Tuesday 14 February 2012

Palestinian Prisoners on Hunger Strike: Defeating Oppression, Liberating Palestine

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Hunger strike poster from 1995 (source:www.palestineposterproject.org)
You stand in the narrow room. You can barely see from the dim light. You feel the pain in every part of your body. You are not allowed to sit down and you are tired from standing. You are hungry and you are thirsty. You think of your parents’ anguish when they hear of your detention. You think of their fear over what might happen to you in interrogation cells. You think of the pain you so often felt when seeing the detention scars on the hands of people you love, you think of the horror stories you so often heard about the death traps of the Zionist entity, you think of the longing you so often felt during feasts, on holidays, during family gatherings, and remembering where your loved ones are, wondering if you will ever see them again.

You close your eyes. You think of Palestine outside the walls of this dungeon. You see her green meadows and imagine yourself running, free, not afraid, not tied up. You see her hilltops and imagine yourself sitting there, under a fig tree, and watching the goats dance to the shepherd’s flute. You see the olive trees and imagine yourself touching them, speaking to them. You see your village and you walk through its roads. You pass the house, one after the other, and you greed their owners.

You see your home. You see your father watering the small peach tree in the yard. You see your mother, bending over a piece of cloth, stitching the map of Palestine. She raises her head and you hear her say: As long as Palestine is in your heart, you will never be defeated. You open your eyes and you look at the darkness surrounding you. You hear the pain of those being tortured in the surrounding cells. You hear the screams and the insults. You hear answers being demanded. You hear threats, violent threats. You hear silence, nothing but silence. Then you hear a cry that pierces through your heart. You whisper to yourself: We will never be defeated.
From his dark, isolated cell, Khader Adnan is teaching the world a lesson in resistance and in steadfastness. He is defying the Zionist jailors, defying hunger, defying oppression and inhumanity. He is telling the world the message of millions of Palestinians held captive by the Zionist entity, the message of thousands of Palestinian prisoners held captive in Zionist dungeons. He is telling the world in the name of Palestine: we would rather starve to death than surrender to injustice and humiliation. He is telling the world in our name: my dignity is worth more than food and nourishment. Khader Adnan looks at the walls of the cell and sees not the darkness, but the green meadows of Palestine. He defies his body and feels not hunger, but strength. He defies his jailors and feels not broken, but powerful. He hears his father’s voice, his mother’s voice, his wife’s voice, his children’s voice. He hears the voice of the Palestinian people beyond the dungeon walls, supporting him, giving him strength, forming one body to protect him and speaking in one voice to demand his freedom and the freedom of every single Palestinian prisoner. And from that cell, and through his willpower and determination, Adnan is breaking the shackles, he is breaking the walls of captivity and injustice and reaching out to embrace freedom.
These last weeks, we have followed the heroic struggle of Palestinian detainee Khader Adnan, 43 years old from ‘Arraba, and father of 2 children, who is held by the Zionist entity without trial or charge. Adnan has been on hunger strike since over 55 days, not only to protest his illegal detention and the ill-treatment he receives at the hands of Israeli jailors, but also to protest the illegal detention of thousands of Palestinians, held captive without charge or trial in dark cold dungeons under inhumane conditions. He is protesting the captivity of thousands of Palestinians whose only “crime” is their love of Palestine and their yearning for freedom and for a better future for their children.

Adnan was kidnapped from his home, from the midst of his family. On the way to the detention centre, he was brutally beaten and thrown in the interrogation cell despite his injuries. To break his will and to force confessions out of him, Zionist interrogators continuously insulted and threatened him, punished him with isolation, banned him from family visits, and denied him medical care. While he was subjected to brutal interrogation daily, his health was rapidly deteriorating.
On 30.12.2011, he was transferred to Ramleh prison hospital and placed in isolation. Adnan’s heroic struggle and steadfastness continue. He is still on hunger strike, for the 55th day, resisting the jailors, resisting injustice, fighting for his legitimate rights, for his dignity and for his freedom. Actions in support of Adnan and demanding his immediate release have been organized and held all over occupied Palestine, from marches to protests to solidarity tents. His struggle has also been supported by his comrades in jail, some of whom have declared hunger strike in solidarity with Adnan and his just demands.
One of the symbols of Palestinian resistance and one of the milestones in the history of Palestinian national struggle is the Palestinian prisoner movement and its never-ending struggle for freedom. The struggle of Palestinians does not end with their imprisonment, but a new stage of steadfastness and resistance begins. Palestinian political prisoners held captive in Zionist dungeons fight an intense battle armed only with their will, their steadfastness and their belief in their just cause. Despite the torture, the pain, the hunger and the cold, Palestinian prisoners resist the torture instruments of the interrogators and the whip of the jailors.

