In images: support for Palestinian hunger-striking prisoners

Following the mass hunger strike of almost 2000 Palestinian prisoners, and the numerous individual hunger strikes, Palestinians have been raising their voices on the issue of prisoners. In Ramallah, protesters are taking to the streets demanding the Palestinian Authority take a strong stance for the country’s political prisoners held by Israel. Hundreds more have held regular demonstrations for months outside the Israeli Ofer prison, despite the excessive Israeli military aggression. The issue is larger than the end of administrative detention, or the allowance of family visits. Protesters are demanding complete freedom for all Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. Within the occupier’s jails, prisoners are passing the torch between each other as one hunger striker follows another. Today diabetic prisoner Akram Rikhawi has been on hunger strike for 84 days and is at imminent risk of dying.

At the forefront of support from outside the prisons are Palestine’s youth. Battling not only the Zionist state but the indifference of their own political leaders, these youth have dwindled from thousands during the mass hunger strikes to dozens. Nonetheless the activists remain determined to continue the struggle against Israeli apartheid and the resulting imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians, as well as to stir up the support of their own people.

My interest in the issues at hand are greater than my position as a photographer and at the best and most powerful demonstrations I was participating not photographing, thus the following collection is incomplete. It begins on April 26 when I joined a protest at Ofer prison.

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

A journalist wearing a neon press jacket shot with a tear gas canister from close range | 26 April 2012, Ofer Prison

A woman falls after being shot in the leg with a rubber-coated steel bullet | 26 April 2012, Ofer Prison

Two men are attended to after being shot with rubber-coated steel bullets | 26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

26 April 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli military opened fire on the demonstration in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

Women approach the Israeli soldiers as they fire at the demonstration | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

Me above the ‘skunk’ vehicle | Photo was taken by someone using my camera | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

A Palestinian man holds on to me resist my arrest despite us both having been repeatedly pepper sprayed | Photo was taken by someone using my camera | 1 May 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

A protester keels after being shot | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 3 May 2012, Ofer prison

A roadblock built to prevent the Israeli military jeep from pursuing Palestinian protesters | 4 May, 2012, Ofer prison

Rally for the hunger-striking prisoners organized by the leftist parties, the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine | 6 May 2012, Ramallah

Rally for the hunger-striking prisoners organized by the leftist parties, the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine | 6 May 2012, Ramallah

Demonstrators march wearing the actual uniforms worn by Palestinians in Israeli jails | 6 May 2012, Ramallah

6 May 2012, Ramallah

6 May 2012, Ramallah

Demonstrators burn the occupier’s flag in the down-town clock circle of Ramallah | 6 May 2012

Activists close the central Manara roundabout in Ramallah demanding the Palestinian Authority take action for Palestinian political prisoners | 8 May 2012

Palestinian activists close the central Manara roundabout in Ramallah demanding the Palestinian Authority take action for Palestinian political prisoners | 8 May 2012

Palestinian activists close the central Manara roundabout in Ramallah demanding the Palestinian Authority take action for political prisoners | 8 May 2012

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | June 5, 2012, Ofer prison

An injured protester is carried after Israeli army opened fire on the demonstration | 5 June 2012, Ofer prison

The windows of a house near to Ofer prison entrance were broken from tear gas and rubber-coated bullet fire | 5 June 2012, Ofer prison

Protesters duck as rubber-coated bullets are fired openly on the demonstration | 5 June 2012, Ofer prison

5 June 2012, Ramallah

Marchers in Ramallah block a down-town street | 5 June 2012, Ramallah

10 June 2012, Ramallah

Protesters hold signs urging drivers to ‘honk for the prisoners’ | 10 June 2012, Ramallah

Protesters hold signs urging drivers to ‘honk for the prisoners’ | 10 June 2012, Ramallah

Demonstrators play soccer at the entrance of Ofer prison to symbolize Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s hunger strike | 11 June 2012, Ofer prison

Demonstrators play soccer at the entrance of Ofer prison to symbolize Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak’s hunger strike | 11 June 2012, Ofer prison

A demonstrator was injured in the leg with a rubber-coated steel bullet | 11 June 2012

20 June 2012, Ramallah

21 June 2012, Ofer prison

Protesters holding cutlery to symbolize the hunger-striking prisoners refuse to move despite orders | 21 June 2012, Ofer prison

21 June 2012, Ofer Prison

21 June 2012, Ofer prison

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Activists close entrance to illegal Israeli settlement

On May 13, as some 2000 Palestinian prisoners were in their 27th day of hunger-striking, Palestinian and solidarity activists blocked the entrance to one of the largest Israeli colonies in the West Bank.

Around 50 activists arrived at the entrance of the illegal Jewish-only settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and were successful in blocking traffic for at least 20 minutes. Israeli forces arrived quickly and detained two Palestinian men from the crowd, taking them to the nearby police station. As the activists left the area, they climbed to a nearby hill overlooking the same street and raised Palestinian flags. Israeli soldiers climbed the hill and forced them to descend. The activists then climbed an adjacent hill, prompting the same reaction from Israeli soldiers. The action was successful in its goal of civil disturbance.

The following day, the mass hunger strike of Palestinians in Israeli prisons reached a deal and the strike was finished. Many human rights groups have since criticized Israel for not maintaining parts of the agreement.

