Palestinian Authority arrests dissident professor

In Electronic Intifada 

A Nablus court on Thursday extended the detention of a prominent Palestinian scholar and longtime dissident whose arrest earlier this week has led to accusations that he is being politically persecuted by the Palestinian Authority.

At around 11pm on Tuesday, Abdel Sattar Qassem, a 68-year-old professor of political science at Nablus’ An-Najah National University, and a father of four, was taken from his home, where he had been staying alone. His wife, Amal al-Ahmad, was not informed of the arrest and concerned neighbors broke down a door at her prompting to check whether Qassem had suffered an accident.

“I called him several times but his mobile phone was closed and I got no answer from the landline,” al-Ahmad, a program coordinator at the Women’s Study Center, told The Electronic Intifada. Continue reading “Palestinian Authority arrests dissident professor”

Young Palestinian patriot cut down by Israeli bullet

in Electronic Intifada

Mahmoud Alayan was a Fatah party supporter and an active member of its campus chapter at his school.

He was also an implacable opponent of the status quo in occupied territory to which a Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority clings.

The Israeli occupation, he insisted, had to be confronted. And so he did, in defiance of his own leadership and an authority that has invested heavily in preventing confrontations with the army. Continue reading “Young Palestinian patriot cut down by Israeli bullet”

Rebel against torture killed by Israel


in Electronic Intifada

Lafi Awad was not yet 10 when he began taking part in protests.

The protests erupted in 2004 as it became plain that the wall Israel was building in the West Bank would divide his home village of Budrus. His family were among the Palestinians whose olive trees were earmarked for destruction as Israel confiscated much of the village’s land.

Lafi belonged to a generation that was politicized by Israel’s wall. He felt an urgent need to take action against the dispossession it was causing.

He resisted the Israeli occupation by throwing stones. His determination to keep resisting cost him his life. Continue reading “Rebel against torture killed by Israel”

Palestine’s Inconvenient Rebels

Palestinian girl in Gaza demonstrating near the buffer zone

In 1995, when Samar became pregnant with her fifth child, doctors suspected that the fetus had a growth deficiency and would not survive.

Samar, her husband Ibrahim, and their four other children had just settled in Occupied Jerusalem’s Shu’fat Refugee Camp, with Samar’s mother Nawal looking after her with the utmost care and affection. Samar delivered a perfectly healthy boy who they named Subhi after his maternal grandfather, a resistance fighter with the Palestinian Liberation Organization during the 1970s and former political prisoner in Israeli jails. The young Subhi’s father, Ibrahim, had also been imprisoned in those jails during the First Intifada. As had two of young Subhi’s brothers, who each spent nearly a year imprisoned. Continue reading “Palestine’s Inconvenient Rebels”

خضر عدنان في إضرابه الثاني: ما تغيّر وما استمرّ

نُشر في موقع حِبْر

«ولدي خضر ليس عدميًّا أو هاوي معاناة ولا يبتغي مالًا أو جاهًا أو منصبًا رفيعًا»، يصرّ عدنان موسى، والد الأسير الفلسطيني المضرب عن الطعام خضر عدنان.

«هو يحبّ الطعام كثيرًا ويحرص على جودة الطعام الذي يتناوله وليس مستمتعًا بتجويع نفسه»، تردف نوال موسى، والدة خضر.

رأى الوالدان ضروريًا تأكيد ما قد يبدو بديهيًّا ونافل القول، أن ابنهما الذي طالما استخدم أمعاءه الخاوية سلاحًا لانتزاع حرّيته من سجّانيه، ليس طالب موتٍ أو عذاب، وإنما يستخدم هذه الوسيلة لثقته أنها الوحيدة المتاحة أمامه.