They struggle daily with inhumane treatment, with torture, with humiliation, with harassment, with over-crowded, damped and strangled cells, with medical negligence, with isolation and other forms of punishment. They fight daily for their legitimate rights; they fight daily for their right to food, to drink, to see their families, to see a lawyer, to receive medical treatment, to be tried fairly, to be free. They struggle daily for the right to be treated as humans, to defeat injustice, to survive. Their strength and willpower in the face of injustice is unprecedented, their steadfastness is legendary, their sacrifices are forever written in our books, engraved in our collective memory.
A hunger strike is a legitimate form of resistance used by Palestinian prisoners in the fight for their rights. Through hunger strikes, Palestinian prisoners defy the jailors that stand between them and freedom, and defy the walls that stand between them and Palestine. Through their willpower and their unwavering determination, they tell the whole world: Yes to the pain of hunger… No and a thousand NO to the pain of submission. Hunger strikes may be declared for a day, two days or be open hunger strikes that last until the prisoners’ demands are met. They are either general hunger strikes, where all prisoners in all Israeli jails take part, or partial hunger strikes where Palestinian prisoners in a particular Israeli prison declare a hunger strike to protest ill-treatment at that particular prison. Palestinian prisoners have declared hunger strikes countless times, but following is a list of some of them(1):
  • - Hunger strike on 18.02.1969 in Ramleh prison, lasted 11 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 18.02.1969 in Kfar Yona detention centre, lasted 8 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 28.04.1970 in Nevi Tirza prison, lasted 9 days (only female prisoners).
  • - Hunger strike on 05.05.1970 in Asqalan prison, lasted 7 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 13.09.1973 in Asqalan prison, lasted 25 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 11.12.1976 in Asqalan prison, lasted 45 days, and was renewed on 24.02.1977 for 20 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 14.07.1980 in Nafhah prison, lasted 32 days. Prisoners in other Israeli jails joined in the strike, and there was much Palestinian public support for the hunger strike. The Israeli prison authority tried to break the hunger strike by forcing liquids into the throats of the prisoners, which led to the martyrdom of Ali Al-Ja’fari from Dheisheh RC and Rasim Halawah from Jabalia.
  • - Hunger strike in September 1984 in Jneid prison, lasted 13 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 12.11.1984, lasted few days, (only female prisoners).
  • - Hunger strike on March 1985 in Nafhah prison, lasted 6 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 25.03.1987 in Jneid prison, lasted 20 days. Over 3000 Palestinian prisoners in other Israeli jails joined in the strike.
  • - Hunger strike on 23.01.1988 in all Israeli jails. This hunger strike was declared in solidarity with the general strike declared by the Unified Leadership of the Intifada.
  • - Hunger strike on 23.06.1991 in Nafhah prison, lasted 17 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 27.09.1992 in all Israeli jails, lasted 15 days. It is called the “Mother of all Battles” by Palestinian prisoners. Over 12000 Palestinian prisoners joined the strike that received much Palestinian public support. Hussein Ibeidat from Jerusalem died of medical negligence during the strike.
  • - Hunger strike on 21.06.1994 in most Israeli jails, lasted 3 days. It was declared after the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Accord, to protest the part about the release of Palestinian prisoners and its mechanism.
  • - Hunger strike on 18.06.1995, lasted 18 days. It had the motto: “The release of all Palestinian political prisoners without exception”, in an effort to bring attention to their cause before the Taba negotiations.
  • - Hunger strike in 1996 in most Israeli jails, lasted 18 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 05.12.1998 in Ramleh prison, to protest the release of criminal prisoners in a deal for the release of political prisoners.
  • - Hunger strike on 02.05.2000 in Ramleh prison, lasted about a month.
  • - Hunger strike on 26.06.2001 in Neve Tirza prison, lasted 8 days, (only female prisoners).
  • - Hunger strike on 15.08.2004 in all Israeli jails, lasted 19 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 10.07.2006 in Shatta prison, lasted 6 days.
  • - Hunger strike on 18.11.2007 in all Israeli jails, lasted 1 day.

