Red Cross has turned to be a psychological cure for my own pains. It’s true. Sometimes I feel very sad, but as soon as I see a prisoner’s mother, wife, or daughter smiling, my spirit strangely rises. Interacting with the prisoners’ families and listening to their stories, full of suffering and pride, has created a warm relationship between us. They have become an important part of my life, and a reason to live.
I’ve always criticized the way prisoners are presented as numbers. Reports often show them as mere statistics, omitting that behind these figures there are humans desperate for dignified life and justice. Humanizing their issue by making their stories heard has been the main goal of my writings, with faith in humanity preserving my hope that their stories may wake the sleeping to take action.
Unconsciously, my life has recently centered on Khader Adnan. He is an administrative detainee who has been on hunger strike since December 17 to protest his illegal detention without trial. I have followed updates about his continuing hunger strike, his silence, his deteriorating health, the ban on his family visiting him, and the Israeli Prison Service (IPS)’s indifference and neglect of his situation. Gaza has held many events in solidarity with him and his family, who are terrified that each new dawn could bring news of his death.
Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza
From Khader Adnan’s story, which has repeated itself thousands of times in Palestine, to news about United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza, anger and frustration have dominated my mind.
Representatives of families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and martyrs’ families wanted to join the delegation that would meet Ban. Civil society figures made intensive efforts to ensure that this would happen so he could hear about their demands and long years of suffering. However, Ban simply refused to meet these people, who wanted his support and protection for their violated rights. An angry crowd, having heard of his repeated visits to former Israeli prisoner Gilaad Shalit, hurled shoes and stones at his convoy as it entered Gaza Thursday morning.
I watched the video of the prisoners’ families throwing shoes and stones. Honestly, it filled me with joy and pride in my people. I thought that it might make the Palestinian people look bad in front of the international community. But I would have only one response for those who might define Palestinians as mere throwers of shoes against diplomats: Those shoe throwers included angry relatives of prisoners who have endured terrible conditions at the hands of merciless Israeli jailers. They are frustrated with Ban’s biases toward Israel, and have witnessed more than enough of Israeli brutality, tyranny, and violations of their simplest rights guaranteed by international law and the Geneva Conventions. Those people have been filled with anger by more than five years of living under a closure imposed by Israel, and declared illegal by UN bodies. They haven’t been allowed to visit their relatives in prison since Hamas was democratically elected, boycotted by the UN, and marginalized as a terrorist organization.
Om Ibrahim Baroud joined the angry crowd that welcomed Ban “disrespectfully”
Watching the video, I saw Om Ibrahim Baroud join the crowd that greeted Ban. Baroud is the 75-year-old
mother of a political prisoner who has spent 26 years in Israeli prisons, and for 26 years, she has never stopped calling for the freedom of her son. Despite her age, she has joined every hunger strike prisoners launched since her son was detained, and has never missed a protest for Palestinian political prisoners. She always says, “I am not only the mother of the detainee Ibrahim Baroud, but of all the prisoners and oppressed. I’ll keep calling for their freedom as long as I am alive”. Last Monday at the weekly protest in the Red Cross, she limped because of a pain in her leg, but was still fasting in solidarity with Khader Adnan and all prisoners. She spoke for the prisoners to the media, appealing to every human right organization to witness the suffering of Palestinian detainees and act.
In the video, she was angry as never before, gathering all her physical power to hit Ban’s convoy with a stick. Her strength has always impressed everyone who knows her. “I know I am for Ban, nothing more than a mother of a ‘terrorist’”, she told me on the phone with rage. “Why would he bother to listen to me? He must know that I am the mother of a human being who deserves dignity even in detention. And I am a human who deserves to be heard”.
No one should blame this mother, who has been deprived of wrapping her arms around her son for 26 years. No one should blame her after she witnessed countless Israeli attacks on Gaza, especially the 2008-2009 war. She saw the phosphorous bombs, banned by international law, falling on civilians who took shelter in the Al-Fakhoura UNRWA School after fleeing their homes. She lives near it. Don’t blame her when she explodes with anger after hearing of Ban Ki-moon’s thanks to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak – the architect of the 2008-2009 war – for his “generosity” towards Gaza; his generosity in redeeming the world of 352 children whom, if they hadn’t been killed, would have grown up into terrorists to threaten the holy security of Israel. Don’t blame her or any Palestinian when UN did nothing against Israel for the war crimes Israel committed even at UNRWA sites. Instead, they are biased toward Israel, while we have been terrorized daily by the Israeli Occupation ever since it was illegally established through ethnic cleansing.
