Seven Palestinian administrative detainees have been waging the battle of “Breaking the Chains” against administrative detention; Nidal Abu Aker, Shadi Ma’ali, Ghassan Zawahreh, Bader Al-Ruzza and Munir Abu Shara are on day 31 of an open hunger strike, Bilal As-Seifi is on day 25 of an open hunger strike, Sleiman Skafi is on day 19 of an open hunger strike. With their joint hunger strike, they united Palestine: united Al-Walaje with Nablus, Al-Jora with Dura, Ras Abu Ammar with Hebron. From behind Zionist bars they raise their voice against the illegal administrative detention and against injustice. Their struggle is for all of us, their message is unanimous, their demands are clear: an end to the policy of administrative detention, establishing an international commission on arbitrary administrative detention, physical and psychological compensation for administrative detainees, and defeating the law of force-feeding hunger strikers.
I sat with Im Nidal, Im Shadi, Im Ghassan and Im Bilal in their living rooms, simple houses in the steadfast refugee camp… I hadn’t been to Dheisheh since my beloved grandfather passed away one and a half years earlier… the refugee camp was the same… Im Nidal’s living room was the same… the graffiti leading to Im Shadi’s house was the same, Dheisheh’s narrow alleys and neighbourhoods were the same… it seemed that some things never change; you could still feel the power, the strength, the struggle in the narrow alleys of Dheisheh, you could smell the resistance coming from the simple houses, the same simple houses that produced the heroes and the martyrs of the First and Second Intifadas and the time before and after. Some things never change, the steadfastness, the dream of return and the belief in victory never change… We talked about the old days, about Dheisheh, talked about family members, and exchanged greetings, talked about relatives we hadn’t seen in a while because of work and other daily matters that keep people apart even when they are so close and shared so much… we talked about the hunger strikers, about the resistance, about those who sacrifice their lives so Palestine may live free and about those who betray Palestine so they may continue to live as slaves…. And it seemed, in the sea of all things constant, something do change; to some, betrayal and treachery have become a point of view … betrayal is no more a crime against man and land, but an opinion… this more than anything else pained us and still does, but we are partly to blame, because we, the Palestinian people, as the force leading one revolution after another, we don’t hold popular revolutionary courts for the traitors who are betraying Palestine, Palestinian constants and Palestinian rights. In Dheisheh I sat with them, the mothers of the four hunger strikers; steadfast and defiant like their children, strong and patient for their children, and always present at the tent of solidarity with the hungers strikers. These four Palestinian women from Ras Abu Ammar, Al-Jora, Al-Walaja and At-Ta’amra, together with their hunger striking sons, are the heroes of the battle of “Breaking the Chains”. I asked them the same questions; what was the latest news coming from the isolation cells where their sons are held captive, how do they see the solidarity actions with their children, what messages do they have for the Palestinian people, for those standing in solidarity with their children and for their children resisting the occupation with their empty stomachs and leading the battle of “Breaking the Chains”.
Nidal Abu Aker: 47 years old from Ras Abu Ammar, temporarily resident of Dheisheh refugee camp, is on day 31 of an open hunger strike. Nidal spent a total of 13 years in Israeli captivity, including 9 years in administrative detention. His home was raided by Israeli occupation soldiers on the dawn of 28.06.2014; and since then he’s been held in administrative detention without charge or trial. On 20.08.2015, Nidal and his comrades started an open hunger strike to protest their administrative detention and their captivity on the basis on so-called secret files. As punishment, the IPS transferred him to isolation cells in ‘Asqalan prison to pressure him to end his strike, after which he was transferred to Ela isolation. His cell is 150 x 180 cm, with a bed, a toilet and a shower, his hands and feet are shackled when he is to leave the cell, and all his personal belonging were taken from him when he was sent to isolation. On 12.09.2015, and while on hunger strike, Nidal’s administrative detention was renewed for another 3 months. It is worth noting that Nidal suffers from various health problems, including blood pressure, weakness of the heart muscle, ulcer, acute rheumatic and haemorrhoids. Since the beginning of the hunger strike, Nidal lost 12 kilos and has developed an infections in the throat. He refuses to take his medicines.