لماذا يُطلب من الفلسطينيين أن يثبتوا للآخرين أنهم ليسوا عشّاقَ موتٍ وأنهم يحبّون الحياة كسائر شعوب الأرض، وأن أفعالهم التي تبدو «انتحاريّةً» وبدون طائل تختزن قدرا هائلًا من الرغبة بالعيش بحدٍّ أدنى من الكرامة والحرية؟

قد يكون تشديدنا المستمرّ على غريزتنا الفطريّة بحب الحياة رد فعلٍ طبيعي على محاولات المنظومة الاستعماريّة تجريدنا من إنسانيّتنا والتي تكرّسها وسائل إعلام غربيّة كبرى من خلال تصوير الفدائيّين الفلسطينيّين كعشّاق موت وتهميش دوافعهم السياسية والدنيويّة والمادّية.

ولكن لتأكيد والدي خضر عدنان شغف ابنهما بالحياة بعدًا إضافيًّا يستهدف جميع أولئك المستهينين بفعله أو الذين ينتظرون استشهاد خضر كي يتحرّكوا، أو الذين يستهجنونه بوصفه فعلًا عدميًّا.

يدخل خضر عدنان شهره الثاني من إضرابه المفتوح عن الطعام احتجاجًا على تمديد سلطات الاحتلال الإسرائيلية أمر اعتقاله الإداري أربعة أشهرٍ إضافيّة. حين نتحدّث عن محاولات المنظومة الاستعمارية تجريد الفلسطينيين من إنسانيتهم، فإن سياسة الاعتقال الإداري التي ورثتها سلطات الاحتلال الإسرائيلية عن حكومة الانتداب البريطاني وتنتهجها لاستنزاف المجتمع الفلسطيني ووأد مقاومته، تجسد انتزاع إنسانية الفلسطيني بإحدى أكثر صورها فجاجةً. ليس الاعتقال الإداري أسوأ أو أكثر ظلمًا من سائر أشكال الاعتقال الأخرى التي يمارسها الاحتلال ويغيّب عبرها أكثر من 5000 فلسطيني في سجونه. كما لا ينحصر أفق نضال الأسرى الفلسطينيين عند المطالبة بـ«محاكمة عادلة» أو توجيه اتهامات. نحن نعلم أن لا محاكمات عادلة يمكن أن تجري تحت الاحتلال حتى لو التزمت بجميع الإجراءات القانونية والمعايير الشكلية والجوهرية التي يفرضها القانون الدولي، ببساطة لأننا لا نعترف بشرعيّة الاحتلال ومحاكمه أصلًا، ولأن ما قد تعتبره القوانين الإسرائيلية والدولية جرمًا، هو حقّنا الطبيعي بالمقاومة. لكن ما يضاعف قسوة الاعتقال الإداري هو ضبابيّته المتمثّلة بقابليّة تمديده بشكل مستمرٍّ دون أن يكون هنالك أي تحديدٍ أو إطار زمني للخلاص. في السجن المؤبّد أو طويل الأمد يعيش المعتقل في ظل يقين ما، لا يبعث بالضرورة على التفاؤل، ولكنه يعرف مصيره. أما تحت الاعتقال الإداري الذي يجهل فيها المعتقل «التهم» الموجّهة إليه فليست هنالك إمكانية ولو ضئيلة للدفاع عن النفس إذ يُلقى بالأسرى وأهلهم في نفقٍ لا تلوح له نهاية، قد يستمرون بالسير فيه أعوامًا عديدة، ومن المرجّح أن يتكرر هذا الشريط بعد الإفراج.

وهذا تمامًا ما حدث مع خضر عدنان الذي أمضى ما مجموعه ستة أعوامٍ متفرّقة في سجون الاحتلال الإسرائيلي بدون أن توجَّه له أي تهمة رسمية. فلم يجد أمامه إلا الإضراب عن الطعام كي يسلّط الضوء على قضية الاعتقال الإداري خاصة وقضية الأسرى الفلسطينيين عامة، ولكي يطالب بخلاصه الفردي من جهة أخرى.

لم يكن التفاعل الشعبي مع إضراب خضر عدنان السابق الذي امتد من كانون الأول 2011 حتى شباط 2012 فوريًّا أو سريعًا إذا أن الحشد الجماهيري وحملات الضغغط الالكترونية لم تبدأ إلا بعد دخول ابن قرية عرّابة اليوم الخامس والأربعين من إضرابه.

