[Pnews] A Palestinian Hunger Strike: 'Bury Me in My Mother's Grave'
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 16 17:38:03 EDT 2019
A Palestinian Hunger Strike: 'Bury Me in My Mother's Grave'
May 16, 2019
*By Ramzy Baroud & Fayha Shalash
One of the many ways in which Israel
<https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/country/israel.html> seeks to oppress
and control the Palestinian population is by imprisoning those who lead
the resistance to its occupation and settler colonialist project.
In Palestine, a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail is referred to
as “aseer”, or captive, because he or she is not a criminal. What lands
Palestinians in Israeli prisons are acts of resistance – from writing a
the struggle against the occupation to carrying out an attack against
Israeli soldiers in the occupied Palestinian land. For the Israeli
occupation, however, every act of Palestinian resistance or defiance is
either classified as a form of “terrorism” or “incitement” that cannot
Currently, there are 5,450 prisoners in Israeli jails
<http://www.addameer.org/statistics>, 205 of whom are minors and 48
women. According to some estimates
since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza
in June 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned in Israeli
Needless to say, just as Israel seeks to keep the general Palestinian
population in constant distress and oppression, it does so with
Palestinian prisoners as well.
In recent months, the already horrific conditions in these jails
deteriorated even further after the Israeli government announced that it
was adopting rigid measures in prisons as a “deterrence” technique – a
move that was seen as election PR in Israel.
“Every so often, infuriating pictures appear of cooking in the terrorist
wings. This party is coming to an end,” Israel’s Public Security
Minister, Gilad Erdan said
early January. His plans included placing limits on prisoners’ use of
water, banning food preparation in cells, and installing jamming devices
to block the alleged use of smuggled mobile phones.
The last measure, in particular, caused outrage among prisoners, as such
devices have been linked
severe headaches, fainting, and long-term ailments.
In late January, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) raided cells in Ofer
Military Prison near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank
which resulted in the injury of more than 140 Palestinian prisoners,
some of whom were wounded by live ammunition.
In late March, Naqab, Ramon, Gilboa, Nafha and Eshel prisons were also
raided, which led to many Palestinian prisoners being injured. Anger
boiled over and on April 7, hundreds of Palestinian jailed in Israeli
mass hunger strike which ended eight days later following a deal between
the Palestinian prisoners and IPS.
Amid the pre-election noise in Israel, this news was widely ignored by
international media, which focused instead on US President Donald
Trump’s Golan Heights declaration
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to annex the West Bank
And yet, for Palestinians, most of whom know the pain of having a
relative in an Israeli prison, kept under conditions that violate the
minimum requirements of international and humanitarian law, this was a
major cause of concern and even anger. Palestinians know that behind the
numbers and the Israeli propaganda labeling these men, women, and
children as “terrorists”, there are tragic human stories of suffering
One such story is that of Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qiq and
husband of the coauthor of this article, Fayha Shalash.
Al-Qiq worked as a correspondent with the Saudi news network Al-Majd,
covering the West Bank. His TV reports regarding the Israeli army’s
execution of alleged Palestinian attackers during what is known as
much attention throughout the Middle East and earned him much admiration
Because of his work, he was deemed a “threat” by the Israeli state and
was arrested in November 2015. This is his story.
*‘Bury Me in My Mother’s Grave’**
On Saturday, November 21, 2015, a month and a half after the start of
the Al-Quds Uprising, Israeli soldiers raided our house. They blasted
through the front door of our humble home and rushed inside. It was the
most terrifying scene one could ever imagine. Our one-year-old daughter,
Lour, woke up and started crying. As Mohammed was being blindfolded and
handcuffed, Lour kept hugging him and touching his cheeks.
Thankfully, Islam, who was three-years-old at the time, was still
asleep. I am grateful for that because I didn’t want him to see his
father being taken away by soldiers in such a violent manner.
In the morning, I had to tell him his father had been taken away; as I
tried to explain, his lips quivered and his face contorted in fear and a
sadness that no child should ever experience.
This was the fourth time that Mohammed was arrested. His first arrest
was in 2003 when he was held for a month; then in 2004, he was arrested
again and held for 13 months and in 2008, he was sentenced by an Israeli
court to 16 months in prison for his political activities
for his involvement in the Birzeit University Student Council.
Mohammed was then taken
the infamous Al-Jalameh Detention Center for interrogation. He was not
allowed to see a lawyer until the 20th day of his detention. He was
mentally and physically tortured and repeatedly asked to sign a false
confession that he engaged in “media incitement”, which he refused to do.
We learned that his detention was extended several times but had no
other news from him whatsoever. Our requests for a family visit had been
denied and the only thing we could do was wait and pray.
In early December, I came across an online media report that my husband
had gone on a hunger strike. I immediately phoned the Prisoners Club
<https://www.facebook.com/ppc1993/>, an NGO that was established in 1993
to support Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, and by
mere chance managed to reach a lawyer called Saleh Ayoub who had seen
Mohammed in court. He told me that my husband was tried in a closed
court session, meaning that neither his family nor his legal counsel had
been informed of the trial.
As Mohammed was taken back to his cell, he ran to Ayoub**and managed to
shout these words: “I am prisoner Mohammed al-Qiq. Tell my family and
the media that I am on an open hunger strike. I am currently held at
When I heard this, I got very scared. We had never experienced this as a
family. I didn’t fully fathom the effect of such a decision, but I
decided to support my husband in it.
For months, I pursued every human rights group that could help me obtain
any information about Mohammed’s mental and physical health. The
Israelis had no evidence against him but continued to keep him, despite
his deteriorating health. When he began throwing up blood and could no
longer stand on his own, he was transferred
the Ramleh Prison Hospital.