More recently, on 07.04.2010, Palestinian political prisoners in 10 Israeli jails and 3 military detention facilities started a 24-hour comprehensive hunger strike to protest the inhumane treatment they receive on the hands of Israeli prison authority, the use of family visits to blackmail Palestinian prisoners and the humiliating treatment and the abuse their families endure during visits and the cancellation of family visits for Gaza detainees since 4 years and for many West Bank detainees. This action was repeated on the 17th and 27th of April. On 03.07.2011, around 7000 Palestinian prisoners held captives in Israeli dungeons went on a one-day hunger strike to protest the repressive measures of the Israeli prison administration. According to the Palestinian ministry of prisoners’ spokesperson:
“Palestinian prisoners in all Israeli jails were the target of an unprecedented terror campaign of repression, isolation, and transfer from one prison to another over the past few weeks. He said that the campaign peaked with the beating of the oldest serving prisoner Nael al-Barghouthi, which prisoners condemned as a violation of all red lines, along with the isolation of many prisoners serving high sentences.”(2)
Often Palestinian prisoners start a hunger strike to protest medical negligence or baseless punishments such as isolation. They are promised release from isolation to be isolated again after they end their hunger strike. Isolated prisoner Haitham Salhiyyeh went on a hunger strike to protest the Israeli prison authority’s policy of medical negligence. Even after 13 days of hunger strike, and despite his medical condition, Haitham did not get the needed medical treatment, in addition to being isolated. Mousa Dudeen went on a hunger strike for 25 days, his health deteriorated and he was promised an end to isolation if he ends his strike. He did that but was sent back to isolation after some time.

Abbas As-Sayyid went several times on hunger strikes to protest his isolation and the inhumane treatment of Palestinian prisoners on the hands of Israeli jailors. In May, 2011, he went on hunger strike for 23 days, during which no lawyer was allowed to visit him. He was transferred to hospital after his health deteriorated, nonetheless he went on with the hunger strike.

On 20.06.2011, Atef Wreidat, 45 years from Ad-Dahriyyeh, was isolated, despite suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, and despite being desperately in need of an operation. He went on a hunger strike and refused to take his medication to protest the continuous delay of the heart surgery he desperately needs, the inhumane treatment and arbitrary measures against him by the Israeli prison authority and the policy of medical neglect.
According to Wreidat’s lawyer, “imprisoning Wreidat in solitary confinement, while he is going on a continuous hunger strike and refusing to take medicine is a death sentence.”(3) He was transferred to Ramleh prison hospital after his health deteriorated as a result of the hunger strike.

On 27.06.2011, Atef ended his hunger strike when the Israeli prison administration promised to end his isolation and to transfer him to another prison, only to resume it 2 days later after being tricked by the Israeli prison administration. “..instead of transferring him to another prison, as promised, the Israeli prison administration imposed sanctions on him after he ended his hunger strike, which included a 4-month ban on family visits, a 2-year ban from pursuing education in prison, a 1-month ban from using canteen services and more than $500 fine. It also said it will keep him in Asqalan prison for a month and place him in solitary confinement for three weeks.”(4)

After her release, former prisoner Raja’ Al-Ghoul described her captivity in Israeli dungeons. She was kidnapped in the middle of the night from her home, was handcuffed and taken to Jalameh prison. Al-Ghoul was made to sit on a chair for a whole day with her hands cuffed behind her and was threatened with torture and the arrest of her husband to force confessions out of her, which she refused. During the 25 days of interrogation she refused food and only drank water, and on the last day of interrogation she was placed in a very cold room, with one stone bed and a very stinky mattress. Al-Ghoul was told by the interrogators that she is to spend her detention time in that cold cell as punishment for not confessing. When she still refused to confess, Al-Ghoul was lo ked up together with Israeli criminal prisoners where she continued her strike and refused to take her heart medicine. Upon the deterioration of her health, the Israeli prison authority was forced to transfer her to section 11 of the Tal Mond prison (for political prisoners).