يبدو الدعم الشعبي لإضراب خضر عدنان الحالي هزيلًا فيما إذا قورن بالنشاطات التي شهدها إضرابه الأول، بيد أن هذه المقارنة تغفل أنه حتى خلال إضراب عدنان الأول لم يرتقِ الحراك إلى مستوى الزخم الذي تدفعنا النوستالجيا إلى تلك الأيام لتصوّره.

قد يكون أهم ما أحدثه إضراب خضر عدنان الأول فضلًا عن انتزاع الأسير خلاله حرّيته في 17 نيسان 2012، أنه أطلق الشرارة التي أشعلت فتيل حراك كان الأسرى الإداريّون محوره. فقد تبعت إضراب خضر عدنان الناجح عدة إضرابات فردية كانت أبرزها تلك التي خاضها كل من هناء الشلبي وثائر حلاحلة وبلال ذياب، ومن ثم شهدت الحركة الأسيرة إضراب ما يقارب الألفي أسير. تركزت مطالب الإضراب الذي استمر من 17 نيسان إلى 15 أيار على وضع حد لسياسة الاعتقال الإداري وإنهاء العزل الانفرادي والسماح للأهالي من قطاع غزة المحاصر بزيارة ذويهم المعتقلين في سجون الاحتلال. مع توقيع اتفاق قضى بإنهاء الإضراب مقابل تحقيق مطالب الأسرى، لم تتحقق هذه المطالب إلا جزئيًّا، أما «تعهد» سلطات الاحتلال بإعادة النظر في سياسة الاعتقال الإداري فلم يُخرق فحسب، بل يمكن القول أن الاحتلال صعّد من ممارسة هذه السياسة. ففي آذار 2012، أي الشهر الذي سبق انطلاق إضراب الأسرى للمطالبة بإنهاء الاعتقال الإداري بلغ عدد الأسرى الإداريين في سجون الاحتلال 320 أسيرًا، بينما بلغ عدد الأسرى الإداريين في نهاية شهر آذار من هذا العام 412 أسيرًا.

استمرّت الإضرابات الفردية حتى بعد انتهاء الإضراب الجماعي في أيار 2012 إلا أن معظمها اتّسم بطابعٍ فرديّ وأخفق في الدفع إلى تحرك حقيقيفي الشارع الفلسطيني.

متعددة هي العوامل التي أدت إلى تراجع ملحوظ بنجاعة الإضراب عن الطعام كوسيلة احتجاج، لكن أبرزها هو تجريد الوسيلة من طابعها الجماعي وتحويلها إلى أداة فردية. فمع أن هنالك ظروفًا موضوعية وذاتية قد تساهم في إنجاح الإضرابات الفردية، إلا أن قوة الإضراب عن الطعام كسلاح لتحدّي السجّان تكمن في جماعيّته وامتداده إلى أكبر عدد من الأسرى بغض النظر عن انتمائهم الحزبي. المبالغة في خوض إضرابات فردية طويلة الأمد أو إضرابات تفتقد إمكانية موضوعية لتحقيق هدفها أو التعبئة الجماهيرية لم تضرّ بالأسرى المضربين فحسب بل أضعفت من تأثير الإضراب كوسيلة احتجاج ومنحت سلطات السجون الإسرائييلية الآليات الكافية لمواجهة أي إضراب مقبل. امتازت الإضرابات الفردية طويلة الأمد بتزويد الأسرى المضربين عن الطعام بفيتامينات ومواد مدعمة ضمنت خلالها سلطات الاحتلال بقاء الأسرى على قيد الحياة وبذلك تجنّب تفجر الغضب الذي قد يعقب استشهاد أحد الأسرى جراء الإضراب. لا تتعامل سلطات الاحتلال مع الأسير المضرب عن الطعام كإنسانٍ يناضل من أجل كسب حريته أو تحقيق مطالبه بل كقنبلة موقوتة يجب درء خطرها بأقل الطرق كلفةً.