Malka Abu Aker (Im Nidal): Today is the 27th day of hunger strike for Nidal and his comrades… they don’t see anyone, they are not allowed to see the representatives of the Red Cross. I just came back from the Red Cross, and they told me they were not allowed to see the hunger strikers. Nidal, Allah yirda 3aleh and stand with him, and protect him, and free him and free all the young men … May God protect them and free them all. I remember the day they came to arrest him… did you see the pictures? The destruction they left in his house? They surrounded the house, beat him and beat his son Mohammad, they pointed the gun at Mohammad’s head…. There was a resistance operation in Beit Ummar or Halhoul, I don’t remember exactly, so the Israeli intelligence searched in their computers for the names of those who are often imprisoned, they searched for the names of the activists… they caught the ones who did the operation, but nonetheless they searched for names of those active in resisting the occupation… They surrounded the refugee camp on that night, at 12 am. We heard that the Israeli occupation soldiers were in the camp; the first house they raided was our house, 50 soldiers came and surrounded the house… this is our life, I knew that they will come to our house and they did… Nidal was outside, I told him that the soldiers are in the camp, he decided to stay away, so when they came, they went to his house, broke everything inside and beat his son… this was one week before his arrest. Every night since that night, Nidal would leave the house and stay away till 4-5 in the morning, because usually the soldiers leave the camp when the mosques start calling for Morning Prayer. This went on for a whole week… On the dawn of 28.06.2014, Israeli occupation soldiers raided our house; they attacked Nidal and his family and ransacked the house, before taking Nidal with them. Since then, he’d been held in administrative detention without any charge or trial.
I respect everyone who comes and feels with these young men and stands with their cause. I thank Dheisheh residents… everyone is good to us, everyone cares for our cause, the cause of the hunger strikers. Groups come from everywhere, from Aida refugee camp and from Al-Azza refugee camp, from everywhere they come… many tell me they know Nidal because they were detained with him… they met him behind Israeli bars…. Abu Mazen called me from Egypt after Nidal’s sentence was renewed for another 3 months; he said he stands in solidarity with me and with those on hunger strike… When he called, I was outside sitting in the solidarity tent, and there was much noise. I told him I wish you were here with us sitting on the chairs in the tent in Dheisheh and I thank you for your call….
We don’t know how these young men will come back home; alive or I don’t know what … May God give them strength. We don’t hear any news from them, but I know that Nidal is growing weak because of the hunger strike. The last news we received from Nidal was through Addameer; it was a letter from him written on 09.09.2015 in which he says … it was read by the young men in the solidarity tent… he says: “I am isolated in ‘Asqalan in a cell that is only 1,5 meter by 1,40 meters. I can’t leave the cell and no one is allowed to visit me. I don’t eat and I don’t take medicine; a doctor came and told me that I am sick, it’s my chest, and that I need treatment. I told him: No, I will not take any treatment until you bow to our demands.” He adds: “I ask Dheisheh residents, I ask everyone to stand with us, and I ask all those with a conscience; women, men, children, to be present at the solidarity tent, and I ask from all the institutions to talk about us and our cause, in Palestine and abroad. I ask you to be active for my mother and father. We ask you all for more mobilization.”
Don’t worry, yamma ya Nidal, even if I am sick and crawling on my knees, I will continue to support your cause and your struggle. I see that no one is failing the hunger strikers, many participate in actions in their support, even in France they have protests, in Italy, in Jordan, in Ramallah… There are sit-ins, also in Hebron…. Everywhere people stand in solidarity with the hungers strikers because these are 6 young men on hunger strike, you don’t know what will happen to them… today is their 27th day of hunger strike… to them I say: stay strong, yamma, and God willing, you will achieve all your demands, and God willing you will always stay strong and will leave the jails with your heads high, yamma, you are unjustly held in administrative detention and your hunger strike is in protest of the administrative detention, 6 months after 6 months…. I am sure they will emerge victorious and that they will hold their heads high and defeat the Zionist enemy. I ask all administrative detainees to stand in solidarity with you, and if you would follow each other and joint the strike, it would be stronger. They were six, and now there are two hunger strikers from Hebron, so they are eight. I only hope that everyone will stand in solidarity with Nidal and his comrades.