Palestinians owe Ban Ki-moon no apologies
After this “disrespectful welcome” of Ban Ki-moon by the angry families of prisoners and martyrs, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) shamefully sent apologies to him.
But I’ll allow myself to speak on behalf of Palestinians and say proudly: “We make no apologies!” And I add: “The PLO doesn’t represent us.” Palestinians aren’t the ones who should apologize. The one who should apologize is who keeps talking of human rights, yet sees human rights continuingly and openly violated by Israel, but does nothing, instead covering up Israel’s crimes against humanity. Actually, thousands of apologies wouldn’t suffice to heal the long, bleeding wounds that Palestinians suffer from the long course of Israel’s occupation and existence.
I am sitting so close to my mother, expecting anything to happen any time. I hate to listen to the radio but I have to. The Radio announcer keeps repeating the same sentence again and again “People, try to take as much caution as possible!” What a silly call! Who knows where is or is not a safe place in Gaza during war time? All I want right now is to see my family members around me. I keep moving my eyes over and around them. They are totally silent but features of worry and fear are easy to make out on their faces. “It sounds like another war” mum said. I just looked and listened in silence, and continued pressing the keyboard buttons. I feel cold like never before. I feel so much in need of a blanket or a sweater but two things stops me from that; my legs and my lips. I can’t break my silence as well as my stiffened state. Nothing but my fingers are moving.
I laughed at myself as I remembered how I bolted down in a flash from the second floor to the first floor where my family stays. Fear takes over, pushes you further. Subconscious strength drove my legs to gather with the others—the safest place I can be. Suddenly, I stopped writing. I couldn’t see anything around me, all colors are unclear. A series of flashbacks from the last war on Gaza that were buried somewhere in my absent memory have reemerged. The sound of war planes is getting louder. The sirens of ambulances are still ringing. I wish I can move and bring some cotton to close my ears. This is the only time when I envy the deaf. “7 children are injured!” the announcer said. I felt as if somebody had thrown freezing water over my face so strongly that it sounded like a slap, though I remained unmoved and unconscious to it.
I went into a very deep sleep out of my control. Silence was spread everywhere. It was as if I was choking in my dreams, there was smoke so thick and stifling. I wasn’t sure if it was real or merely a dream. Suddenly I started coughing, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t open my eyes, I still hadn’t realized what had just happened. Then I tried to pull myself together. I checked if I was ok; I was quite ok. I still couldn’t see, I couldn’t feel my body. Suddenly my hand touched something and then I screamed. Oh God, that was Ahmad, my four-year-old son, on my lap bleeding. I screamed with the loudest voice I could, “Please, help, please rescue my son.” He was bleeding a lot but nobody answered. People around were either dead or unconscious.
“Oh my other seven kids, where are they?” I said. I put Ahmad on the floor and went to search for them. I could barely see for the smoke. I found Ansam, my 2-week-old girl, she was crying with a throttled voice struggling to get out of her throat. I held her to my chest and continued searching for the other six who were not so far away. I was almost epileptic, crying, lots of bodies on the floor. Then I saw four of my sons in the corner looking silently and fearfully at one boy and girl lying face down on the floor. I stood for a while shocked in such fear that the sensations going through me were true, but then I thought that I should move quickly. Slowly and carefully I turned their bodies to the back. Yes, my feeling was right, that was my 8-year-old girl, Amal, and my 7-year-old son, Abdallah.
Amal was bleeding from her nose, ear, and head. She had some shrapnel in her head. The boy was bleeding from his thigh. I couldn’t bear it. I impulsively hugged my children and burst into tears. I didn’t know what to do. Then I went to bring my son Ahmad who was bleeding on my lap, I could see many dead bodies were under the rubble. I gathered my children around me; I was delirious but struggling to be strong for my kids. Ahmad was bleeding so much, and he seemed like he was dying. It wasn’t to be long afterwards that he would die in my arms. Amal and after that Abdallah opened their eyes, they were so scared of death. I hugged them and promised them that they wouldn’t die, I kept telling them to be patient. The ambulances will come soon, “Why are there no ambulances until now!” I screamed.
I wasn’t really conscious of what had happened. I asked myself “where is Abu-Mahmood, My husband?” Then I remembered exactly what had happened and a flashback sent the horror back through my head. Israeli soldiers executed my husband in front of us when he went out of the house putting his hands up just as one of the soldiers outside had ordered him to. The soldier had said, “the owner of the house must come out now!” He went out with his ID in one raised hand and his old Israeli driving license in the other. Then they killed him. And after that kids started shouting and crying begging the soldiers not to kill them, but they came inside and shot towards the kids randomly. It was then that Ahmad was injured in his chest, dying two days later despite struggling for life as the ambulances were not allowed to enter the area by the soldiers until the fourth day.
