Interview: Ex-prisoner reflects on friendship with Khader Adnan and his hunger strike for justice

Palestinians flash "v" for victory symbol at Khader Adnan rally

Palestinians in Ramallah rally in solidarity with Khader Adnan and other political prisoners, 7 February 2012.

Fadi Arouri Xinhua

Mousa Abu Maria spent nearly five years, from 1999 to 2003, in Israeli prisons. He spent an additional 14 months, from 2008 to 2009, in administrative detention (without charge or trial). He, like current hunger striker Khader Adnan, was subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment and torture as part of his interrogation. In 2001, he shared a cell with Adnan.

Abu Maria, a member of the popular committee in the West Bank village Beit Ommar and co-founder of the Palestine Solidarity Project, spoke to Bekah Wolf about Khader Adnan, who is being held by Israel without charge and has entered his 55th day of hunger strike.

Bekah Wolf: How do you know Khader Adnan?

Mousa Abu Maria: We met in 2001 or 2002 in Askelon prison. He was an organizer in the prison, because it wasn’t the first time he’d been in jail. He used to lead classes about Palestinian history and the uprising. Prison was like a university in those times and he was one of the professors.

BW: What was he like as a person?

MAM: Most [foreign] people think if you have a beard or you’re a member of Islamic Jihad, you just sit and pray all day. Khader would joke around, just like anyone else. He’s my age, we were young, we were like any other young people. He would try to make us feel like we weren’t in prison, like we were in a dorm room. He was always organizing the prisoners, which of course got him in trouble with the guards. He was often put in solitary confinement, but would come out and continue what he was doing before.

BW: He began his hunger strike to protest how he was treated during his interrogation. He was held in stress positions, beaten and insulted. Is that similar to what you experienced?

MAM: This is what the occupation forces do to activists. They try to show how they have control over you. They want to say, maybe you had power [as an organizer] outside, but in here [prison] we have complete control. They would force me to sit with my hands cuffed to my ankles, on a tiny chair that was tilted over so that I was in a crouching position for hours, day after day. It is both very painful and a psychological torture. You can’t lift your head, you can’t look them in the eye. They want you to feel that you do not own yourself, that they own you, and you do not have any power to resist.

BW: What about the beating and insults? What is the purpose?

MAM: Again, it is just to show control, to break your will to resist. They know you have been an activist and that you have internal strength to resist. They have to break that from you. Sometimes it’s to try to get information from you but many times it is just to break your will. That’s why you go on hunger strike. It is the only thing you can control: what you eat, what you put into your body. It is the way to show that you can still resist. You are showing your captors and your comrades, but you are also showing yourself, giving yourself strength that you are still resisting, that they haven’t taken everything away from you.

BW: Khader is now striking to protest being in administrative detention. You were in administrative detention for 14 months. Can you explain what it is and why it is inspiring a man to die rather than live under such conditions?

MAM: First of all, I do not believe Khader wants to die. That is not in his mind. We all went on hunger strikes before, to protest conditions of our imprisonment. He is showing his commitment to resistance in the only way he can right now, with his own body.

Administrative detention is also a psychological attack on a person. You are held, without knowing what you are accused of, but most importantly, without knowing when the imprisonment will end. When you are convicted, you can accept in your mind what is happening, and put it aside, and plan and hope for the day when you are released.

Administrative detention does not allow you to do that. Because you never know when you will be released, you are in constant turmoil. Your family is also in turmoil. You remember when I thought I was going to be released. The guards told me to pack my things, and I sent a message to you through another prisoner that I was being released. They even drove me to the gate of the prison, with all of my things, and I thought, after 12 months, I was being released, I would see my wife and family again.

And then they said it was a joke, and put me back into the jeep and brought me back to the prison. It destroys your soul. Your mind can only experience so much loss of power before you start to destroy yourself. It takes a huge amount of strength not to fall into despair. This is a powerful reason for Khader going on hunger strike. I believe he needs to feel that they [occupation forces] are not in full control of him. They can control when he sees his family, when he will be released, all of that — but he has control over something now, something they cannot take away from him. The goal of any occupation force is to demonstrate their total power over the people, so that they will not resist. Khader is showing himself, and all of us, that the power to resist is always in our hands. Occupation forces cannot take that away from us.

BW: Mousa, you were in jail for more than six years. You were beaten so badly during your interrogation for your first imprisonment that they had to take you to the hospital. You’ve had your house raided in the middle of the night several times, and any time you know they might take you away and put you in administrative detention again, even if you haven’t done anything. How do you continue working with the popular struggle? How do you keep resisting?

MAM: People like me, like Khader, like Bassem Tamimi [imprisoned organizer from Nabi Saleh], we made a commitment a long time ago to resist. We promised ourselves and our people that we would face the occupation and look it in the eye.

Of course, I do not want to go to prison again. I want to have a life with my wife and my daughter. We Palestinians are not robots, we are not living just to resist. We want to have a normal life, to laugh and joke and go to the park with our children. But we also want to keep our commitment to ourselves and our people: we will stand up to the occupation. We will not let them own us. Even if the only way to resist their control is to refuse them, to refuse their food, their water, their medical treatment, then that is what we will do. Khader Adnan is continuing the resistance to the very end. He is actually fighting for life, life with justice and dignity.

Bekah Wolf is a co-founder of the Palestine Solidarity Project, and has worked in the West Bank since 2003. She is married to Mousa Abu Maria.