Shadi Ma’ali: 39 years old from Al-Jorah, temporarily resident of Dheisheh refugee camp, on day 31 of an open hunger strike. Shadi spent a total of 12 years in Israeli captivity and was tortured during interrogation. On 20.08.2015, Shadi and his comrades started an open hunger strike to protest their administrative detention and their captivity on the basis on so-called secret files. As punishment, the IPS transferred him to isolation cells in Ela prison to pressure him to end his strike. Shadi suffers from chronic ulcer in addition to the weakness of the cornea. On 11.09.2015, it was reported that Shadi was transferred from Ela isolation to Naqab isolation.
Su’ad Ma’ali (Im Shadi): Shadi was first arrested when he was 15 years old, now he is 40. He has 2 girls and 3 boys, but was not able to spend much time with them because he was often held captive in Israeli jail, he spent more than 10 years in Israeli jails, and was also detained once by the PA. Shadi had been released from Israeli captivity only one and half month earlier, when on 28.06.2014, Israeli occupation forces raided and ransacked his home before detaining him. Since then, he’d been held in administrative detention, which was renewed 3 consecutive times for 6 months each. We knew about the hunger strike 3 months before it started; Shadi told us when we visited him in jail. I told him: for God’s sake, the strike is difficult. The decision to start a hunger strike is not an easy one, and they had been preparing for this for 3 months. Yesterday, we were told that Shadi sent a letter through the lawyer, in it he tells us that he is steadfast and will continue the strike until the last breath… its either victory or martyrdom. He has been on hunger strike since 30 days now… imagine, when you fast one day, in the evening, when it is time to break the fast, you feel very tired and frail, so imagine someone fasting and not eating at all for 30 days. So, without anyone telling us, we know that their health is deteriorating and that they are getting weaker by the day. But the lawyer tells us that Shadi and his comrades are steadfast and their spirits are high, they are determined to continue the battle of “Breaking the Chains” until victory, thank God, but they are very tired and fatigued. The IPS resorts to various means to pressure the hunger strikers to end their strike, such as isolating them, and placing food in front of them and telling them individually that their comrades have broken their strike. The hunger strikers say that, in case of any agreement with the IPS, one of their conditions is that all hunger strikers and their lawyer be present to discuss the agreement. Issa Qaraqe’ (Prisoners’ affairs Minister) told us that they spoke with the Red Cross in order to demand that the hunger strikers be transferred to a hospital, but till now we haven’t heard anything from the Red Cross. The Red Cross calls us asking for information about our children, they know nothing and they do nothing, they call us when they want information about our detained children instead of giving us information. You know, I don’t want money, or houses, or high positions or anything, I just my son back, I want him to come back home… everything can be compensated, but not a son…
I want to thank everyone who stands in solidarity with our children, and I call on everyone to show a real stand of solidarity with our children, because, as they say, a rubble supports a stone, and I ask Arab and foreign countries and all organizations to stand in solidarity with our children. We wish that the PA officials would support the hunger strikers, we ask them to stand with our children now and not wait for the last minute. Bethlehem governor didn’t even bother to come to the solidarity tent in Dheisheh, they don’t care. In Dheisheh there is a solidarity tent, in Ramallah there is a solidarity tent, we hear of support actions in Gaza, in France, in other places… On the popular level, there is support and solidarity with the hunger strikers, but it is not enough and the mobilization is not enough, the tent in Dheisheh is full every night, but, in general, there is still not enough mobilization everywhere. I ask everyone to stand in solidarity with our children and not wait till they reach the point of danger. We don’t want them to wait till the hunger strikers are close to death and then everyone remembers them. Our children are struggling to defeat the policy of administrative detention, not only for themselves but for everyone… they are struggling for the freedom of every detainee. They are fighting with their stomachs only, they have no weapons but their stomachs. I have another son in Israeli captivity; Mohammad received 21 life sentenced. Palestinian political prisoners resist the occupation inside jails, and the only means to resist the jailor is their empty stomachs. I pray that the Palestinian people, as a whole, stand with them. Wherever there is a solidarity action we go; to Ramallah, to Dura, to Bethlehem… for the sake of the hunger strikers we will walk on our eyelashes, for their sake we will walk on water