يبدو من المجحف انتقاد الأسرى الذين لجؤوا إلى هذا النوع من الإضرابات الجزئية والفردية عن الطعام، فكيف يُلام أسير على اللجوء إلى أسلوب المقاومة الوحيد المتوفر أمامه؟ إلا أن العوامل المذكورة تساعدنا على فهم تراجع فعالية الإضرابات عن الطعام وافتقادها قسطًا ليس ببسيط من المصداقية والتأثير.

وهنا يختلف إضراب خضر عدنان الثاني، فعلاوة عن كونه إضرابًا كاملًا لا يتناول فيه ابن الـ37 ربيعًا إلا الماء والملح (ومؤخرًا قام بتصعيد إضرابه فأصبح يرفض تناول أي شيء سوى الماء)، يحظى عدنان بإجماع واسع في أوساط الفلسطينيين على اختلاف توجهاتهم السياسية.

لم يركن عدنان بعد الإفراج عنه إلى بيته وعمله في مخبزه في عرّابة، بل كان حاضرًا باستمرار في معظم الفعاليات والتظاهرات الداعمة للأسرى أو المناهضة للتطبيع والمفاوضات. بعد أيام قليلة فقط من الإفراج عنه، شارك خضر عدنان بإضراب استمر 11 يومًا دعمًا للأسرى المضربين عن الطعام ودأب على زيارة عائلات الأسرى والشهداء برفقة زوجته رندة. تذكر رندة التي تأخذ على عاتقها الآن مسؤولية إدارة المنزل وتمثيل زوجها إعلاميًّا أنهما قاما بزيارة أكثر من 500 عائلة أسير وشهيد على امتداد الضفة الغربية منذ إطلاق سراح خضر، وتضيف أنه حال انطلاق أي مظاهرة لدعم الأسرى كان يسارع في العودة من عمله في المخبز لكي ينضم إلى المتظاهرين والمتظاهرات.

يُحسب خضر عدنان على حركة الجهاد الإسلامي، غير أنه ضمِن احترام ومحبّة شبّانٍ وشابّات ينتمون إلى تيارات فكرية مختلفة. ولا شك أن شخصيته القيادية البارزة وشعبيّته جعلت منه خطرًا ليس فقط بالنسبة للاحتلال الإسرائيلي بل بالنسبة للسلطة الفلسطينية أيضًا. حين سألت والد خضر عدنان عن سبب الصمت النسبي في الضفة الغربية تجاه قضية خضر عدنان، رغم ما يكنه له الناس من تقدير واحترام، أجاب بدون تفكير: «الخوف». – «تقصد الخوف من إسرائيل؟» – «لا، الخوف من السلطة الفلسطينية، التي حاولت ركوب قضيته حال الإفراج عنه لكنها سرعان ما وجدت فيه تهديدًا، ففي حين أن خضر يدعم المقاومة بجميع أشكالها، السلطة الفلسطينية تدعم التطبيع بجميع أشكاله»، يقول المسن الذي على الرغم من تجاوزه الـ78 من عمره، لا يزال يجري من مظاهرة لأخرى ومن مؤتمر صحفي إلى آخر من أجل دعم ابنه وكافّة الأسرى.

«تلقّينا اتصالات ورسائل دعمٍ من حلب، من أناسٍ يعيشون تحت القصف، ومن حمص ومخيم اليرموك ودمشق. تلقينا رسائل دعمٍ ن الولايات المتحدة ومن إيرلندا، أحفاد شهداء الإضراب عن الطعام في سجون الحكومة البريطاني»، يقول والد خضر عدنان، «إلا أننا لم نتلقَّ ولو كلمة دعمٍ واحدة من قادة السلطة الفلسطينية أو من وزارة الأسرى التابعة لها».

في ظل الغياب المتوقّع لدعم السلطة الفلسطينية، التي لاحقت أجهزتها الأمنية خضر عدنان عدة مرات بعد الإفراج عنه، تزداد المسؤولية المنوطة بالشباب الفلسطيني بمختلف أطيافه وأماكن تواجده لدعم خضر عدنان في إضرابه.