The importance of perseverance and creativity in the popular struggle cannot be stressed enough. As Palestinians battle normalization and apathy from several years of repetitive resistance and little gains, new ideas and forms of struggle are needed to keep the passion and dedication alive.

This Land is Palestine: removing the occupier’s flag

On the route between the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Ramallah, one witnesses numerous illegal Israeli colonies occupying the hilltops. Although these Jewish-only settlements are a violation of International Law, and the Palestinians are a vast majority, most of the route is lined with the Israeli flag.

Palestinians driving between their towns and cities are forced to pass beneath their occupier’s flag, as if to constantly remind them that they do not have power in their own lands.

Before dawn on May 4, a group of independent Palestinian activists thus decided to raid one such road and replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian one. The symbolic act serves to reaffirm that despite Israeli occupation and apartheid, this land is still Palestine.

They were able to successfully complete the action and leave before Israeli authorities arrived.

Palestinian activists replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian one | Rana Hamadeh | 05/04/2012

A Palestinian activist climbs a ladder to remove the Israeli flag | Rana Hamadeh | 05/04/2012

Independent Palestinian activists replace the Israeli flag with the Palestinian one | Rana Hamadeh | 05/04/2012

The image that circulated social networks| compiled by Thaer Sharaf | 05/04/2012

Global solidarity builds awareness of Palestinian political prisoners

Rana Nazzal Hamadeh | April 19, 2012 | originally posted on Rabble

Tuesday, April 17 marked a global day of action for Palestinian prisoners and some 1,600 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons began an open-ended hunger strike. This past year, two prisoners in particular risked their lives in protest of their mistreatment by Israeli authorities and brought international attention to Israel’s illegal practice of administrative detention.

Administrative detention

Administrative detention is imprisonment without charge or trial, and is authorized by an administrative order rather than a judicial one. Under international law, its use is reserved for emergency situations, as a last means for preventing danger. It still requires that basic rules are followed, such as a fair hearing where the detainee can argue the basis of their detention.

Israel’s practice of administrative detention is in clear violation of international law. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been held as administrative detainees. They are not informed of the charges against them, let alone prosecuted for their alleged crimes. In many cases they are held not necessarily for an offence that they have committed, but out of suspicion that they will commit a crime in the future. The evidence against them is regarded as “secret information” and is thus not available to the accused or their attorneys.

Administrative detention sentences can be up to six months long, and can be renewed an indefinite number of times, without a trial or evidence shown. The detainee sits in prison not knowing if they will be held for another month, or for several years more.

Israel’s practice of administrative detention disregards the right to liberty and due process, the right of defendants to make a case, and the presumption of innocence.

A Palestinian woman holds a framed picture of her son, a political prisoner held by Israel, at a prisoners support rally in Ramallah, West Bank. | Rana Hamadeh 13/12/2011

Khader Adnan and Hana Al-Shalabi: Hunger strikers gain world attention

Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old father of two, began a hunger strike in mid-December after he was arrested from his home in the terrorizing style of a night raid, while his wife and young daughters looked on. He received no charge, and was not informed of the reason for his arrest. Rather than confusion, Adnan was facing a process that Palestinians have grown to be familiar with: administrative detention.

According to Addameer, a prisoners support and human rights association, Adnan was insulted and humiliated by interrogators, especially with their use of abusive language about his family. He was interrogated for six hours a day, and tied to a crooked chair during the sessions, causing him extreme pain.

Adnan was on hunger strike for 67 continuous days. Among his reasons were: his detention being a violation of his rights and identity; the ill-treatment he suffered from Israeli authorities; and the unjust system of administrative detention.

His case only became known internationally after the fiftieth day of his strike when it exploded on social networks such as Twitter, and supporters followed with fear as his health rapidly deteriorated.

After 67 days of refusing food, and on the brink of death, a deal was reached with Israel that Adnan would be released at the end of a four-month term, unless new “secret evidence” surfaced. Although Adnan was highly successful in drawing international attention to the case of administrative detainees in particular, and the Israeli occupation in general, it would be wrong to believe that with the end of his hunger strike came the end of the conditions he was protesting.

Hana Al-Shalabi then took the stage to continue the demands that Khader had nearly perished fighting for.

Al-Shalabi was an administrative detainee held for two years without a charge before she was released in October 2011 in the prisoner swap. In mid-February 2012, fifty soldiers arrived at her home in the night and she was re-arrested, again without a charge or trial, and immediately began to refuse meals.

On the nineteenth day of Hana’s hunger strike, an Israeli military court ruled to shorten her administrative detention sentence from six months to four months. Hana did not accept this deal as a valid response to her demands and she continued her hunger strike.

After 43 days of hunger striking, and in considerably bad health, Hana accepted a deal that can hardly be seen as a victory. She was released, but not to her waiting and grief-stricken family and friends. Hana was internally exiled to the Gaza Strip. For the next three years, she will live in what has commonly been described as an open-air prison due to the years of blockade and closure imposed on it, and unable to access her family living in the Northern West Bank.

Palestinian prisoners affairs minister, Issa Qaraqaa reportedly said, “she had to accept because Israel put pressure on her. But we are totally opposed to all deportation measures.”