No one was allowed to visit him in the prison hospital then, neither us
nor the Red Cross. This is not unique to Mohammed’s case, as Israel
ensures the complete isolation of any prisoner who stages a hunger strike.
Mohammed became even more determined to carry on with his hunger strike
when the Israeli court sentenced him to six months of “administrative
which meant that they could not support their accusations against my
husband with any tangible evidence but still refused to free him. The
administrative detention order was renewable for up to three years.
For me, it was a race against time. I had to make the world hear me,
hear the story of my husband, so that enough pressure would be applied
on Israel to release him. I feared that it might be too late, that
Mohammed could die before that message resonated throughout Palestine
and the world.
As his health continued to worsen, he was taken to the Afouleh Hospital
where they tried to force-feed him. He refused. When they tried to feed
him through an IV, he tore the needle out of his arm and threw it on the
ground. I know my husband. For him, life without freedom is just not
A month into his hunger strike, Mohammed began throwing up yellow bile
and blood. The pain in his gut and joints and the chronic headaches were
unbearable. Despite all of this, they still tied him to his hospital
bed. His right arm and both feet were secured to the various corners of
the bed with heavy shackles. He was left like this the entire time.
I felt that Mohammed was going to die
I tried to explain to my son that his father refused food, to fight for
his freedom. Islam kept saying, “When I grow up, I will hit the
occupation.” Lour missed her dad but didn’t understand anything. As I
fought for their dad’s freedom, I had no other option but to be away
from them for long periods of time. Our family was broken up.
On February 4, 2016, Mohammed entered his 77th day of the hunger strike.
Under popular and international pressure, but mainly because of
Mohammed’s unbendable will, the Israeli occupation was forced to halt
the “administrative detention” order. But for Mohammed that was just not
With this move, The Israeli occupation wanted to send a message that the
crisis has been averted in an attempt to mislead the media and the
Palestinian people. But Mohammed would not have any of it. He wanted to
be set free, so he carried on with his strike for weeks afterward.
At that time, I was allowed to visit him but chose not to, as not to
give the impression that everything was OK now, inadvertently playing
into the hands of Israeli propaganda.
It was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make, staying away
from the man I love, the father of my children. But I knew that if he
saw me or the kids, he could become too emotional, or worse, he could
physically break down even more. I remained committed to supporting him
in his decision till the end.
At one point I thought to myself, Mohammed will never come back and he
will die in prison.
He was so close to our children. He loved them with all of his heart and
tried to spend as much time with them as he could. He would play with
them, he would carry both, walking around the house or the neighborhood.
So as his death became a possibility, I wondered what I would say to
them, how I would answer their questions as they grew up without a
father, and how I would carry on without him.
As he reached the 80th day of his hunger strike, his body began to
spasm. I learned later that these involuntary spasms were extremely
painful. Every time they took place, he recited the Shahada – “There is
no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet” – in anticipation of his
Being aware of what seemed to be his inevitable death, Mohammed wrote a
will of which I was unaware. The whole world collapsed before my eyes,
as I heard the lines of his will being read on TV:
“I would like to see my wife and children, Islam and Lour before I die.
I just want to be sure that they are OK. I also would like the final
prayer on my body to be conducted inside the Durra Mosque. Please bury
me in my mother’s grave, so that she can hold me the way she did when I
was still a child. If that is not feasible, please bury me as close to
her as possible.”
Throughout his hunger strike, the children’s photos remained by
Mohammed’s hospital bed. “Do my kids remember me?” he used to ask
whoever visited him.
In the end, his determination proved stronger than the injustice of his
tormentors. On February 26, 2016, it was announced that an agreement had
been reached between the Palestinian Prisoners Committee representing
Mohammed and the Israeli prison administration. My husband was to be
released on May 21 of the same year.
Mohammed received his freedom after 94 days on hunger strike. He proved
to the world that he was not a terrorist as the Israelis claimed, and he
was being punished for simply conveying the suffering of his people to
the world. Because of his unrelenting resistance, Israeli military
authorities were forced to withdraw all accusations against him.
Mohammed’s imprisonment remains a painful memory, but also a great
victory for Palestinians everywhere. Mohammed entered prison weighing 99
kilograms; by the time he ended his hunger strike, he was only 45kgs.
His body was reduced to skin and bones. His athletic build had collapsed
upon itself, but his spirit continued to soar as if the weaker he felt
physically, the stronger his will had become.
When I came to visit him with our children one week after the end of his
strike, I couldn’t recognize him. I thought I had entered the wrong
room, but when I drew closer, I saw his kind, loving eyes, so I held him
and I cried.
Mohammed was released on the agreed upon date, but he was rearrested
eight months later. He immediately began another hunger strike that
lasted 33 days.
Today, Mohammed is free, but he still speaks about prison and our family
still has not gotten over the trauma we have suffered. Islam is worried
that his father could be arrested again at night. I tell him not to
worry, but I am terrified of that possibility myself. I long for a day
where I no longer worry that I may lose my husband.
I also revisit that harrowing experience every time a Palestinian
prisoner stages another hunger strike. I know that it is not an easy
decision to put your life on the line, to risk everything for what you
believe in. The hunger strikes don’t just take a heavy toll on the
bodies and minds of the prisoners. Their families and communities also
shoulder much of that heavy burden.
I feel for them all, and I pray to God that all of our prisoners are set
free someday soon.
/– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine
Chronicle. His last book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto
Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the
University of Exeter and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center
for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa
Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.Politics for the
/– Fayha Shalash is a Palestinian journalist based in the town of
Birzeit in the West Bank./
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