حين كانت معالي ابنة الأعوام الأربعة تُسأل قبل ثلاث سنوات عن سبب إضراب أبيها، كانت تجيب أنه مضرب لكي يتمكن من رؤيتها ورؤية شقيقتها بيسان، والتواجد بقرب والدتهما الحامل حينها بشقيقهما عبد الرحمن. كبرت معالي اليوم واختلف جوابها: «أبي مضرب كي يحصل على حريته ويدافع عن حقوق الأسرى». غنيٌّ عن القول أنها تستخدم كلمات أكبر من عمرها فالتمتع بـ«طفولة عادية» هو ترف حُرم منه أبناء خضر عدنان الستّة.

حكاية خضر عدنان مع الاعتقالات والملاحقات تعود إلى العام 1999 حين كان طالب رياضيّات في جامعة بيرزيت واعتقل لأول مرة من قبل قوات الاحتلال. تلت هذا الاعتقال اعتقالات عديدة، من بينها اعتقالان على يد أجهزة الأمن التابعة للسلطة الفلسطينية. يدرك خضر ورندة أن الإضراب لن يضمن ألا يتم اعتقال خضر مجدّدًا ولكن على الرغم من خوف العائلة الشديد على سلامة خضر، فهم واثقون بأنه سينجح في انتزاع حريته كما فعل في المرة السابقة.

Khader Adnan is starving for freedom again

Published in ElectronicIntifada

Adnan Mousa, left, attends a 23 May rally in Arrabeh village in the occupied West Bank, in solidarity with his son Khader Adnan who is on a total hunger strike against his administrative detention by Israel. (Ahmad Al-Bazz \ ActiveStills)
Adnan Mousa, left, attends a 23 May rally in Arrabeh village in the occupied West Bank, in solidarity with his son Khader Adnan who is on a total hunger strike against his administrative detention by Israel. (Ahmad Al-Bazz \ ActiveStills)

Maali was only 4 years old when her father, Khader Adnan, embarked on a 66-day hunger strike in protest at being held without charge or trial, a practice known as administrative detention, after his December 2011 arrest by Israeli occupation forces.

All she could understand back then was that her father was starving himself to be reunited with her and her sister Bisan — and to be next to their mother when she gave birth to baby Abd al-Rahman.

Adnan was released in April 2012. Three years later, at age 37, he is being held in administrative detention yet again — and has entered his second month of yet another hunger strike.

Maali, now 7 years old, explains that he’s doing it to “demand his freedom and defend the rights of prisoners.” She uses words you wouldn’t normally expect from a young child, but then again “normal life” is a luxury that Maali and her five siblings have never been granted.

Arduous journey

Khader Adnan’s experience of persecution and arrests stretches back to 1999, when the then undergraduate mathematics student at Birzeit University was arrested by Israeli occupation forces on charges of affiliation with the Islamic Jihad political party.

It was the first in a series of detentions — amounting to a total of more than six years in Israeli jails — during which Adnan has never been handed any formal charges or been given a trial even by the Israeli military courtswhich are notorious for failing to meet minimum international standards.

Two people who have been with him on this arduous journey are his parents, Adnan Mousa and Nawal.

They live in Arrabeh, near Jenin in the northern West Bank. Khader’s mother, Nawal, used to visit her son in the numerous Israeli prisons where he was held until she lost mobility and could no longer walk.

In 2012, Nawal attended one of his hearings in a wheelchair, but her health has since recently deteriorated and she cannot leave her home.

His father, now 78, goes from one protest to another in support of his son and other political prisoners. The elder accompanies Khader’s wife, Randa, to press conferences and vigils.

When Adnan Mousa told The Electronic Intifada that he was planning to go to Jerusalem for the protest in support of Khader Adnan, which took place on Friday, 5 June, his wife interrupted him.

“But I fear they [Israeli soldiers] would hurt you,” she said. He shrugged it off, insisting that he had nothing to lose.

“Hunger strike as a weapon”

For Randa, her husband Khader’s plight is nothing new.

“He used the hunger strike as a weapon, both in Israeli prisons and in the Palestinian Authority jails where he was arrested twice and on both occasions resorted to hunger strikes,” Randa told The Electronic Intifada.

Adnan’s 66-day hunger strike that began on 18 December 2011 secured his eventual release after it drew considerable popular support and international attention.