Khader Adnan plays with his daughters on his first day out of Israeli jail. | Oren Ziv/ Activestills 18/4/2012

The price of a Palestinian prisoner

In the prisoner swap last October the sole Israeli prisoner detained by Palestinians, Gilad Shalit, was released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. While most Palestinians were glad to be reunited with family or friends, they were also reminded of an ugly reality of Israeli apartheid: one Jewish Israeli life is exchangeable with over a thousand Palestinian lives.

For the five years that Shalit was imprisoned, his face and name were repeated in international media. Yet of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, little was heard. Seven hundred thousand Palestinians have been detained since 1967 (that is approximately 20 per cent of all Palestinians in the occupied territory, and 40% of the male population). Yet it is Shalit, an adult military soldier, arrested while serving in the Israeli Occupation Forces – an army repeatedly accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians – who was worthy of global news and sympathy while the 7,000 Palestinian children arrested since the year 2000 have largely been ignored.

In violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, all but one of the prisons holding Palestinians are inside Israel. International law states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons within their territory, the result being that often the family and/or lawyers of the prisoners are denied permits to Israel and cannot visit the prisons.

There is also repeated complaints of prisoner abuse in the hands of Israeli officials. These go largely unmentioned by the international community. Over two hundred Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 while detained by Israel, due to inadequate medical care and food, torture, or other abuse. Hundreds more have suffered serious illnesses.

Prisoners set to unite with mass hunger strikes

On Tuesday, April 17 one third of all Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli facilities, about 1,600 prisoners, began an open-ended hunger strike. Another 2,300 prisoners refused food for the whole of Tuesday. Among the demands presented are:

1. Ending administrative detention

2. Ending solitary confinement

3. Reinstating the right to education

4. Halting all invasions targeting detainees’ rooms and sections

5. Allowing family visitations, especially to detainees from the Gaza Strip

6. Improving medical care to ailing detainees

7. Halting the humiliation, and body-search of the families of the detainees

8. Allowing the entry of books and newspapers

9. Halting all sorts of penalties against the detainees

Internationally and within Palestine, actions took place in solidarity with the 4,600 some Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons, including a demonstration at the BBC Scotland headquarters demanding mainstream media coverage of the Palestinian hunger strikers. Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations also issued a call for action against G4S, the world’s largest international security corporation, which helps to maintain and profit from Israel’s prison system.

Rana Nazzal Hamadeh is a Canadian-Palestinian and one of the North American delegates who took part in the Global March to Jerusalem.

Mural in the Nablus old city

Rana Hamadeh | April 11, 2012 | Nablus

A French activist and a good friend of mine, Mita, came up with the idea to paint a mural on a wall in the old city of Nablus. Back in France, she is practicing graffiti artist so she had the experience to plan a project like this. She told me, “I did not want the project to be a French project, a French activist coming to paint, I wanted it to be a Palestinian project.”

Children crowd around Mita in the Yasmine neighborhood | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

Mita teamed up with the Tanweer cultural centre in Nablus who assisted with coordination and provided volunteers. They acquired permission from the municipality and had all their paints donated by the local Arabic Painting Company (APC).

In Arabic, "by learning we will liberate our land and destroy the wall" | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

The painting began with the statement “by learning we will liberate our land and destroy the wall” and from there, volunteers compiled ideas and manifested them into images.

In Arabic, "we will return" | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

Mural in the Yasmine neighborhood | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

The grand opening was on April 7th, 2012 and volunteers got together with residents of the Yasmine neighborhood to simultaneously do a clean up of the street

"Free Palestine" and Handala | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

"To a killer: If you contemplated the victim's face and thought you would remember your mother in the gas chamber, you would liberate yourself from the rifle's wisdom and change your mind: this is not how identity is reclaimed" - Mahmoud Darwish | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

In Arabic, "to a killer: If you contemplated the victim's face and thought you would remember your mother in the gas chamber, you would liberate yourself from the rifle's wisdom and change your mind: this is not how identity is reclaimed" - Mahmoud Darwish | Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

Nablus old city | Rana Hamadeh 07/04/12

“I wanted the volunteers to express themselves” says Mita, and indeed they did, bringing up issues of education, the right of return, the apartheid wall, prisoners, and national liberation.

Fadi Abu Zeitoun, Killed as Settlers Attacked Farmers

Rana Hamadeh | April 9, 2012 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

See original article on palsolidarity.org.

Israeli settlers attacked and chased a group of Palestinian farmers last Thursday, causing a tractor to flip over during the chase, causing the death of the Palestinian driver.

On Thursday, April 5th, armed settlers from the illegal Israeli colony of Itamar attacked a group of Palestinians en-masse. In haste and in fear for his life, twenty-eight year old Fadi Abu Zeitoun’s tractor tipped and crushed him as he fled from the pursuing settlers.

The villagers who own olive groves near Itamar rarely get “permission” from the Israeli District Coordination Office to access their own land. During the harvest season, they are permitted a few days, but in the spring when the land needs to be tended they have more difficulty acquiring permission. During this spring harvest, the villages of Hawarta, Yanoun, Aqraba, and Beita were told they had only four hours to  access their land. The area to be tended is approximately 1000 dunums so the villagers collected forty tractors to work as much land as possible in the shortest possible time. Israeli activists from the movement Peace Now, and a group of international activists were present in solidarity. Prime Minister Salam Fayad joined them to make a statement re-affirming their right to utilize the stolen land that they were standing upon.