The Zionist entity doesn’t want Palestinians to protest injustice, oppression, humiliation. It doesn’t want their voice to awaken the sleeping conscience of the world. It wants the Palestinians to die in silence. It wants them to watch in silence as their land is usurped, as their homes are demolished, as their children are robbed of their childhood, as they are robbed of life.

It wants Palestinians to watch in silence as their comrades are being hunted down by Zionist snipers.

It wants Palestinian fathers and mothers to watch in silence as their children are being attacked by fully-armed Zionist colonists. It wants Palestinian villagers to watch in silence as bulldozers uproot their olive fields.
It wants Palestinian prisoner to die in silent in the Zionist death cells.

In 2004, Tzahi Hanegbi, former Israeli minister of internal security, said after Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails declared a hunger strike against the inhumane prison conditions:
“They can strike for a day, a month, until death. We will ward off this strike and it will be as if it never happened. He has ordered large, open grills to be set up to barbecue meat and for bread to be baked just outside the prison doors, to torture prisoners with the smells. Prison guards are encouraged to eat all this in front of the fasting prisoners.”(5) He later said: “for all I care, they can starve to death!”(6).
And because the Zionist entity wants the Palestinian to remain silent, suffer in silence, die in silence, it kills them to silence their voice that is shouting for justice, and it kills them to silence the voice that is exposing the criminal terrorist racist nature of the Zionist entity.

When the Palestinians plant olive trees, the Zionist entity uproots the trees. When the Palestinians build homes on their land, the Zionist entity demolishes them. When the Palestinians march for their rights, the Zionist entity kills them. When Palestinian children dream of freedom, the Zionist entity kills their dreams. When Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strikes to protest their inhumane and illegal detention, the Zionist entity tries to silence their voice because the strong will and determination of the Palestinian prisoners exposes the inhumanity and the cowardice of the Zionist jailors.

And when Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike to protest their inhumane and illegal detention, the Zionist prison authority tries to silence their lives by forcibly breaking these strikes. This had lead to the martyrdom of some prisoners. According to various reports, hunger strike martyrs include:
  1.  Abdel Qader Jabir Ahmad Abu Al-Fahim, from Jabalia RC, killed on 11.05.1970 in Asqalan prison.
  2. Rasim Mohammad Halaweh, from Jabalia RC, killed on 20.07.1980 in Nafha prison.
  3. Ali Shehadeh Mohammad Al-Ja’fari, from Dheisheh RC, killed on 24.07.1980 in Nafha prison.
  4. Anis Mahmoud Douleh, from Qalqilia, killed on 31.08.1980 in Asqalan prison.
  5. Ishaq Mousa Al-Maraghah, from Silwan, killed on 16.11.1983 in Beir Al-Sabi’ prison.
  6. Hussein As’ad Ubeidat, from Jerusalem, killed on 04.10.1992 in Asqalan prison.

On 27.09. 2011, over 100 Palestinian prisoners started an open hunger strike to protest Israeli treatment and demand their rights and their freedom and demand an end to solitary confinement and an end to the systematic humiliation of Palestinian detainees and their families. Amongst a strong public support campaign that included marches, support tents, hunger strikes in solidarity, conferences, etc., the executive committee of the PLO called for a 2-hour commercial strike on 12.10.2011, and declared the day a national day for the support of the prisoners. Various groups, organizations and committees called for the day to be a day of general strike to show the importance of the prisoners’ issue, and called for the closure of commercial facilities, schools and universities, so everyone can take part in the support activities. And while some political parties called for a general strike the whole day, others wanted to limit it to only 2 hours. Some municipalities called for a general strike in their areas, while others were satisfied with a 2-hour commercial strike (early in the morning when commercial activities are low anyway). While schools, ministries and other state institutions have a day off on “occasions” such as “the PA UN statehood bid”, and employees and students are “urged” to march and “show their solidarity”, action days in solidarity with the prisoners or with Jerusalem are work-as-usual-days. For example, on 23.6.2011, a 5-minute traffic-stop was declared in solidarity with detainees. Yes, 5 minutes for the prisoners of conscience in comparison to “sending” employees and students to join car parades and marches all day long in “support of the statehood bid”.