It also helped highlight the issue of administrative detention — a relic of British colonial rule continued by Israel, that occupation authorities use to intimidate and grind down Palestinians by holding hundreds without charge or trial. Prisoners are usually sentenced to six months at a time, but their detention can be renewed indefinitely.

In 2012, Amnesty International issued a report detailing the human rights abuses associated with administration detention, which, it said, Israel uses to “suppress the legitimate and peaceful activities of activists in the occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Amnesty called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of prisoners held under this policy.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, by the end of March, 412 Palestinian administrative detainees were being held in Israeli jails.

Escalated

Khader Adnan’s initial hunger strike also played a key role in sparking other individual hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners — most notably by Hana al-Shalabi, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab. They were followed by a mass hunger strike that began on 17 April 2012.

Hunger striking as a tactic, however, has gradually lost efficacy to mobilize the wider Palestinian public.

This is partly due to the fact that it was used by individuals when it is often most effective when implemented en masse. Its use has also varied, with most of the long-term hunger strikers going through partial hunger strikes that include only returning some meals at the start and later receiving vitamins and other nutritional supplements, but no solid food.

In Adnan’s case, however, his lawyer and his family have confirmed that he is undertaking a complete hunger strike that started with only water and salt. He has since escalated the strike, refusing anything but water.

Adnan’s father told The Electronic Intifada that Jawad Boulos, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club’s legal unit, had visited his son on Wednesday. Boulos tried to convince him to end his hunger strike, but Adnan strongly refused, despite drastic weight loss and deterioration in his health.

Currently held in solitary confinement in the Ramle prison clinic after being moved from Israel’s Hadarim prison, Adnan is also refusing treatment by any doctor employed by the Israeli prison authorities.

He insists he will only accept treatment by an independent doctor.

His wife Randa laments the lack of mobilization in support of Khader Adnan although it has been more than 30 days since he began the strike.

“[During] the last time, serious protests on the ground began only after the 45th day of his hunger strike and after he was nearing [danger to his life]. We cannot wait so long this time,” she said.

“Threat”

Adnan’s father believes that one of the factors contributing to the relative silence is fear. Not fear of Israel, however, but of the Palestinian Authority.

“The Palestinian Authority regards my son as a threat because while Khader supports all forms of resistance, the Palestinian Authority supports all forms of normalization,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority were quick to embrace Khader Adnan after his release in April 2012. However, it did not take a long time for him to be marginalized — and even threatened — by the PA.

Adnan’s continuous presence in the frontline of protests, his charisma and the admiration he garnered among Palestinian youth regardless of their political affiliations made him a leader and symbol.

Active and engaging, he regularly visited prisoners and the families of Palestinians killed by the occupation, usually accompanied by Randa. He visited the homes of more than 500 prisoner families and dedicated his life to the cause of the prisoners whether they were affiliated with leftist, Islamist factions or with Fatah, which dominates the PA.

“He returned to his work in the bakery only a week after his release,” Randa recalled. “He would go to the bakery at 2am and get back home at 12pm, but anytime there was a protest at Ofer [prison] or in Ramallah he would leave his work to attend it.”

“Yet during one of the prayers held after the killing of a Palestinian by Israel, he was harassed by Palestinian Authority security forces who tried to kick him out of the mosque. In another instance, he was detained for an hour by Palestinian security forces,” she explained.

Adnan’s father says that not a single PA official had called him to express his support. “We received messages of support from people in Aleppo who are under shelling. We received messages of support from Homs and Yarmouk refugee camp; from Ireland where they know very well what it means to starve for freedom. But we got no word whatsoever from the PA or the ministry of prisoners,” he said.

During the interview, Randa received a call from a prisoner’s mother whose son has been in Israeli occupation jails for 13 years. Such calls mean a lot to the family, as they show how overwhelmingly Adnan is admired.

“Partner in struggle”

“Khader is not just my husband,” Randa said. “He is a partner in struggle. I’ve been with him to protests and together we supported prisoner families. I never considered this a burden or an exhaustion but rather an asset.”