The funeral of Fadi Sleman Abu Zeitoun | 06/04/12 | photos provided by Beita village

During the Prime-minister’s visit, Israeli authorities were positioned nearby and prevented the settlers from passing. However, shortly after Fayad left the area, Israeli soldiers permitted a mob of settlers to converge upon the Palestinian farmers tending to their land. They began by throwing stones, causing the group to separate and begin descending the hill. The settlers then proceeded to fire M-16 assault rifles in the direction of the unarmed farmers before releasing dogs. In the ensuing chaos,  and as Fadi desperately attempted to escape, his tractor flipped over and fell on him, mortally wounding the young man.

Palestinians witnessing the incident ran back towards the scene to offer assistance. The settlers promptly dispersed as they rushed him down the hill to the road, unfortunately he was already dead.

Fadi is of the village of Beita . With a population of only 12,000, this death resonates among all the residents. As Fadi’s father-in-law, Isam Bani Shams says, “This is not our first martyr nor our last, we have been in this situation for sixty-four years. Our village has lost some seventy martyrs.”

On the same date, twenty-four years ago, two men from the village of Beita were also murdered by settlers from Itamar.

In the gathering following the funeral, Fadi’s father, Sleman Abu Zeitoun, sat with his head down. Beside him sat three other men who have had a son murdered by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

Fadi was newly married to nineteen year-old Fida’ Bani Shams who is left widowed and six months pregnant. Her brother was killed at the age of sixteen by Israeli soldiers during the second intifada, and as her father says, “She has lost a brother and a husband so what can I say of her emotions? She is in grief. She is exhausted.” Fida’ sat slouched in a corner of the room, her eyes closed and blankets covering her feet.

Fadi’s sister has had a nervous breakdown since the death of her brother. She does not recognize  her husband or her daughters. Their mother, Mona Fihmeh says, “in terms of how I feel, I have patience, but my back has been broken from the burden.” Mona spent last night praying over her feverish body, and today she sent her daughter to the hospital. Her husband was on the way back from a funeral in Jordan when the accident occurred. He returned to Beita to find that his son had been killed.

Throughout the funeral, political talk arose about the various results of Israeli occupation and apartheid on Palestine. At first, the unemployment rate among Palestinians does not seem relevant to the death of Fadi Abu Zeitoun, but one soon realizes that Israel’s apartheid policies are to blame for both the impunity with which settlers are treated, and the numerous other negative consequences on livelihood.

The funeral of Fadi Sleman Abu Zeitoun | 06/04/12 | photos provided by Beita village

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory  reported that over 90% of complaints regarding settler violence filed by Palestinians to the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment. OCHA’s report on settler violence notes that “the root cause of the settler violence phenomenon is Israel’s decades-long policy of illegally facilitating the settling of its citizens inside occupied Palestinian territory. This activity has resulted in the progressive takeover of Palestinian land, resources and transportation routes and has created two separate systems of rights and privileges, favouring Israeli citizens at the expense of the over 2.5 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Recent official efforts to retroactively legalize settler takeover of privately-owned Palestinian land actively promotes a culture of impunity that contributes to continued violence.”

Declared one of the men at the funeral, “every time Israel builds a colony, we will build another Palestinian town; every time they erect a building, we will build a new building.”

“Our steadfastness protects our land,” another proclaims.

Rana H. is a volunteer with International Solidarity Movement.

Israel opens fire on the Global March to Jerusalem in Qalandia and across Palestine

Rana Hamadeh | March 31, 2012

Yesterday the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) opened fire on marchers as they headed towards Jerusalem marking Palestinian Land Day.

The Global March to Jerusalem is an initiative taking place across the world, with hundreds of thousands of people involved. Marches were organized within Palestine, 1948 territories, and Gaza, as well as all surrounding countries and parts of Asia, North America, and Europe. Among other things, the march was calling for an end to the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and Palestine at large, the right of return for all refugees, and the protection of Jerusalem’s non-Jewish holy sites which are currently at risk. At least two hundred people were injured by the IOF in protests across Palestine, and one young man was killed in Gaza.

The Israeli military employed a series of weapons on the unarmed protesters, including the ‘siren’, which emits a defeaning ringing; the ‘skunk truck’ which propels torrents of a sewage-like liquid; rubber-coated steel bullets; sound bombs; high-velocity tear gas; and live ammunition.

Soldiers prepare to fire at protesters. Behind them the 'skunk truck', which propels sewage-like liquid, is parked. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

When I arrived at the protest area, people were running away as tear gas was fired. I ran towards the soldiers, trying to get to the area behind them where journalists were set up. The ‘siren’ was already put in use, getting unbearably louder as I approached, and the street already had a grim look only minutes into the march. People hid behind cement blocks and smoke filled the air. As soon as I reached the soldiers, the ‘siren’ became a quiet ringing. The technology used allows the IOF to propel the sound in a specific direction.