My son Shadi is the eldest; I have 9 sons. When he was resisting the occupation as a 12 year-old, I used to follow him and beat him in front of the people and in front of his friends so he be ashamed and stop going and resisting the occupation, but he never listened to me. I used to hide his sneakers so he can’t leave the house, but he used to wait till when I am not paying attention, and he would run out of the house barefoot and go and resist the Israeli occupation soldiers and throw stones at them. Resistance is in his blood since he was a kid; he was first imprisoned as a 15 year-old. They locked him behind bars as a 15 year-old and they still lock him behind bars. Shadi is stubborn; one time the Israeli occupation forces came to arrest him, and he ran up to the roof. There is some distance between our house and that of our neighbours. He jumped to the neighbour’s roof, and then from one roof to the other, and he escaped. The Israeli occupation soldiers were mad, but later they arrested him after someone informed them about his hideout. Shadi loves to smile, he loves to joke, but to him his homeland and resistance are the most important thing. To Shadi I say: May God give you and your comrades the strength to continue and make you victorious over your jailors… continue your battle and, God willing, victory is yours… We are with you all the way. To me a life sentence and a 100-year detention is the same. God is the judge, but, God willing, they will all be free… soon… we are always full of hope.
Ghassan Zawahreh: 34 years, temporarily resident of Dheisheh refugee camp, on day 31 of an open hunger strike. Ghassan spent a total of 10 years in Israeli captivity, including 3 years in administration detention. He was detained on 08.04.2015 at a flying checkpoint in Bethlehem, and has since been held in administrative detention, which was renewed 3 times for 4 months each. On 20.08.2015, Ghassan and his comrades started an open hunger strike to protest their administrative detention and their captivity on the basis on so-called secret files. As punishment, the IPS transferred him to isolation cells in Eshel prison to pressure him to end his strike. His cell his cramped, dirty, with only one mattress and the IPS confiscated all his personal belongings. On 04.09.2015, Ghassan stopped consuming any liquids or medicine for 3 days. He suffers from ulcers and arthritis. It was reported lately that Ghassan’s health deteriorated and his weight dropped sharply due to the strike, but he is steadfast, has strong belief that they will beat the jailors and be victorious, he is in high spirits and is determined to continue until the end.
Najiyyeh Zawahreh (Im Ghassan): Ghassan is my eldest son, he is 33 years old, married and father to 2 boys and 1 girl. He studied Social Service at the university, and has only one semester left till graduation. Ghassan was detained by the Israeli occupation forces several times; the first time was in 2002 and he was sentenced to 7 years in jails, he was detained at Al-Qubbe checkpoint. The second detention was in 2009, the Israeli intelligence sent Ghassan an order to go for an “interview” at the detention center, where he was held and received an administrative detention order for 6 months, which was renewed twice afterwards totalling 18 months without charge or trial. The thirds time was in 2014, the Israeli soldiers came to our house searching for Ghassan, he wasn’t home, they cut off the telephone lines and raided his and our houses. They later arrested him at a flying checkpoint in Al-Khader while he was coming back from Hebron. Ghassan was sent to administrative detention for 4 months, which were renewed another three times, totalling 16 months. Ghassan started his hunger strike together with his comrades on 20.08.2015, he stopped drinking water for two days. We were informed about the hunger strike during our latest visit to Ghassan; he told us they were planning a hunger strike, but did not tell us when the strike will start. The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) separated the hunger strikers in various jails and placed them in isolation cells, but they are all steadfast and they all are in high spirits. The lawyer tells us that Ghassan is still strong. The hunger strikers boycott the Israeli courts and the medical tests, a doctor comes once every two days but no real medical treatment is provided to the Palestinian political prisoners, so the hunger strikers boycott the doctors. We ask all administrative detainees to stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Ghassan’s father and grandfather were also former detainees; his father was held captive in Israeli jails and his grandfather was held captive in jails of the British Mandate. I used to visit Abu Ghassan in Israeli jails carrying 7-month-old Ghassan on my arm.