After that around 100 people from the same family including me and my kids gathered in a house which Israeli soldiers had forced us to enter. Once they’d herded us together like farm animals, the Zionist soldiers with no conscience and ice cold to the lives, love and history of our families inside, bombed the house that my kids and I were sheltering in with everyone else. It took only half an hour, but they were 30 minutes of indescribable hell with unending sorrow thereafter. Anyway, now I know why I had begun this deep, uncontrollable sleep.
Take a walk along one of Gaza’s streets. Gaze into the eyes of its people. Try to guess what they are dreaming about. Gaza is a place full of dreamers, but too often it’s also a grave for their dreams.
As I walk in the street, I see an old man sitting by the entrance of his door looking at the movement of the sun in the sky. From the expression of his face, I imagine that he is thinking he might be dead by the next day without having another chance to see his own land—now in the land called Israel and “forbidden territory”. I see fathers seeking to earn some money to take care of their children. I see mothers carrying their babies, looking at them in sorrow, wondering whether it would have been better not to bring them to this vile world!
I see many Palestinian youth with lost futures. Some may think it is funny how enormous the number of youths is who are crowded into the cafés smoking shisha. However, it’s not surprising. There are many graduates among them who have lost hope of finding a job. Others got frustrated of getting work in the profession in which they have trained, so they are laboring as mechanics, builders or they applied for the government to work as policemen—places where they shouldn’t be!
Many 18-year-old youth work hard to earn good grades in high school so they can qualify for a scholarship for advanced education outside of Gaza, only to find the border closed to them crashing their dreams. It’s as if there is a sign at the reading, “NO, WE WON’T LET YOUR DREAMS TAKE YOU FAR AWAY.” No wonder that so many youth lose their motivation to better themselves. the siege is surrounding them in addition to many others who got their degrees and sitting hopeless, jobless, and useless. No progress, no ambition, no country.
As I walk in the Gaza streets, I see many children with bare feet, dirty clothes and pale faces carrying sweets and chasing cars to beg taxi drivers and passengers to buy some! I look at them with anger, blaming the circumstances that have led them to this early heavy responsibility. What has forced those children to working while they should be at school?! I wonder if there are similar scenes in the streets of Israel. Many questions preoccupy my mind but I still get no answers; the international community is still speechless and does nothing!
I see many fatherless children shouldering many responsibilities, too early when they should be playing games and enjoying their childhood like other children around the world! Mahmood Al-Samouni is the eldest son in his family. At the beginning of 2009, while many people were celebrating the New Year, he was crying so terribly because since that moment he must accept to continue living with his father and his youngest brother absent in his life and just keep wishing that he would see them each night in his dreams! I accompany Adie Mormech, an English activist, to help teach him and others of Al-Samouni family—which lost 30 members in the Israeli invasion. We hope that they will someday be able to make their voice heard by learning English. I heard Mahmood once say that “I want to grow older more quickly so I can handle some of the responsibilities that mum takes.” Can anyone imagine how hard it is for an 13-year-old child to wish for the wheels of life to move faster so he can replace his father and be the man of the family?
You might find it strange that children here are not really children. Gazan children become mature at very early age. Children here wait for Eid so that they can collect money from relatives to buy a fake gun, so they can play a game called “Arabs and Israelis.” I remember when I played this game with my neighbors in the evenings. It’s funny that we had a rule that “the one who plays the Israeli soldiers should die.” However, we realized that the roles were inverted in reality, the soldiers don’t die but kill.
As I walk in the Gaza’s street, I see a mountain of sad scenes; which can only be banished once Palestine is free. But, I will never give up hope that I will someday walk in the Gaza streets and look in the people’s eyes, seeing them shining from happiness, not glistening with tears.
On 21 May 1985, my father Ismael regained his freedom, after being in the dark of Israeli prisons for 13 years.
“I was sentenced for seven lifetimes plus 10 years and I thought that Nafha Prison would be my grave. Luckily 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 playfully said while my mind struggled to understand his underestimation of such an experience that is inconceivable to most. His reference point was, however, different. It is only “not that long” if compared to the original sentence to which he was bound if the deal to exchange Palestinian and Israeli prisoners didn’t proceed.
I can’t recall my Dad ever showing any regret or sorrow for the precious years of his youth that were stolen from him. He turned his prison experience into a song of life. He believes that it is the reason behind his solid principles, his strong character, his intimate friendships, and his emancipatory perception of life.
