Today I visited the solidarity tent that has been going strong outside the Gaza City headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross for the last 35 days, where participants hoped their bodies and their voices would pressure the world to intervene to save Khader Adnan. Entering the 66th day of a hunger strike to protest his arrest and detention by Israeli forces without charge or trial, he was reportedly near death. (Adnan was arrested in an Israeli army raid on his home in the West Bank village of Arrabeh, near Jenin, at 3:30 a.m. Dec. 17. He was never given a reason.)
“I hereby assert that I am confronting the occupiers for not my own sake as an individual, but for the sake of thousands of prisoners who are being deprived of their simplest human rights while the world and international community look on…It is time the international community and the UN support prisoners and force the State of Israel to respect international human rights and stop treating prisoners as if they were not humans,” Adnan wrote from the bed to which was chained.
I tagged along with my “host sister,” Shahd Abusalama, who had been a regular visitor to the tent. Her own father had once spent 17 years in an Israeli prison, and she had tried to join the dozen men and one woman who had been going without food for 15 days in sympathy with Adnan. By the second day, she was already getting headaches.
The hunger striking Gazans manned the solidarity tent 24/7, sleeping overnight during a winter that has been particularly cold. However, their comraderie created a warmth of its own.
Tarek, one of the Palestinian prisoners who was released from an Israeli jail in December in return for Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was among the hunger strikers in the Gazan solidarity tent. Before he was released, he had been serving one life sentence and 70 years. Yes, hunger striking was hard, he said, but he had done it before, and would do it again. “It is my responsibility, until every Palestinian prisoner is freed.”
Forty percent of all Palestinian males are imprisoned by the Israelis at at least one point in their lives — which means that every Palestinian has a brother, son, father or close friend behind bars. Political prisoners are a very personal issue for Palestinians — a fact most Americans can’t understand. Some are detained for no apparent reason; others merely because of their affiliation with a party that participates in resistance; and still others because they openly fought for their homeland’s freedom.
Fatima Azzay was the lone woman participating in the hunger strike for the full 15 days, and was also one of the few female prisoners to be released in exchange for Shalit. She was detained for planning an act of resistance, leaving eight children behind. A ninth was born in jail.
As I was interviewing Fatima, suddenly the loudspeakers blared. A newscaster was announcing that a deal had been struck to save Adnan, just moments before the Israeli Supreme Court was set to hear his case. He will be released on April 17 (or so Israeli officials have promised), and the administrative detention order will not be renewed. There is a dangerous caveat: As with past prisoner releases, Israel has reserved the right to reverse itself if new “secret material” comes to light during the the next two months. Still, the deal was clearly reached in response to the intense, worldwide pressure from activists and their media, and the crowd in the tent erupted into ululation, chants, speeches and tears.
Uhm Ibrahim (mother of Ibrahim) has not seen or heard directly from her son, in Israeli prison for 26 years, for the last 14 years. He has one more year to serve.
One of the Gazan hunger strikers conveys the good news over his cell phone, while a smiling picture of Gandhi approves.
The Western media did not cover the plight of Khader Adnan anywhere near the extent to which it paid attention to Shalit. But the Arabic media were there in force.
The Islamic Jihad movement, with which Adnan is affiliated, organized the solidarity tent. However, support was broad. Maryam AbuDdagga, an official with the PFLP (communist) party, spoke at the “victory” celebration.
Despite the jubilation, the protesters vowed to remain vigilant and ready to go “back to the tent.” Adnan’s health is still precarious, and — as Shahd was quick to remind me — “Israel breaks every law there is, and every deal it signs.” A case in point are the numerous reports of Palestinians who were released as part of the Shalit exchange, only to be re-arrested shortly after. Plus, there are 308 other Palestinian prisoners in “administrative detention,” jailed without charge or trial.
Still, Palestinians have learned to celebrate what they can. And Adnan’s impending release is clearly a sign of “people power.”
- paminprogress posted this