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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

“Please mother, always pray for me”: Hassan Safadi still on hunger strike after Israel breaks deal

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Holding an image of her hunger-striking son, Hassan Safadi’s mother speaks to reporters in Nablus on 28 June 2012

(Ahmad Al-Bazz / ActiveStills)

Back in the old city of Nablus, through the al-Hanbali entrance. Past the butcher shop that once displayed a cow’s severed head wearing a pair of sunglasses. Turn right and the walls are suddenly covered with the Palestine flag, posters of various prisoners, framed photographs of Hassan Safadi and his martyred brother Farid, and a wreath of dried flowers.

I’m back inside Hassan Safadi’s home. But despite Israeli promises to release him a month ago, he is not here. He’s still in Israeli custody and just completed the 40th day of a renewed hunger strike.

Today, Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel expressed grave concern for the condition of Safadi and Samer al-Barq, who has been on renewed hunger strike 70 days, and Ayman Sharawna who has passed 30 days.

Last time I was at Safadi’s home was back in late April when he was on his 50th day of hunger strike. I remembered his weary mother, her voice barely raised above a whisper, exhaustion etched into her face. She had hunger struck in solidarity with her son when her health took a turn for the worse and ended in her hospitalization for a few days.

After 71 days without food, Hasan finally broke his hunger strike a day after the 14 May agreement signed by the Israel Prison Service and the higher committee for hunger strikers. Under the deal, Safadi was to have been released at the end of June.

A youth spent in prison without ever being charged

As I wrote for Al Akhbar back then, Hassan’s youth up until today had been plagued with arrests.

“Safadi is no stranger to spending time in Israeli prisons. He was first arrested when he was just 16 years old, in 1994. From 2007 to 2010, he became the longest administrative detainee in Israeli prison, with his detainment renewed every six months over and over again.

After his release, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority for 48 days and spent the next five months being summoned for interrogation regularly. Prior to his arrest by Israel in 2007, he had spent 43 months in prison. In total, Safadi spent 10 years as an administrative detainee in Israeli prisons, without ever once being sentenced or charged officially.”

“Buzzing with excitement”

“At 1 am that day we received a call from Hassan from his bed in the Ramle prison hospital,” recalled his mother about the day her son ended his first hunger strike.

“The Ramle prison slaughterhouse,” muttered Fuad, Hasan’s brother.

“We already heard the news that the hunger strike had ended, and I was crying and begging for Hassan to break his strike and to eat something,” she continued. “He wasn’t sure if the mass hunger strike had ended or not, and didn’t want to eat when he saw Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi still refusing food. But in the afternoon, the lawyer Jawad Boulos made him drink tea. My happiness was indescribable!”

Hassan’s sister Najiyeh ululated long and loud over the phone when her brother informed them he finally ate something. The celebrations in Nablus reached the Martyrs’ Square in the heart of the city and lasted for a long time. Hassan had triumphed over his jailers. According to the agreement, his administrative detention was not going to be renewed, and he was slated to be released on 29 June  2012. The higher committee for the hunger strikers reassured his mother that she will see him home on that day.

“I prepared fresh sheets on his bed,” Hasan’s mother said. “I laid out new clothes for him to wear when he arrived back home. I was so happy, I wanted to take him to his future fiancé’s house and prepare for the wedding. The whole house was buzzing with excitement.”

Israel breaks deal

One day in the middle of June, Hasan’s mother was sitting alone by herself in the house listening to the radio. As she changed the station, she caught the Ramallah Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe voice as he finished the sentence “…with the renewal of the prisoner Hassan’s administrative detention for another six months” before the commercials began.

She started pacing all around the house like a caged animal, feeling so light-headed. “Issa Qaraqe’didn’t say Hassan Safadi, he just said Hassan. I kept thinking, not my Hassan, not my son. Could it be though? Thaer Halahleh’s release on 5 June gave us even more hope and assurance that Hasan would be released on the 29th. I just kept thinking of Hassan, Hassan, which Hassan. I almost went out of my mind.”

Later that same day, Fuad walked in the house with a thunderous look on his face. For his mother, that was all the confirmation she needed of Hassan’s detention renewed.

“I want my son”

“It was a paralyzing shock for me,” their mother said. “I couldn’t think, eat or move. When I finally got my senses back, I wanted to run outside in the streets and scream.” Her voice rose. “Bidee ibni! I want my son! I don’t care for press releases or statements from officials! I don’t read or write! Do they think this is a game, a kid’s game? What is Egypt thinking? We took guarantees from the Egyptian mediator that kept pressuring the hunger strikers to end their strike that our sons would be released!”

Najiyeh’s four year old son Farid, named after his martyred uncle, walked in wearing the shirt with his other uncle’s face on it. The shirt reached below his knees and looked like it hadn’t been taken off for days. He climbed into Fuad’s lap, his blond curls crushed against Fuad’s chest and ignored everyone in the room.

“Protests should be in front of the Egyptian embassy,” Fuad said. Fuad is quick tempered and his devil-may-care-attitude is reflected in his silent but always alert posture, the way he barbs his words when talking about PA officials.

“Fuad, the window is open,” his mother warns.

He shrugs. He was this close to confronting Fares Abu Hasan with his bare hands, the lawyer who was supposed to follow up on Hasan’s case.

“The lawyer’s attitude toward my mother when she asked him for more news was insulting to say the least. I went to his house and found that he had run away to Amman, Jordan for a couple of weeks.” He looked at his mother before adding, “Safer for him too.”

Safadi relaunches hunger strike

Hassan immediately re-launched his hunger strike as soon as he found out about his detention renewal. He was in Hadarim prison at that time, and was promptly placed in solitary confinement once the Israel Prison Service found out about his hunger strike. He was moved to the Ramle Prison Hospital on Tuesday, 10 July where he still remains in isolation.

Tonight, 33 year-old Hassan Safadi has entered his 41st day of his re-launched hunger strike, and remains in solitary confinement. According to the latest examination by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, he is suffering from kidney problems, sight problems, extreme weakness, severe weight loss, headaches, dizziness, and has difficulty standing.

“We were one hundred percent sure Hassan was going to be released,” his mother said. “I still have hope he will be released.”

Letter to his family

Below is my translated version of the letter Hassan’s family received from him when he was on his 22nd day of his re-launched hunger strike.

First I want to thank you dear mother for your wonderful letter, whose every word penetrated my heart and immersed me in happiness, love and tenderness. I am blessed to have a mother like you. Please thank everyone who stood in solidarity and prayed for me.

What increased my happiness and contentment was you writing that you raise your head up proudly because of me…I hope your head will always be lifted high and your spirits elevated oh loved one. As for waiting for my release, I remind you mother we are believers.

We are waiting for God’s mercy with patience…as Prophet Muhammad related God’s words, “I am as my slave thinks…” As you await my release, think positively and God willing, God will not leave you and your work and He will not disappoint your expectations.

Thank God I have a mother like you, a patient believer who prays for me from her heart, and I thank you dear mother for the beautiful song you wrote that warmed my chest as I read the lyrics..

Congratulations to Nelli’s [his sister] twins…I pray to God they will be attributed to Muslims and to Islam and for them to receive the best upbringing, and for their time to be better than our time.

Say hello and salute Abu Jamal and thank him for his efforts and say hello to Ayah and Amir and tell them I miss them, tell everyone who asked about me I say hello, and pray for them.

How beautiful the last line in your letter is! “God is with you, may He protect you and take care of you…I leave you in His safe hands.”

Please mother, always pray for me using those words especially in the month of Ramadan, happy holidays.

Your son