Randa was keen to stress how loving and gentle Adnan is.

“He always helped me look after the children, changing their diapers and doing stuff that some men never consider doing. During my pregnancy with triplets, Khader was the one cleaning the house and making every effort to keep me happy and comfortable,” she said.

While extremely concerned for his well-being, the family is both supportive of Adnan’s decision to go on hunger strike and confident that he will emerge victorious.

“We discussed the issue before he was arrested again in July last year,” his mother said. “I told him, please, if they arrest you again don’t go on hunger strike.’ He remained silent, but gave me a look that pierced my heart like a bullet — as if to ask me to respect his decision and not expect me to deprive him of the only weapon he would have.”

Khader Adnan informed his wife and his father of his plan to go on hunger strike in case Israeli authorities were to renew his administrative detention.

“Khader is not a nihilist,” his father said. “He’s not doing this because he wants to die and because he wants to hurt himself. On the contrary, he’s going through this because he loves life and believes that this is the only way to achieve freedom.”

 

“I did all that I could do for Palestine,” says freed prisoner Said Tamimi

Budour Hassan
Originally published on Electronic Intifada

Celebration of freed Palestinian prisoner, Nabi Saleh, West Bank

If one thing can still unite and mobilize all Palestinians, regardless of their political affiliations or where they live, it is the struggle of our political prisoners in Israeli jails.

The recent US-brokered deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to release prisoners, who were jailed before the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, has left many of us with conflicting emotions.

“Indefensible decision”

True, the release of any prisoner —let alone one who has spent over 20 years behind bars– is always a reason for celebration. Yet the announcement by the Israeli government that 104 prisoners will be released —a number that has now risen to 109— was part of a deal to start yet another round of futile negotiations between Israel and the PA.

As most Palestinians view these talks with suspicion and a sense of despair, the planned release of the long-serving prisoners was used by the PA to justify its indefensible decision to resume negotiations with Israel.

Furthermore, it was obvious from celebrations which the PA organized in Ramallah that it is seeking to exploit the prisoners’ issue to score political points and boost its low credibility among ordinary Palestinians.

Even worse, all three rounds of releases that have taken place so far have been accompanied by announcements from Israel that it will expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank. This underscores once again that Israel is using these negotiations to entrench the occupation.

Joy

Nonetheless, it is important to remember that the releases have brought joy to a number of families. One Palestinian activist who is related to a pre-Oslo political prisoner said: “Look, you might say I am selfish, but I support anything that brings about the release of those prisoners. You are talking about prisoners who have spent more than 20 years in jails, who have been forgotten by most of us and whose families are dying to see them free. And if negotiations are the only way to accomplish their release, then so be it.”

The activist, who asked to remain anonymous, added: “The Israelis are building new settlements and grabbing our land with or without negotiations. This is the first time that I support negotiations simply because it means the prisoners are going to be released.”

While such a position overlooks the dangerous consequences of the negotiations and is driven by emotions, it is easy to understand where it comes from, particularly when you meet some of the prisoners concerned.

Among the Palestinian prisoners released on 31 December was Said Tamimi from Nabi Saleh, a village near Ramallah renowned for holding regular protests against the Israeli occupation since 2009.

Said was arrested on 9 November 1993, along with Bassem Tamimi, who has played a prominent role in the protests over the past few years (As well as belonging to the same extended family, both men are close friends).

Torture

While Bassem was later released after enduring severe torture which caused partial paralysis, Said was convicted of killing an Israeli settler and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The worst torture I suffered happened during the first few months of my arrest, especially in interrogations,” Said Tamimi told The Electronic Intifada. “Things got easier as years passed on, but the harassment continued. We were occasionally gassed, beaten or subjected to humiliating and violent searches by prison guards.”

Born in Nabi Saleh in March 1972, Said never met his father, who was murdered by the Israeli secret service Mossad in al-Baddawi refugee camp in Lebanon when Said was still an infant.

Said Tamimi’s involvement in Palestinian popular resistance began early in the first intifada that erupted in late 1987. Tamimi was studying at an orphanage in Jerusalem at the time.