In a letter smuggled out of his isolation cell, Palestinian political prisoner Hasan Salameh says:” If I could buy your support for me and for the other prisoners with all that I possess, I swear I would not fall short.” The struggle of the Palestinian prisoners is our struggle, the struggle of every one of us. The “battles of the empty stomachs” have kept the flame of resistance alive inside the dark dungeons. These “battles” are a call to the Palestinian streets to stand in solidarity with the prisoners, to join them in their struggle, to feel their hunger, their thirst, their pain. They are a call to remind us that the prisoners are still alive in the graves of Zionism, that they yearn for freedom.

They are a call to join our voice with theirs, make it louder to shatter all walls of silence, and make it heard everywhere: Yes to the pain of hunger… No and a thousand NO to the pain of submission. But we shouldn’t wait for the prisoners who sacrificed their freedom for our freedom to “knock on the walls” to remind us that their struggle is our struggle. We shouldn’t wait for them to start hunger strikes in order to remind us of their existence and of their suffering. We shouldn’t wait for the prisoners to remind us that they are dying a slow death inside Israeli dungeons. We shouldn’t wait for the prisoners to remind us of our duty.

No, we shouldn’t wait for the prisoners to “knock on the walls”, we shouldn’t wait for them to start the revolution. We should start the revolution and free them all! They have not only sacrificed their youth and their freedom for Palestine, but some have even sacrificed their lives. The blood, the pain and the sacrifice of Palestinian prisoners is a scream that breaks the shackles and breaks through the walls of the dungeons and paves the way for the freedom of every Palestinian.

We owe it to the Palestinian prisoners, we owe it to every single one of them, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, those who are currently on hunger strike, and those who were on hunger strikes many times, those whose hunger strike made headlines and those whose hunger strike went unnoticed.

We owe it to their mothers, their fathers, their siblings, their comrades to remember them, to tell their stories, their pain, their struggle, their dreams and their aspirations. We owe it to our fathers, mothers, siblings and comrades to reach out through the walls of the dungeons and hold the hands of the prisoners in ours, press on them, and promise them that the struggle will continue until sun rays break the walls of the dungeons. We owe it to them to keep the flame of struggle lit and bright until every single Palestinian prisoner is free, until all of Palestine is free. We owe it to them, to every Palestinian prisoner, to raise our voices high, united and strong, for their freedom and for their dignity. ALL Palestinian prisoners deserve our support.

Every single one of them needs our voice, needs our support. They don’t deserve to be reduced to a single line added to certain petitions whenever we find it appropriate or necessary , they deserve to be more than numbers in an article. Palestinian prisoners deserve that we tell their parents that they are not forgotten, that their children are our children, our brothers, our sisters and our comrades. They deserve that we tell their parents that the pain of their children is our pain, that the captivity of their children is our captivity, that the freedom of their children is our freedom. They deserve that we memorize their names, repeat the often forgotten and ignored heroes, they deserve that we give names to the numbers we often quote and to give names to the faces that are locked up behind bars and to fight for their freedom until every single Palestinian prisoner is free. Palestinian prisoners deserve not only a day of rage, a day of solidarity or a day of revolution, they deserve that every day is a day of rage, a day of solidarity and a day of revolution until every single Palestinian is free, until Palestine is free.


(1) www.palestinebehindbars.org
(2) http://tinyurl.com/5so7dgk
(3) http://english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=16495
(4) http://english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=16580
(5) http://www.cageprisoners.com/articles.php?id=3088
(6) http://globalresearch.ca/articles/AVN408A.html

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