Israeli soldiers stand beside a cement block reading 'together we'll break the wall' | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

As I snapped photographs of the abundant Israeli soldiers in the area, and the murals covering the apartheid wall behind them, the ‘skunk truck’ moved forward and arbitrarily fired sewage water at the people, houses, and shops in its reach. Journalists ran for cover to save their cameras from damage. Others ran to save themselves from being marked with the foul smell for days to come. A mist carried back to where I stood and I almost choked. The scent is stronger and lingers longer than would even real sewage. One young woman marched up to the truck, and was drenched, but managed to place a Palestinian flag on it.

The steady stream of 'skunk' water fired by the IOF can be seen in the background as journalists run away. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

When they finished with the ‘skunk’, the soldiers got into jeeps and moved forward, firing tear gas at the same time. The protesters ran in a frenzy to find clear air and avoid arrest by the approaching army.

Protesters run as soldiers approach and fire tear gas | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

I ran for cover behind a building from the onslaught of tear gas grenades. A handful of others joined me and we thought we had reached safety when the smell of tear gas overcame us. We ran deeper behind the building, stepping through piles of garbage and trying to find relief from the gas filling our eyes and lungs. To both directions was gas. There was no options. Most of us fell to the ground choking and trying to stay conscious. Someone was desperately shouting the name of a blind girl who they had lost track of in the chaos. When I was able to open my eyes a slit, I saw that the soldiers had come to our hideout and were beckoning everyone out. In the chaos of the moment we didn’t think about disobeying. As soon as we were out, a commander targeted one of the boys among us. It was an arbitrary choice. Another woman and I stood in between the soldiers and the young man, pointing out  their discrimination in that whatever he had done, we had also done. We attempted to de-arrest but soldiers surrounded us and aggressively took the young man away, still choking on tear gas.

A young Palestinian man is arbitrarily targeted by Israeli soldiers. We unsuccessfully attempt to de-arrest. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Fadi Arouri 30/03/2012

Across the street I found a group of soldiers banging on the door of an apartment building, trying to break it open. Faces of women and children looked down at them from the windows above. They broke the door’s window and continued to hammer the door until it was bent out of shape and able to be opened.

An Israeli soldier stands with his hands on his gun as others behind him break down the door to a Palestinian apartment building. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

Israeli soldiers break the door to a Palestinian apartment building. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

When they finally go the door open, a group of soldiers stamped into the building and up the stairs. The last few walked backwards, with their guns pointed at us, comically as if myself and a few other journalists would attack. Other soldiers stayed at the door, guarding it. The group of soldiers made their way through the building then emerged on the roof from where they would shoot rubber-coated steel bullets at a wider range of people.

I grew frustrated of standing among the soldiers with the other journalists so amidst gun fire I ran back towards the protesters. The scene was much grimmer from this perspective. Every few minutes people would shout for an ambulance and the wounded would be carried away.

A young man is carried to an ambulance after being injured by a rubber-coated steel bullet. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

As time passed, the shooting of rubber-coated bullets seemed to escalate and people were no longer seen in the center of the street, but rather pressed against buildings and behind walls.

An injured man's feet are visible as medic volunteers attend to him.| Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

An injured medic volunteer is carried into an ambulance. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

It was draining to continue to duck at the sound of gunfire and watch as the ambulance workers crowded around a person, so eventually I asked a dozen people to come walk up to the soldiers with me. Many agreed so we stepped out into the street, arms and flags in the air and began to walk. The army continued to fire. I looked behind me and only one person was left walking with me. “Don’t worry about it, Rana,” he reassured me, “keep going.”

We stayed motivated and it was liberating to walk unabashedly towards the Israeli soldiers, dressed in military armor and carrying their range of weapons. At the sound of gun fire, we turned our heads away so that at least if injured, our eyes would be protected. We didn’t flinch as soldiers fired tear gas over our heads.

Marching towards Israeli soldiers. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Bahaa Nasser 30/03/2012

A handful of others caught up as we approached the soldiers. The idea was to stand in front of them and prevent them from firing at the protesters behind us. We were chanting slogans like, “no justice- no peace”, and “we are peaceful- what are you?” At first I didn’t see many journalists and the soldiers got aggressive quickly. An Israeli soldier grabbed the Palestinian flag from my hands and threw it on the ground. Me and another girl tried desperately to reach it but we were hit and shoved away.

We linked arms and formed a chain. When the Israeli military tried to move to the side, we moved with them. They attacked the group, clearly trying to break us up and make arrests. Soldiers kicked and beat the group. When one young woman put her arms in the air and shouted that she was unarmed, a soldier picked up a rock and smashed her hand with it. The young man to my left was dragged away and I felt myself taken in a headlock and pushed to the ground. Bodies and feet pressed on me and I focused only on keeping my head from hitting the pavement as chaos ensued around me. I felt people pulling, pushing, and hitting me. When I could lift my head to see, the same friend who had initially marched with me was holding on to me, and I am certain saved me from arrest.

I learned later that the other activists had been similarly attacked, but had managed to prevent any other arrests. We stood there stunned, injured, and exhausted.

We continued to chant as we backed away and returned to the rest of the protesters. Only a few meters away they began to shoot again and we saw more injuries carried into ambulances. Throughout the day I witnessed several people bleeding from injuries by rubber-coated bullets, but refusing to take up space in the ambulances.