The level of solidarity is acceptable, but not the level we want, and the level of solidarity from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the civil society organizations is still below acceptable. We follow up the solidarity actions; in France, in Gaza, there are always solidarity sit-ins in Gaza. We see the pictures, and we hear they will have solidarity tents in all Palestinian cities, tents in solidarity with the hunger striking prisoners. We have organized to go to Ramallah and deliver letters to the foreign consuls and a letter to Abu Mazen. I ask everyone to take action to help the hunger strikers.
Ghassan sent us a letter about the demands of the hunger strikers; the demands of our brave children have a high ceiling, there are 4 demands:
1. To break the administrative detention.
2. To boycott Israeli courts; already 70 administrative detainees have joined the boycott.
3. Material and psychological compensation for administrative detainees because they were detained without charge or trial.
4. In case of an agreement with the Israeli Prison Service, the hunger strikers should be brought together to discuss the agreement, and sign a joint agreement and not separate ones, and that the decision to break the hunger strike should be unanimous.
But to be honest with you, we are afraid from the forced feeding… they can bring any doctor who can force feed the hunger strikers. Issa Qaraqe’ frightened us the other day; he told yes he was afraid, and that the IPS is isolating every hunger striker in a separate cell. They are singling them out to try and trick them, but the men are stubborn and have a strong will. You know, the decision to start a hunger strike is very hard; before a prisoner decides to go on hunger strike, he thinks a million times because he know he is walking to death… either death or life… They can’t back down. Sometimes I cry alone, but I tell myself to remain strong for Ghassan, I tell myself to remain strong in front of the occupation soldiers, I want them to see that we are steadfast, and that we don’t surrender.
We encourage the hunger strikers because their demands are just and they have the right to be free and be released from jail. There are no charges against them, their demands are just and God willing they will be free. I call their battle the “Battle of Steel Stomachs”. You know, they are not asking for freedom for themselves only, when they went on hunger strike the first week, the Israeli intelligence personnel sat with them and told them: “give us a week to study your files and decide whether or not to renew your administrative detention”. The hunger strikers replied that this was not their demand; “Our demand is to end administrative detention for ALL”. You see, we support them and clasp their hands, and encourage them… and God willing, they will be victorious… I ask the administrative detainees to join the hunger strike and not to leave our children alone, I ask them to join the hunger strike in waves. When their numbers increase, the Israelis will be confused and will not know what to do. I ask everyone to support the hunger strikers, everyone should support them; every Palestinian, the PA, the organizations, the Red Cross, everyone, because the hunger strikers continue through our support… they receive the news about our solidarity and they continue with their struggle through our support. Although our hearts are breaking for them, although we can’t eat or drink while they are on hunger strike, isolated, held captive, but we stand with them… even if I have to step on my heart, I have to encourage Ghassan till the last minute.
Bilal As-Seifi: 26 years old from Al-Walaje, temporarily resident of Dheisheh refugee camp, on day 25 of an open hunger strike. Bilal has been held captive in administrative detention since 01.03.2015, which was renewed twice for six months. On 27.08.2015, Bilal started an open hunger strike to protest his administrative detention and his captivity on the basis on so-called secret files. As punishment, the IPS transferred him to isolation cells in Naqab prison to pressure him to end his strike. He suspended his hunger strike for two days, following promises from the Israeli intelligence to reconsider his administrative detention order, but resumed the hunger strike after turning down an “offer” to be deported for two years. According to latest reports, Bilal stopped drinking water since 18.09.2015, to protest against his continued detention without charge or trial. He refrains from taking supplements and medicine, despite the seriousness of his health condition, as he suffers from epilepsy and has to take a total of 13 pills a day. He described his situation in isolation as extremely bad, and that the jailers were deliberately humiliating and insulting him, he remains shackled throughout the day and that his weight dropped from 94 to 72 kg.
