[Pnews] Palestine - As prisoners strike, relatives wait and hope
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 25 10:38:09 EDT 2017
As prisoners strike, relatives wait and hope
Budour Youssef Hassan
<https://electronicintifada.net/people/budour-youssef-hassan> 24 May 2017
On Friday, 12 May, Sumoud Karajah’s phone rang.
“Jamil Ankoush is fine,” a representative of the International Committee
of the Red Cross, ICRC <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/icrc>, said
on the other end of the line. “He is on hunger strike and sends you his
greetings from Shatta prison.”
No additional information was given, no explanation offered, and
Sumoud’s desperate need to know more about her fiancé was hardly
satisfied. But still, that one sentence was enough to bring the color
back to her face. That Jamil, in this stage of his hunger strike, still
remembered her number and gave it to the ICRC, “meant the world to her.”
“At least now I know that he is still alive and I know where he is being
held, but also that he is thinking of me,” Sumoud, 29, told The
Electronic Intifada. “When the Red Cross representative mentioned that
they met Jamil, I shrieked in relief and delight. I think the entire
village heard me scream.”
Jamil, from the village of Deir Abu Mishal near Ramallah, was seized on
7 October 2003. Twenty-one at the time, he was sentenced to 20 years in
prison by an Israeli military court after being convicted of involvement
in armed resistance and affiliation to a proscribed organization, in his
case, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP
He has participated in the mass hunger strike from the start on 17
April, according to Sumoud. Some 1,300
<https://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=777234> Palestinian prisoners
are refusing food to demand basic improvements
to their prison conditions, including access to public phones, air
conditioning and heating and an easing of restrictions on the entry of
books, clothing and food brought by relatives.
They are also protesting systematic medical negligence, solitary
confinement, reduction in family visits and the common use of
administrative detention, the draconian policy under which Palestinians
are routinely held without charge or trial by indefinitely renewable
Cut off from the world
The hunger strike was first called by prisoner leaders of the Fatah
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/fatah> political faction, with
Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/marwan-barghouti>, serving multiple
life sentences, acting as the strike’s focal point.
But prisoners from all the main Palestinian factions are taking part
despite divisions and disagreements over the timing and chances of success.
On 4 May, prominent leaders of the prisoners movement, including PFLP
Secretary-General Ahmad Saadat, head of the Hamas
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/hamas> prisoners leadership
committee Abbas al-Sayyid, and Zaid Bseisi, an Islamic Jihad
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/islamic-jihad> leader, reportedly
joined <http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=776828> the hunger strike.
The moment prisoners go on hunger strike, they are automatically
isolated from the outside world and cut off from any communication, be
it with their lawyers or families.
It took a petition <https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/9091> to the
Israeli high court by Palestinian human rights organizations to pressure
the Israel Prison Service
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/israel-prison-service> into finally
allowing lawyers to meet with hunger-striking prisoners.
Former hunger strikers, Khader Adnan
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/khader-adnan> and Bilal Kayed
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bilal-kayed> told The Electronic
Intifada that Israel uses a variety of methods to pressure prisoners to
drop their hunger strikes.
Among the common tactics are transferring hunger strikers to other
prisons or placing them in solitary confinement, in an attempt to cause
divisions among strikers.
Barghouti has both been put in solitary confinement and transferred
to a new prison during this strike.
Prison authorities also resort to psychological warfare
and concerted media campaigns to delegitimize the hunger strikers.
Until that phone call on 12 May, all of Sumoud’s efforts to find even a
sliver of information about Jamil had proven fruitless.
“Waiting for news on the hunger striker is like torture,” she said. “You
live with your family, you try to remain calm, to go to work, to pretend
you are strong, but your heart and mind are elsewhere, in a cell that
you don’t know, with the person you love.”
A prison romance
Sumoud and Jamil have never met in person. Sumoud was imprisoned in 2009
after stabbing and slightly wounding an Israeli soldier
<http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=234987> at the Qalandiya
In his prison cell at Rimon prison, where he was then, Jamil saw the
news and tried – and initially failed – to send her a letter in HaSharon
prison <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/hasharon-prison> where she
was first held.
“In HaSharon prison you are only allowed to receive letters from your
parents so none of his letters reached me,” Sumoud recalls. It was only
after she was transferred to Damon prison
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/damon-prison> in June 2010 that his
correspondence made it through.
In the very first letter Sumoud received from Jamil he urged her to
“stay strong, comrade. I am proud of you.” She did not reply because she
did not know him and thought he might be an Israeli spy. Eventually, her
brother told her that Jamil was a political prisoner and a fellow PFLP
member, and their communication began in earnest.
