Bilal Diab and Woroud Qasem released as hunger strikes for freedom go on

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Bilal Diab is released at Jalame checkpoint near the occupied West Bank city of Jenin after 77 days of hunger strike in Israeli detention, 9 August.

(Saif Dahlah / AFP Photo)

At 3am in the morning of Monday, 6 August, 30 members of the Palestinian Authority’s preventative security forces raided the home of hunger striking prisoner Hassan Safadi in Nablus and arrested his younger brother, 30-year-old Saleh.

Their mother had just come home from the hospital the previous day, and when she woke up to find yet another raid on her home and the arrest of another son — this time at the hands of Palestinians — she collapsed and had to be hospitalized again.

The entire day no one knew or had any information on the whereabouts of Saleh, and why he was arrested in the dead of night, a policy that the Israeli occupation forces have familiarized themselves with.

I called Fuad Safadi, Saleh and Hassan’s brother, for details. It later transpired that Saleh was taken to the Jneid prison where political prisoners arrested by the PA are usually held (the PA has 11 detention centers in the West Bank). Saleh had previously spent one year in administrative detention in 2007 after Israel had arrested him. Hassan also spent time in the Jneid prison, and after the PA released him he was arrested by Israel a week later in 2011.

Fuad kept getting distracted on the phone. He thought I was asking about Hassan.

“Hasan has a court session today … a couple of Israeli Prison Service officers are going up on the stand as witnesses.”

Witnesses to what? Fuad explained that the lawyer Jawad Boulus was pushing the case from the angle of Israel violating the prisoners’ agreement signed on 14 May, which signaled the end of the mass hunger strike initiated on 17 April.

One of the conditions of the agreement was that administrative detainees, held without charge or trial, would not have their detention extended/renewed unless the Israeli authorities had sufficient evidence to do so. Hasan was due to be released on 29 June; however his detention was renewed for another six months on June 21, postponing his expected release by another six months. In response, he immediately re-launched his hunger strike, after previously hunger striking for 73 days without food.

The court session was postponed to Thursday.

Families’ heartache

Monday brought more upsetting news. Seventy-five-year-old Aisha Isleih from Gaza passed away in the Red Cross bus which facilitates family visits to prisoners held in Israeli jails. Aisha had not seen her son Yahya for five years. The opportunity came after the prisoners’ hunger strike agreement; families from Gaza had been barred from visiting their loved ones in prison as part of the punitive measures imposed by Israel after the capture of an Israeli soldier held in Gaza.

Fellow Electronic Intifada blogger Shahd Abusalama wrote poignantly of bidding farewell to Aisha, and of how the rest of the mothers of prisoners reacted to the tragic news, fearing that the same thing could happen to them.

I did not want to think too much of Aisha’s fate or what her imprisoned son must be going through. The heartache I felt is incomparable to that of Yahya and his family.

On Tuesday I went to the Red Cross building in Ramallah for the weekly rally held by the families of prisoners. I was a bit early, and there were only a handful of people there at the start. I said hello to Riziq Fadayel, the old man who owns the Karmel store in Ramallah, who was always present in the prisoners’ solidarity tent at Clock Square during the mass hunger strike. He was holding a large framed picture of his son Rami, an administrative detainee, arrested no doubt for his activism in the leftist parties.

“They’ve [the Israeli Prison Service] have renewed Rami’s detention again for another six months,” Mr. Fadayel told me by way of greeting.

 I slumped in my chair. “Have you gone to visit him?” I asked.

“No, I’m banned for security reasons, as Israel says,” he replied. “His mother is banned too. But his wife and his five-year-old daughter went, because they carry Jerusalem IDs.”

He showed me a recent picture of Rami. “See how much he lost weight? We thought the hunger strike would bring him home … when he saw his daughter he couldn’t stop crying,” he added.

Another prisoner’s mother was walking around, talking loudly and calling out the PA officials who had come to the rally as corrupt people who make a living off of the suffering of the prisoners.

“The biggest mistake one can make is putting your faith in human beings,” she said. “We only have faith in God to bring our sons back. Whoever forgets you, forget them,” she eyed the officials beadily.

Bilal Diab welcomed home

On Thursday, 27-year-old Bilal Diab was released at the Jalame checkpoint in the northern West Bank and finally went home to his family in Kufr Rai, Jenin after 77 days of hunger strike.

Bilal was arrested last year in August and was given a six months administrative detention order, which was renewed in February. He started and ended his strike along with Thaer Halahleh, another administrative detainee who was released on 5 June. After Israel had renewed the detentions of Hassan Safadi and Omar Abu Shalal, there were doubts as to whether Bilal would be really released. So there was a huge sense of relief when he finally crossed the Jalame checkpoint to be received by family and supporters. I could barely imagine the happiness on the face of Bilal’s elderly mother, who I met back in April.

Twenty-five-year-old Woroud Qasem was also released on the same day, after the Israeli authorities decided to grant her an early release based on medical reasons. Wuroud, belonging to the PFLP faction, was sentenced to six years in prison after being arrested in October 2006.

لحظة اطلاق سراح الأسيرة ورود قاسم | مؤثر جداً

 

Hunger strikes go on

Just before the sun set down on another day in Ramadan, Fuad called and updated me on Hasan’s court session at Ofer prison today.

“It got postponed to next Thursday,” he said. “The IPS [Israeli Prison Service] witnesses were unavailable or something.”

“Did you try to get in?” I asked.

“My sister and I managed to go inside Ofer but were prevented from going inside the court room and were forced to turn back. Sahar Abdo, an activist for prisoners’ rights and supporter, was also with us, and when she protested how we weren’t allowed in, the Israeli officers attacked her with their batons.”

Hasan has entered his 50th day on hunger strike. Samer Barq is on his 80th day on hunger strike. Two prisoners who were released in last year’s prisoner exchange were re-arrested by Israel, in violation of the deal’s terms, and are also on hunger strike: Ayman Sharawneh is on his 41st day and Samer Issawi is on his 10th day without food.

For dignity, justice and liberation, the Palestinian prisoners are there to remind us of what freedom is, the sacrifices they have committed, and the strong conviction that subjugation under Israeli occupation and colonization is not a life at all.

Comments

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