[Pnews] A Palestinian Hunger Strike: 'Bury Me in My Mother's Grave'

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 16 17:38:03 EDT 2019


http://www.palestinechronicle.com/a-palestinian-hunger-strike-bury-me-in-my-mothers-grave/ 



  A Palestinian Hunger Strike: 'Bury Me in My Mother's Grave'

May 16, 2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------

*By Ramzy Baroud & Fayha Shalash 
<http://www.palestinechronicle.com/writers/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 
poem 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/07/dareen-tatour-sentenced-months-prison-poem-180731084215893.html> about 
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 
be tolerated.

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 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/prisoners-day-thousands-palestinians-israeli-jails-180417163247169.html>, 
since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza 
in June 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned in Israeli 
jails.

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 
<https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Erdan-lowers-prison-condition-standards-to-deter-terrorism-576111> in 
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 
<https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/03/palestine-israel-prisons-tension-jamming-hunger-strike-riot.html> to 
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 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/topics/subjects/occupied-west-bank.html>, 
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 
prisons launched 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/palestinian-prisoners-israel-jails-launch-hunger-strike-190407082536790.html> a 
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 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/trump-formally-recognises-israeli-sovereignty-golan-heights-190325153937336.html> and 
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to annex the West Bank 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/netanyahu-annex-illegal-settlements-west-bank-190407110322201.html>.

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 
and perseverance.

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 
Al-Quds Uprising 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/years-palestine-2015-resistance-continues-171001142310665.html> received 
much attention throughout the Middle East and earned him much admiration 
among Palestinians.

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 
<https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/qa-jailed-palestinian-man-free-dead-160131093136122.html> and 
for his involvement in the Birzeit University Student Council.

Mohammed was then taken 
<https://www.btselem.org/administrative_detention/201600204_muhammad_al_qiq_hunger_strike> to 
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 
Al-Jalemeh.”

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 
<https://samidoun.net/2017/02/urgent-alert-take-action-to-free-mohammed-al-qeeq-as-he-is-hospitalized-on-17th-day-of-hunger-strike/> to 
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 
detention 
<https://www.btselem.org/administrative_detention/20160128_muhammad_al_qiq_hunger_strike>“, 
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 
worth living.

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 
<https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2016/1/29/hunger-striking-palestinian-journalist-in-critical-danger>. 
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 
enough.

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 
death.

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 
Peoplehttps://www.ramzybaroud.net/

/– Fayha Shalash is a Palestinian journalist based in the town of 
Birzeit in the West Bank./

-- 
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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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