Later, after many had left and the protesters were few, we were standing against a wall and turning our heads at the sound of gunfire. Suddenly, a rubber-coated bullet hit a young man standing beside us in the face. His expression was frozen as if he had lost consciousness with his eyes still open. We shouted for an ambulance and he was carried away.

A young man hit just under the eye by a rubber-coated steel bullet. | Qalandia, Occupied West Bank | Rana Hamadeh 30/03/2012

That was our final straw and we decided to head home, having been at the protest for about six hours. Clashes continued until at least 10pm when my friend called me to say he was finally leaving, and completely drenched in ‘skunk water’.

These experiences are so common in the Palestinian struggle that one easily becomes normalized in order to cope. As activists, this is something we are fighting, and nonetheless we are all deeply affected by these experiences whether we can still find the passion to express it or not.  Understand only that this was not a unique day. This is a regular response to the peaceful protesting which occurs at least weekly across Palestine. A young man being arbitrarily chosen for arrest is something every family has experienced. The IOF breaking down a door in order to use the roof of as a military base is a common practice. Breaking the windows of an ambulance with gun fire, targeting journalists, firing at homes and shops, can all be witnessed in a trip to Palestine.

Hana al-Shalabi’s sacrifice: day 23 of hunger strike

Rana Hamadeh | Mar 9, 2012

Today Hana al Shalabi has been on hunger strike for 23 days.

Hana had been held for two years under administrative detention (no evidence, no conviction) but was released in the prisoner exchange last October. Many of the over 1000 prisoners that were released in this deal were shortly after given the reminder that release did not mean freedom.

Life under occupation does not include the word freedom. A Palestinian’s home can be raided at any moment, whether it be as a mother is putting her children to bed, or at 3am, waking the family. There is no warrant necessary. While walking to school or simply to the corner store, a Palestinian can be ordered to submit to search by Israeli soldiers. Military road blocks and checkpoints can be erected on highways and all following cars forced to wait hours as soldiers search or simply waste time. A Palestinian can be arrested at any moment, again no warrant is needed, even for a minor. Once under arrest they are at the mercy of Israeli soldiers most often between 18-20 years old who have grown accustomed, through practice, to not being held accountable for their actions. They can be held under ‘administrative detention’ on ‘secret evidence’ without even knowing what their charge is or when they will be released. This can continue indefinitely.

Hana al-Shalabi knows this, and has probably known it her entire life. Just a few months after being released in the exchange, soldiers raided her home and re-arrested her. Again, the evidence against her is undisclosed. She began hunger striking as soon as she was arrested on February 17th, as did her parents in solidarity, and they continue to today.

Hana Shalabi

On day 19 of her strike, an Israeli military court decided to shorten her administrative detention sentence from 6 months to 4 months. Hana did not accept these conditions and so she continues to hunger strike.

She did not accept this because she sees the bigger picture. Not only could she be re-arrested on more ‘secret evidence’ at anytime after her release, but so could any Palestinian. The even bigger picture is that the Palestinians in the occupied territories are living under military rule that controls all aspects of their lives. Bigger still, is that there are over 5 million exiled Palestinians who do not have the right to return. That there are 2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who live as second class citizens, treated as enemies in their own home. That the 1.5 million Gazans are living in an open-air prison, slowly suffocating and still subject to massacres, bombings, white phosphorous, and horrendous violence.

No one cannot expect to carry all these burdens on their back. The Palestinian struggle progresses step-by-step. Hana admirably decided to take one step further than the shortening of her sentence. She is now on day 23, and her will remains strong. For international woman’s day, women and men across the West Bank and Gaza took to the streets honoring the many Palestinian women such as Hana for their steadfastness and strength.

The sacrifice that Hana al-Shalabi is making is monumental. Palestinian prisoners have used hunger strikes as a means to demand their basic human rights  (though they are still fighting an immense battle) to the extent of people dying in demands for mattresses to be thicker or the presence of books in prisons. The international community should be ashamed that they are allowing Palestinian prisoners to have to sacrifice their lives for these basic rights, for lack of other tools to fight Israeli oppression. As long as the international community stands idly by in the face of obvious human rights violations by Israel, the blood of Palestinians is on both parties’ hands.

Ma'an News Agency

Our [mis]understanding of history on day 12 of Hana al-Shalabi’s hunger strike

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 27, 2012

Hana Yahya al-Shalabi was among the Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit in October 2011. When she was released she had been under administrative detention for two years already. On February 16th she was arrested again and given another detention order for six months. She began a hunger strike immediately, and continuing what Khader Adnan began, she is fighting against the illegal practice of administrative detention, and her cruel treatment at the hands of Israeli forces. Today is day 12 of her hunger strike.

Drawing connections in our understanding of history

Hana Al-Shalabi has reminded me of Black Panther activist Assata Shakur. After six attempts by American intelligence at framing her with various bank robberies and murders, all of which were dismissed in court, Assata was charged with the murder of two policemen. Her eventual conviction was the result of an unfair trial which ignored evidence in her favour in order to ensure her guilt. Records that have now surfaced show that a “counterintelligence campaign was conducted by the FBI in cooperation with state and local law enforcement agencies designed to criminalize, defame, harass, and intimidate Assata.” The FBI systemically targeted black groups and individuals, Martin Luther King being among the first targets, but including thousands of less prominent ecivil rights activists. Assata experienced among the worst treatment of any woman prisoner in the US, even being jailed for a period in a men’s prison. After about two years, she escaped from prison and took exile in Cuba. [Assata: an autobiography]

In her own words, “although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.”