Nawal As-Seifi (Im Bilal): This is not Bilal’s first detention, it is his fourth: the first time he spent three years in Israeli jails, he was 15 years old at the time. The second detention was when the Israeli occupation soldiers came to arrest his brother Hamza, and they detained both, he spent one and a half years in administrative detention. The third detention was when Bilal was working in Ramallah, there were problems at Qalandia checkpoint and the Israeli occupation forces stopped the car he was travelling in and detained him. He didn’t stay long in detention, only a couple of days, but they beat him on his head and caused him fractures in the skull. The fourth detention, the current one, started when the Israeli soldiers came to detain his brother Mohammad who was wanted at the time. They took Bilal instead, and sent him to 6 months in administrative detention, which was renewed for another 6 months. Bilal is 26 years old now, he has been on hunger strike since 26.08.2015 and he is currently held in an isolation cell. He suspended the hunger strike for two days following promises from the IPS to reconsider his detention, only to resume it when his demands were not met. The latest information we got is that he sends his greetings and that he is still on hunger strike and in isolation. He received only two visits from the lawyers, and they are the only ones who inform us about his situation. His situation is getting difficult, he refuses medicine, and this is all the information we have. Bilal was beaten several times on the head while in Israeli detention, but during his third arrest, he was beaten so badly that he had to go and see a doctor. The doctors said that he has a “problem” in the head as a result of the beating. The last time, when the Israeli soldiers took his brother, they beat Bilal violently, everyone saw how they were beating him. They wanted to arrest Mohammd, they shot at Mohammad but he ran away, this made them angry and they beat Bilal violently on the head.
I find that the popular interaction with the cause of the hunger striker is not good, but I would say acceptable. Those who are active, those who come to the protest and the sit-ins are those who have a detainee in the family, or those who passed through the experience of detention, or the relatives of detainees, or human rights institutions, that is all… simple people…. But it is not the needed level of interaction… I can only say it’s acceptable, no more. Today everyone is busy with one’s issues… I remember during the First Intifada, the women would surround the occupation soldiers to free the young men and prevent their detention… today, no one…. no one at all cares…. no one. I send my thanks and appreciation to all those standing in solidarity with us, when I hear that people stand in solidarity with us in Italy or elsewhere, I can’t say thank you enough, they are far away and they care, and here some who are in the country and who are close and don’t care about the prisoners. I hope that the other administrative detainees will stand with the hunger strikers. I hope that everyone will stand with them. I ask everyone to stand with us in the struggle against administrative detention.
Yamma ya Bilal, to you and your comrades I say: God willing you will come out victorious, may God give you strength. Yamma ya Bilal, I send you messages of love and appreciation, and may God give you strength… Yamma, listen, I say this because you are sick, as a mother I speak, I say this because you are sick… if you can yamma, if you can break the hunger strike, then break it… I say this because my son is in jail and one day, no matter how long it will take, the doors of the jails will open and he will be free, but, God forbid, the grave doesn’t open its door once it’s closed… I am talking as a mother, not talking slogans, die or don’t die… no… no mother tells her son to die… Yes, I stand with him, I support him, but I tell him at the moment when you feel it’s enough, then it’s enough… you did what you can, every person and their abilities. I tell him: you will be free from jail one day, it will never close its doors on you forever, but the grave closes its doors forever and I don’t want you to reach the grave.
I would like to send a message to all Israeli mothers, I just want to ask them: if someone comes and places your son in a jail without charge or trial, what we call administrative detention, how would you feel? What would your reaction be? We are no terrorists… to detain someone without charge or trial, to imprison someone according to your whim, to renew the detention two, three, six months… why? I tell you my son is held unjustly, they held him for 6 months in administrative detention and renewed it for another 6 months, and before that, he spent one and a half years in administrative detention, without any charges, without any trial… I ask Israeli mothers that they put themselves in my place… I am a mother and they are mothers: Would they accept that someone should detain their sons and imprison them without any charge? Without being tried in a court? My son is held unjustly… would they accept that their sons be held unjustly? Without a charge? Injustice has a name: Administrative Detention, being locked up behind bars without charge, without court trial, without a court case.
Freedom for ALL Palestinian and Arab political prisoners and detainees held captive in Zionist dungeons.