Update: 30 March 2012, 02:40 UTC
As of about 2am Palestine local time on 30 March, Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel were refusing to confirm that Hana al-Shalabi had ended her hunger strike and warned that any “deal” to banish her to Gaza could be the result of coercion given her grave health situation. The groups also stated that such forced banishment and exile is forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Hana al-Shalabi to be banished to Gaza, reports say
In exchange for ending her 43-day hunger strike, Hana al-Shalabi, who is being held without charge or trial by Israel is to be banished to the Gaza Strip, far from her home and family in the West Bank village of Burqin, according to media reports.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – A deal to release Palestinian hunger-striker Hana Shalabi to the Gaza Strip temporarily was reached late Thursday, officials with knowledge of the negotiations told Ma’an.
The officials say Shalabi will be sent to Gaza for three years in exchange for giving up a 43-day strike against Israel’s policy of holding detainees without charge.
The Palestinian prisoners society confirmed the deal in a statement praising Shalabi’s resolve. It expressed its appreciation for her efforts to bring attention to Israel’s policies toward prisoners.
The report says that Hana herself made the “choice” to accept the deal. But let us be honest: Hana was given no real “choice” by her Israeli tormentors. She had already spent two arduous years in prison without charge or trial, and now faced the prospect of months, or perhaps years more in so-called “administrative detention.”
Perhaps under those circumstances being banished to Gaza far from her family, seemed easier. No one who did not live through the agonizing 43 days of hunger strike that Hana endured, bringing her to the edge of death, can decide what is right for her.
Hana will share the fate of Winnie Mandela
When the news of the deal broke, the name of another woman immediately came to mind: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The anti-apartheid fighter, and former wife of Nelson Mandela, once shared Hana’s fate under the South African apartheid regime – banishment to a distant region.
As South African History Online reminds us, on 16 May 1977:
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela, was banished to a dusty Afrikaner dominated town of Brandfort in the Free State where she was unceremoniously dumped at house 802 with her youngest daughter, Zinzi. There was no running water, no electricity, and the house had no floors or ceilings. The town was hostile, and the people spoke mainly Sotho, Tswana or Afrikaans, and hardly any Xhosa, which was Winnie’s home language. Winnie took a provocative stance, and would spend hours in the White shops empowering the shop-keepers with political ideologies. In her banishment order, Winnie was given a condition of either leaving South Africa for Swaziland or Transkei, which was regarded as independent by the South African government. However, she chose to remain in South Africa, where she continued fighting for the liberation of her people and at times arrested for defying her banishment order.
An impossible “choice”
So like Hana, Winnie too was given an impossible “choice.” Madikizela-Mandela wrote about the night she was arrested in her memoir Part of My Soul Went With Him:
At about four o’clock in the morning I heard a great noise outside–it seemed as if a hail of stones were dropping on my house and it sounded as if they were falling inside the wall – I’ve got this high cement wall around the house in Orlando [Soweto].
In a fraction of a second there were knocks all over, on the doors, on all the windows, bang, bang, bang-sounds. You would think they would ring the bell – no – simultaneous knocking on the door, barking, then I knew what was happening. I just took it for granted that I was under arrest. I thought as usual they were taking me under Section 6.
I went and opened the door and of course I saw the whole army inside the yard, chaps in camouflage carrying guns, and members of the Security Branch; they were all heavily armed.
A terrifying night raid, like those that take place any night in Palestinian homes across the occupied West Bank, and like the one that took Hana from her home.
“A bigger prison”
In 1983, still banished, Madikizela-Mandela gave an interview to South African filmmaker Kevin Harris, speaking about the “extreme isolation” she felt.
Asked if she believed she would see liberation in her lifetime, Madikizela-Mandela said:
Oh certainly, that I am completely convinced of. That is why even exile is so worthwhile because I am absolutely certain that we shall attain our liberation and even being in exile really is a constant reminder of the sickness of our society and that we are virtually in prison even in our country. Those who are outside prison walls are simply in a bigger prison…
So Hana too will be moved from Ramle Prison to the “bigger prison” of Gaza. But the consolation for her is in Winnie Mandela’s words. Liberation from Israeli apartheid is certain, and Hana too shall go home a free woman.
Madikizela-Mandela’s controversies: a note
In a comment below, Joop Jansen took exception to my “comparing” Hana al-Shalabi to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, on the grounds that Madikizela-Mandela is a deeply controversial figure due to long-standing allegations of involvement in various crimes including kidnapping and murder in the final years of apartheid. Let me make clear that my comparison is not of Hana and Winnie as individuals or characters; it is of their treatment by repressive regimes.
In other words, the comparison is of Israel’s “military justice” to apartheid South Africa’s practices. At the time of her banishment, Madikizela-Mandela was not accused of any recognizable crime, and her later deeds and controversies do not detract from the injustice of the way she was treated by the apartheid regime. Today Madikizela-Mandela remains a highly divisive figure – some react to her as Jensen did, while at the same time she is currently a member of the South African parliament. But regardless, her banishment was an iconic moment in history that should not be forgotten.
A note on terminology
I use the term “banishment” or “internal exile” rather than “deportation” to describe Israel’s policy of forcing Palestinians from the West Bank to go to Gaza. “Deportation” usually denotes when a country expels a foreign citizen. Palestinians are not foreigners on any inch of Palestine, so Israel cannot “deport” them. It can only “exile” them outside the country, or “banish” them to another part of it. Gaza, of course, is an inseparable part of historic Palestine.
In Arabic, the term that is usually used is for this Israeli policy is إبعاد (ib’aad) which means “putting at a distance.”