The name 'Assata' means 'she who struggles' - one reason I was reminded of hunger striking Hana al-Shalabi

What really perplexes me is that the dominant impression in the West is that of ‘racism has been abolished due to an evolution in human goodness’. The reality of racial oppression, to many in the West (not including visible minorities), is a thing of the past that could not return. Two things must be understood:

Slavery did not end in the United States due to a realization of human beings as equals, it was rather quite unimportant how many people were in support or against the cause. In reality, the North fought for the end of slavery because they could not economically compete in the cotton industry with the South who had slaves working without pay. The figure of the abolition of slavery, Abraham Lincoln was de facto an avid racist:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with White people, and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the White and Black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.. there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the White race.” – Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate September 18, 1858

Second, that while most people will be quick to outcry the crimes of racial segregation in North America in the 60s and 70s, they remain silent in the face of current crimes. One major difference between Assata and Hana, is that Israel did not have to frame Hana – it simply arrested her on ‘secret evidence’ and just skipped the trial. There is a common view that the worst evils (often considered to be Hitler) are in the past. Rather than studying history to avoid repeating the same crimes, history has been used to distance genocide and oppression from the present. Subconsciously, we cannot comprehend that the very crimes of the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in North America, the slavery of blacks, or the holocaust of millions by the Nazis, are continuing today in different forms – such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

This is what brought me to unlearn my history education and realize that change did not come about necesssarily through a collective understanding of humanity and equality. As long as there is a group that has something to gain from the oppression of another, those ‘winners’ will not denounce their privilege unless they are economically or militarily forced to. The reality is that if the people’s armies were to try to go up against governments of the world with military might, they would be crushed. Economically, however, we can force powers like Israel to conform to humanitarian law.

With a movement like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, raising awareness about Palestine has become more valuable. Awareness in itself cannot end oppression, it requires action alongside it. Hana al-Shalabi is raising awareness about the illegality of administrative detention, but what Israel fears is not the loss of her life to a hunger strike – it is the loss of a reputation and the investors that come along with it.

Administrative Detention

Administrative detention is a process that permits Israel to arrest and detain Palestinians on ‘secret evidence’ without charging them or allowing for a trial. Military Order 1591 authorizes military commanders to detain someone with “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” The 6-month detention orders can be renewed indefinitely and are often renewed on or just before the expiry date. This leaves detainees not knowing why they were arrested nor for how long they will remain. The “security” grounds Israel cites are used frequently, and sometimes administrative detention is used as a form of collective punishment (a war crime). For example, from March- October 2002, during the second Intifada, Israeli Occupying Forces arrested over 15,000 Palestinians during mass arrest campaigns, rounding up males in cities and villages between the ages of 15 to 45. [IAK] Administrative detention, by international law, is allowed only in emergency situations, and detainees are still entitled to a trial and to defend themselves. Israel’s practices are thus evidently in violation of international law.

Gender-based sexual abuse and humiliation

HanaAl-Shalabi’s report with Addameer, a prisoner support association, gives the following details of her first arrest on 14 September 2009. At 1:30 am, a dozen Israeli military jeeps surrounded her house and ordered the entire family outside. They entered the house and searched it. One soldier, removed framed pictures of Hana’s brother Samer, who was killed in 2005 by the Israeli army, tore them apart, and walked over the pieces in front of the family. Soldiers began to curse at Hana and her family. When her father tried to intervene, a soldier assaulted him with the butt of his gun. Hana’s mother fainted and soldiers placed Hana under arrest.

As Hana was being transferred, her traditional Muslim dress worn over her home clothing came upon, uncovering parts of her body. She was handcuffed and could not prevent it. Male soldiers took pictures of her, “consciously exploiting her situation, knowing she would feel offended and humiliated by such photos.”

Hana was put in solitary confinement for 8 days, in a cell without any natural light. She could not differentiate between day and night. Since it was the month of Ramadan, Hana refused all meals and water throughout the 8 days in order to respect her fast.

Not unlike other Palestinians in Israeli custody, Hana was subject to sexual and physical abuse. During her questioning, one of the interrogators called her “habibti” (“my darling”) in a provocative manner. “Feeling humiliated and angry at the interrogator’s offensive use of an intimate term, Hana started shouting at him. The interrogators responded by slapping her on her face and beating her on her arms and hands. The guards then took her back to her cell where they tied her to the bed frame and continued humiliating her by taking pictures of her laying in that position.”

Addameer states that they are ” greatly concerned by the verbal abuse Israeli detaining authorities display towards Palestinian female prisoners by directing sexual threats towards them and using inappropriate, vulgar language. Addameer contends that this behavior is done in a deliberate effort to exploit Palestinian women’s fears by playing on patriarchal norms as well as gender stereotypes within particular customs of Palestinian society.”

