[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
  Akram Rikhawi

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 

    Saddest moment

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]."

    "Psychological pressure"

For the next six weeks, he was questioned about student union activities 
at the Islamic University of Gaza 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/islamic-university-gaza>. (Rikhawi 
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.

    Health complications

"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 
Gaza Strip./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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