When I was at school I did a sponsored fast – nothing was to go between my lips for the entire school day. I was raising money for something, a cancer charity maybe. During the morning break-time I remember pushing a doughnut into my porky little face. I scoffed it down and never told a soul about it. Licking my sausage fingers I can remember not feeling even the slightest crack of guilt.
Today, for this first time since that fateful event, I felt guilty. I felt guilty because stood in front of me in the mid-day sun was Hallah Hattab. Hallah is one week into her hunger strike. She is standing in solidarity with her father, Kifah Hattab who is 3 weeks into his hunger strike in an Israeli prison. Kifah is just one of a number who have chosen to go on hunger strike in recent months in protest of Israel’s continued use of administrative detention.
Hallah Hattab is a beautiful 20 something year old that oozes intelligence and holds herself with a confidence which conceals her age. She has joined others today outside of the International Red Cross in Tulkarm to protest about the conditions that Palestinian prisoners are being held under. Specifically they are looking to highlight Israel’s on-going use of administrative detention. As the Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem states, “according to international law, administrative detention can be used only in the most exceptional cases, as the last means available for preventing danger that cannot be stopped by less harmful means. Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates these restrictions”.
Both men and women gather on the pavement outside of the International Red Cross building sitting on plastic chairs in large circles. Each person holds a photo or a poster of a loved one who is languishing in an Israeli jail. Each of those attending the protest hold their own story of how someone close to them, a son, a brother or a father have been taken away from them. For Hallah it is her father.
I catch Hallah in between interviews with various local, national and international news agencies and ask her how she is feeling. She has the answer to this question down to a fine art, “I am trying to keep my spirits up, I know what I am feeling is nothing compared to what my father is experiencing, but it is still hard”. Her hazelnut eyes blink at the end of her sentence and then fix themselves on me, attentive and focused on the interview at hand.
After a few seconds silence I ask Hallah how long she will be willing to carry on her hunger strike for and she responds saying that she will continue for “as long as it takes…I want to support my father”. She says these words with real determination. I wonder how far she will be pushed. Khader Adnan recently went on hunger strike for 66 days and very nearly paid the ultimate price. The undertaking that Hallah has taken on is no small one. I am eager to find out what fuels this fire inside of her but we are interrupted at this moment by someone introducing Hallah’s mother.
Her mother stands with us and insists (in perfect English) that she does not speak very good English. I wonder whether she is just comparing herself to the English that flows from her daughter. Unlike her daughter she looks tired, both physically as well as mentally exhausted. She may not be on her hunger strike but you can see that the situation is taking its toll on her. When I ask her if she is worried about her daughter however her face lights and up she says that she feels ‘nothing but pride’. I half turn back to Hallah to ask about her studies at university and I catch her mother’s proud smile in the corner of my eye.
Frustratingly Hallah is whisked away as some other news agency is wanting to speak to her. I watch on as she gives another interview in another language. I look at her in admiration. I marvel at all she is doing with no father to support her, no food to sustain her and an unknown future to look to. I wonder if I would be able to do what she is doing and I think back to my pathetic failed attempt to fast for one school day.
On the walk back to the house where I am staying I talk to other EAs about Hallah. One colleague rationalises all that she is doing with the simple comment, “it is just her way of coping”.