His first arrest came when he was only 17. He was detained for almost a year.

Hiding

Shortly afterwards, Tamimi was forced to go into hiding as Israeli occupation forces began chasing him. His mother Fatima, now in her late seventies, said “They ran after him for almost two years before finally capturing him. I was thinking of him all the time, wondering where he was sleeping and if he was eating.

“On one rainy night I was sleeping and imagined hearing his footsteps and him shouting and calling my name. I opened the door and saw no-one outside. Apparently I was dreaming.

“Said’s two elder brothers were arrested too during the first intifada, and his sister was killed by militants from the Abu Nidal Organization,” a defunct armed splinter group that is believed to have been in the pay of several foreign governments.

“Said is the closest to my heart, perhaps because he’s the youngest and was deprived of seeing his father, but he is also the one who tormented me the most [through his involvement in resistance],” Fatima said.

For 16 of Said’s twenty years in jail, his mother —commonly known as Umm Said— was only allowed to see him through glass during visits. “The first time I was allowed to hug him because of my age, I passed out and lost consciousness,” she said.

“I could not believe that I finally hugged and kissed him. The prison guards were surprised at my reaction, and I remember telling them ‘You killed his father when he was a toddler and you are now imprisoning him for life.’”

“During one of my visits to Said I was ordered to take off my clothes to be allowed in. I had to do it because I wanted to see Said. There were other women with me who were visiting their imprisoned brothers. They refused to be strip-searched and since then they have been denied visits to their brothers.”

Anyone who attends the weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh knows Umm Said. She used to throw rocks at Israeli forces before her health deteriorated.

“Proud of my mother”

During one Friday protest, Israeli soldiers stormed into her house screaming that she was hiding one of the demonstrators. She responded by throwing shoes at the soldiers and kicking them out of her house. “I remember seeing her on television and I was incredibly proud of her, proud that she is my mother,” Said said.

Umm Said suffered a stroke on 1 June last year. Asked if he was afraid that his mother might die before his release, Said said: “My mother’s illness made me feel like I was inside two prisons. I wanted to get out to make up for all the suffering she has gone through during my absence, and also wanted her to compensate me for all the tenderness I have been denied. Yes, I was scared but my mother and I had made a pact when I was jailed that she would stay alive until my release.”

His mother said: “Perhaps the only thing that gave me power to survive was the hope of seeing Said soon … we knew that he would be released because his name was on the list, but we did not know in which round and that affected me greatly. Due to my condition of my health, I could not visit him for the last eight months.”

One particularly emotional moment came when the brothers Ahmad and Nizar Tamimi —two life-long friends of Said— were released as part of the prisoner exchange deal reached between Israel and Hamas in 2011.

“Nizar and Ahmad were crying for me because their happiness was not complete as Said was not released with them,” Umm Said said. “They bawled and embraced me, but I was happy for them. They were like my sons, they grew up with him. I told Said that now two of my sons have been released and the next is surely on the way.”

Said Tamimi, along with some other prisoners from the West Bank, arrived at the PA’s Ramallah compound, the Muqataa at 3am on 31 December. But his mother had to wait for two more hours to meet him in Nabi Saleh.

“I only believed that he was free when he entered the house and hugged me,” she said. “I actually still cannot believe that he is here. Even when he is sitting next to me, I still fear that this is a dream. I just hope that every mother can experience the feelings I had when I saw Said.”

No regrets

Now that he is finally free, his mother has talked to him about getting married. “She has already started looking for a wife for me,” Said said with a smile.

“But I think it’s still too early. Now I feel like a little child who is rediscovering life and getting to recognize all the new faces and places around him. Of course, I want to have a family and continue my studies but now I want to adapt to life outside prison and spend as much time with my mother as possible.”

Said Tamimi has no regrets. “I know that I paid a very heavy cost but I don’t regret taking the path of resistance because I believe in the cause and what comforts me is the knowledge that I did all that I could do for Palestine.”

Even for those of us who staunchly oppose the PA’s negotiations with Israel, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed with happiness for Said Tamimi and all the prisoners who are finally tasting freedom.