Hana spent 17 days in Kishon Detention Center, and for the entire time was not given a change of clean clothes. After her administrative detention order was issued, she was moved to HaSharon Prison. Due to overcrowding, she was kept in the same area as female Israeli criminal offenders. It is a direct violation of Isralie Prison Service Regulations for administrative detaineees to be held with prisoners who have been convicted of a crime. “Moreover,” says Addameer, Palestinian female prisoners “detained in the same sections as Israeli criminal offenders… are almost always discriminated against, enjoy fewer recreation hours and are often subjected to humiliation and abusive language from Israeli prisoners, who threaten them of physical attack. As a result, Palestinian women live in constant fear and often experience insomnia, and other psychological problems for the entire time they are detained in the same sections with Israeli women.”

Freedom for hunger striking prisoner, Hana al-Shalabi

The price of a Palestinian prisoner and Hana Al-Shalabi – continuing the fight

Rana Hamadeh | Feb 26, 2012

Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike last Tuesday, wherein he protested against his administrative detention – that is, arrest without charge or evidence for an indefinite period of time. The final deal reached essentially just shortened his detention order by a few weeks, stating that Israel would not renew the detention – unless, new ‘secret evidence’ surfaces. Thus, although Adnan was highly successful in drawing international attention to the case of administrative detainees in particular, and the Israeli occupation in general, it would be wrong to believe that with the end of his hunger strike came the end of the conditions he was protesting. As of February 1st there were 309 Palestinians under administrative detention, but even in the past few weeks this number has increased.

One notable case is that of Hana Yahya al-Shalabi, a woman who was released in the prisoner exchange last October, but was arrested on 17 February 2012 with a six month administrative detention order. Upon her arrest she began a hunger strike, and continues now on her 10th day. For other notable cases under administrative detention see here.

In the recent prisoner swap the sole Israeli prisoner detained by Palestinians, Gilad Shalit, was released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. While most Palestinians were delighted to be reunited with family or friends, they were also reminded of an ugly reality of Israeli apartheid. One Jewish Israeli life is worth over a thousand Palestinians. And so it has been and continues to be.

For the five years that Shalit was imprisoned, his face and name were repeatedly splattered across global media. Yet how many of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners can we recall?

There were two phases to the prisoner release, the first which occured in October, led to the release of 477 Palestinian political prisoners. In the two months until the second group of prisoners were released, 470 more Palestinians were imprisoned, essentially making up for those released. Those arrested between October 18 and December 12 included 70 children and 11 women.

Regardless of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, and their cruel treatment at that, it was the Israeli captive that made international news continually for five years. Despite that 700,000 Palestinians have been detained since 1967 (that is approximately 20% of all Palestinians in the occupied territory, and 40% of the male population), it is Shalit who was invited to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential palace in Paris where Sarkozy praised Israel for its effort with Shalit, claiming it as a sign of Israel’s democracy “because in a democracy we attach importance to one life.” In the case of Israel, a self proclaimed Jewish nation, that importance appears to be attached exclusively to Jewish lives.

The arrest of an adult military soldier while serving in the Israeli Occupational Forces – an army repeatedly accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians – was worthy of global news and sympathy while the 7,000 Palestinian children arrested since just 2000 went ignored.

The crimes of Israel’s occupation go largely ignored by the international community.

For example, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, all but one of the prisons holding Palestinians are inside Israel (international law states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons within their territory). The result of this violation is that the family and/or lawyers of the prisoners are often denied permits to enter Israel and thus cannot visit the prisons. This goes largely unmentioned by the international community. Instead, we read about the inhumanity of Hamas not allowing visits to Shalit.

Many aspects of Palestinian life have been criminalized under broad military orders. Examples given by Addameer are, for instance, that the political parties comprising the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are considered “illegal organizations” despite that they have been in peace negotiations with Israel since 1993. The raising of a Palestinian flag is a crime. Participating in a demonstration is a disruption of public order. Even “pouring coffee for a member of a declared illegal association can be seen as support for a terrorist organization.” Thus, imprisonment has also become a common aspect of Palestinian life.

To the families, friends, and supporters of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners, the repeated talk of prisoners as numbers can be sickening. Each and every prisoner has a life and story as worthy as Shalit’s was to the world and despite the unequal representation in the media, we can vow to empower as many voices as possible by our own means.

Urgent Action Alert for Hana Al-Shalabi

As Hana al-Shalabi is attempting to remind us that even the prisoners released in the exchange are not safe from harassment. Many have received threatening raids from the IOF in the middle of the night, with a reminder that they should not feel free just because they have been released. Others have had prices put on their head by illegal Israeli settlers, offering money in exchange for their murders.

Al-Shalabi was an administrative detainee held for two years without a charge before she was released last October. Last Friday the 17th, she was re-arrested without a charge or trial and since then she has refused food. She has been given a 6-month detention order which can be renewed indefinitely.

On day 10 of her hunger strike, she needs international support to amplify her voice. Act now for Hana al-Shalabi – sign the letter and/or send a fax!

Also, tweet:

Demand Israeli occupation release Hana al-Shalabi immediately! #FreeHana #Palestine http://samidoun.ca/?p=327

Three years, no charge? no trial? Free Hana al-Shalabi now! #FreeHana Take action: http://samidoun.ca/?p=327