I’ve always been proud to be his daughter, and I’ll always be. He is a revolutionary to whom revolutionary thinking is an organic part of his upbringing as a Palestinian refugee. My father was born to a dispossessed family from Beit Jerja, 4 years after Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, an event we call Nakba (Catastrophe). He was born in Jabalia refugee camp where minimal means of survival did not exist, and Israeli oppression defined their daily lives with a defiant form of resistance.
“The Triumphant Power of Revolution”
As a 19 year-old detainee, this organic revolutionary thinking was voiced to his anti-Zionist Israeli lawyer Felicia Langerwho fought against the Israeli unjust judicial system throughout her 23-year career before returning to her country of origin Germany. In her book With My Own Eyes(1975), Langer recorded her encounter with my father on 6 April 1972 in Kafer Yonah, an Israeli interrogation center. Thanks to her, I have access to my dad’s earliest quote:
“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 everybody. They break into houses inhabited by women without knocking on the doors. They mix the flour with oil during their aggressive inspections deliberately and without any necessity.”
The systematic oppression which Palestinians live under Israeli occupation while in their unsafe homes and neighborhood chased my father to prison. “After his arrest in Jabalia Camp on January 1, 1972,” Langer states, “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. Meanwhile, soldiers continued to attack him with batons everywhere to the extent that he lost his sense of hearing. Langer quotes my dad’s experience of this method of torture:
“This continued for 10 days… Then they threatened that unless I talked I would be banished to Amman, where I would be killed.”
Like all other Palestinians, my father was automatically trailed at an Israeli military court, where judges and prosecutors are Israeli soldiers in uniform, and the Palestinians are always guilty for challenging the authority of the military occupation regime. According to an Israeli human-rights group B’tselem, Israeli military courts “are firmly entrenched on the Israeli side of the power imbalance, and serve as one of the central systems maintaining its control over the Palestinian people.” In other words, they are an integral part of the Israeli apartheid structures.
Besides his Palestinian identity which would have automatically proved him guilty, his
socialist values further complicated matters. “Especially bitter is the fate of anyone suspected of holding communist values,” Langer observed. On 30 November 1972, the persecutor called the court to take part in the “serious war against terror,” in a plea upon the court to impose the harshest punishment against my father and his comrades who were charged for belonging to the Marxist-leaning Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. According to Langer, the persecutor claimed to be gentle in “not asking for death sentences.” Before announcing the multiple life sentences, the judge allowed my father and his comrades to say last words, but warned, “I don’t want to hear political speeches.” His comrade said there is no point since they did not recognise Israeli jurisdiction. Riot erupted as a result, and the defendants weren’t allowed to speak. But in the middle of all that, my father shouted his belief in “the triumphant power of the revolution.”
Despite his sentence that promised death in jail, my father believed an end to his living nightmare would come with the triumphant power of revolution!
Prisoners’ Exchange of 21 May 1985
The story of the exchange deal all started when Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command (PFLP-GC) 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 at the age of 33. Among the released prisoners 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.
My father told me the story of 1985 prisoners exchange with tears struggling to fall. “I cannot forget the moment when the leader of the prison started calling off the names to be released,” he said while staring at a painting hung in his room that my father drew during his imprisonment of flowers blooming with the names of his family among barbed wires.
Among the prisoners was Omar al-Qassim, a leading member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Al-Qassim was asked to read the list of the names loudly. He was initially excited, hoping his freedom would be restored. Every time he said a name, a scream of happiness convulsed the walls of prison. Suddenly, his facial expression started to change, with reluctance to speak after he noticed that his name wasn’t included. My father thinks that this was a form of psychological torture by the Israeli prison manager. But Al-Qassim left him no chance for fun, and withdrew himself with dignity. Sadly, he died in an Israeli cell after 22 years of captive resistance, pride and glory.
My father described this emotionally-charged moment as bittersweet. The happiness of freed prisoners was incomplete for leaving the other prisoners in that dirty place where the sun never shines. “We were like a big family sharing everything together. We collectively handled the same pain and united to fight for one cause,” my father told me. “Although I am free now, my soul will always be with my comrades who remain in there.”
History repeats itself. On 18 October 2011, 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 by the resistance groups that have always pressured Israel to meet some demands regarding the Palestinian prisoners.
The international media reaction to such events also invite anger in their emphasis on the arrested Israeli soldiers by the “terrorist” Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are left behind in Israeli jails with basic rights to medical care, family and lawyer visits and fair trial are denied, and the rest of Palestinian populations endure other forms of imprisonment under Israeli structures of siege and occupation. But mainstream media chooses to look away.
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 thousands of Palestinian political prisoner have fewer years of suffering, especially at times the Coronavirus poses an additional danger to their lives. We share this collective responsibility. Their freedom will be a triumph for humanity.