[Ppnews] "I was determined to live with dignity, " says freed Palestinian hunger striker
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 11 18:28:51 EST 2013
"I was determined to live with dignity," says freed hunger striker
Rami Almeghari <http://electronicintifada.net/people/rami-almeghari>
11 February 2013
Akram Rikhawi <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/akram-rikhawi> had not
seen his daughter Rewan since she was two. So when an 11-year-old girl
showed up in the same room as him, he had to do a double-take. "Hey, you
are Rewan, aren't you?" he asked.
At long last, Rikhawi is back in his family's home in the Keir
neighborhood of Rafah <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/rafah>, a city
near Gaza's <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/gaza> border with Egypt
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/egypt>. He has been released by
Israel after going on and off a hunger strike
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hunger-strike> since April 2012. In
total, he spent 104 days refusing food.
"I am now only thinking of one main thing, rejoicing with my family,
especially my children," he said. "Can you imagine, so far I cannot
differentiate between my children's names or ages? I will try now to
compensate myself and them for the years of loss and I hope to live as
normally as any father in this world."
Rikhawi has eight offspring and also cares for his late brother's five
During his near-decade behind Israeli bars, Rikhawi was only allowed one
visit by his mother and his wife. The saddest moment of his imprisonment
was when he heard of his mother's death. "I did not know she died until
one month afterwards, when I learned about her death through a local
radio program," he said.
After being arrested in June 2004, Rikhawi was sentenced to nine years
imprisonment by Israel's military courts.
His arrest took place after he was stopped at a checkpoint
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/checkpoints>, while driving from
Gaza City <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/gaza-city> to Rafah.
"Israeli soldiers stopped the car and called me by my name: 'Akram
Rikhawi, get out, Akram Rikhawi, get out.' They transferred me right
away to an interrogation center in Ashkelon
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ashkelon> prison [in southern Israel]."
For the next six weeks, he was questioned about student union activities
at the Islamic University of Gaza
holds a degree in Islamic studies and Arabic.)
"They put me under a great deal of psychological pressure by sometimes
insulting me verbally with very rude terms and trying to dehumanize me
as if I was an animal, not a human being."
Despite suffering from asthma and other health problems, he did not
receive proper medical treatment. In January 2005, he was transferred to
Soroka hospital in the Naqab (Negev) desert. "By then, I was in a coma
for 10 days," he said.
Rikhawi alleged that was injected with a substance by a doctor. "I began
later to suffer from other health complications due to that medicine,
including diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as some problems
with my eyes. I had four small operations on my eyes."
Later in 2005, Rikhawi was taken to Ramleh prison hospital
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ramleh-prison-hospital>, which is
known as "the slaughterhouse" to Palestinians because of the inhumanity
of its staff.
"As my suffering increased, the dream of freedom grew more and more in
me. My health complications, the maltreatment inside the prison, and the
fact I was away from my children and family were the reasons behind my
decision to go on a hunger strike. I was determined to either live with
dignity or die peacefully."
Rikhawi was inspired to refuse food by Khader Adnan
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/khader-adnan>, who starved himself
for 66 days last year before securing a pledge from Israel that it would
release him. Rikhawi began a hunger strike on the day that Adnan ended his.
Since his recent return to Gaza, Rikhawi has had a constant stream of
visitors. His daughter Rewan said she is looking forward to things
quietening down, so that she can begin to get acquainted with her
father. "It is a marvelous feeling that I finally have my dad," she said.
His eldest daughter, Yasmine, recalled how her father's absence was
deeply painful. "When I got married, I needed him near me so badly. The
only connection between us was by post as he sent me some very
affectionate words of congratulations, mixed with great fatherly emotions."
Looking towards the future, Rikhawi said, "I have a special dream that I
want to tell you about. I dream of praying in al-Aqsa mosque in
Jerusalem <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/jerusalem> before I am
laid to final rest."
/Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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