“Our love was born in those correspondences. At one point, I felt that I
was living with him in the same prison. I knew the smallest details
about his life and he knew everything about mine,” Sumoud says. “My
female comrades were thrilled for me because it was quite rare to
witness a love story blossom in prison. They celebrated the arrival of
every letter from him almost as much as I did.”
Sumoud was sentenced to 20 years in jail, but was released in October
2011 as part of a prisoner swap
between Hamas and Israel in which more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
were released in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas near
the Gaza Strip.
In March 2012, Sumoud and Jamil were officially engaged – despite the
misgivings of Sumoud’s family, concerned by his long sentence. Although
now engaged, Sumoud is still barred from visiting Jamil in prison. He
has pleaded with her to end their relationship because he did not want
to force her to wait until 2023, the year of his scheduled release, but
she is unflinching:
“I am certain that the moment will come and I will hug him and we will
be together,” Sumoud said. “But now all I want is for Jamil to stay
alive, for the hunger strikers to triumph and to hear his voice.”
But, she added: “I still have no idea what I will do when I see him. I
will probably punch him in the face for putting me through all of this.”
Those left outside
Sumoud regularly attends the prisoner solidarity tent in Ramallah, to
stand with prisoners’ families and draw strength from them. Mothers,
sisters, daughters and partners of hunger strikers have always been at
the forefront of the struggle to demand freedom and justice for their
loved ones, and this hunger strike is no exception.
But besides leading solidarity actions, women have to fill the void left
behind by the long-term imprisonment of their partners and to bear the
responsibilities traditionally taken up by men.
When Majd Barbar, Fatimah Barbar’s husband, was imprisoned in 2001,
their son, Muntasser, was not yet two years old, and Fatimah had only
just given birth to their baby girl, Zeina, two weeks earlier. Majd and
Fatimah both live in Ras al-Amoud, a neighborhood in the occupied East
Jerusalem village of Silwan. They fell in love during the political
actions and community events they organized together in Jerusalem.
“Our marriage came from a pretty special love story, but it was all cut
short by Majd’s imprisonment,” Fatimah told The Electronic Intifada
while looking at his picture. “I knew nothing about his involvement in
the armed resistance so his arrest came as a shock.”
Majd worked as an electrician at a hotel in Jerusalem and was arrested
at the height of the second intifada. Though he did not confess to any
of the charges leveled against him, he was eventually convicted of
forming an armed resistance group in Jerusalem and belonging to the
PFLP, the left-wing Palestinian movement criminalized by Israel. Majd,
then 25, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Fatimah, then just 23, was
forced to raise the kids and make ends meet on her own.
“Raising two babies in the absence of their father is a truly difficult
task,” Fatimah said. “I acted as their father, their mother and their
friend, and the balance was not always easy to strike.”
Love, family and resistance
Majd’s imprisonment has left an enormous emotional burden on Fatimah,
but their love continues to grow, she said.
“Not an hour goes by without me thinking of him,” Fatimah said. “As I
speak to you, I imagine the moment of his release. I’ve scripted this
moment in my mind on countless occasions, but I know that it will be
more beautiful than anything I‘ve imagined.”
Majd has completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in prison and
was chosen by prisoners to direct the education department in Gilboa
prison <https://electronicintifada.net/location/gilboa-prison> as well
as to help youngsters complete their high school matriculation exams.
“So many former prisoners from Jerusalem visit us after their release
and tell us about Majd’s generosity, his support for them, how he
changed their lives and encouraged them to resume their education,”
Fatimah said. “I cannot help but feel a little envious because many of
these prisoners had the chance to live with Majd more than I did. My
children see their father through these prisoners’ eyes and stories.”
Zeina, now 16, only has a single photograph with her father, a snap
taken when, after many failed attempts, the Israel Prison Service
finally agreed to allow them to take a photo together without the glass
Fatimah has worked extremely hard to make up for Majd’s absence, but
there are times when the void feels enormous. Last Friday, their son
Muntasser, nearly 18, celebrated his graduation from high school.
Muntasser asked his mother not to cry during the ceremony and she
respected his wish, but Majd’s absence at that moment was “gut-wrenching.”
Majd is also on hunger strike. The news since has been patchy. Fatimah
was informed by Majd’s lawyer that, along with all PFLP prisoners in
Gilboa prison, he had suspended the hunger strike two weeks after 17
April only to resume it again last week.
“I received contrasting accounts regarding what exactly happened with
the hunger strike in Gilboa prison,” Fatimah said. “But regardless, I
will continue to participate in solidarity actions with the prisoners
and remain close to wives and mothers of hunger strikers. A victory for
this hunger strike is a victory for all prisoners, and all Palestinians.”
/Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer based in Jerusalem. She
blogs at budourhassan.wordpress.com <https://budourhassan.wordpress.com/>./
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