Tag Archives: hunger strike

Samer al-Barq – risking death in search of life

“We are not in search of death; we are looking for real life”

These are the words of the hunger strikers’ declaration broadcast over loudspeakers at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Today these words strike a sad pertinence.

As I write this article Samer al-Barq remains on hunger strike. He has not eaten now since 22nd May. 87 days have now passed. To put this into context, Mahatma Gandhi’s longest hunger strike lasted 21 days.  By 21 days most people on hunger strike will have loss the sensation of thirst, find standing difficult or impossible and have a sensation of being always cold.

Samer has been on hunger strikes four times longer than that.

From 45 days onwards death becomes a very real possibility from cardiovascular collapse.  Samer has been living with the possibility of death now for over a month.

According his lawyer, not only has Samer not received the medical care he requires he has also faced beatings. Amnesty International reported that his lawyer said that “guards have beaten and verbally abused [Samer]”.

Amnesty International has called on the Israeli authorities to “investigate allegations that Samer al-Barq has been ill-treated while in detention and ensure he is treated humanely, and not punished in any way for his hunger strike”.

Samer remains imprisoned under ‘administrative detention’ which is the “detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree”. In other words, it is being held with charge or trial. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem considers Israel’s on-going use of administrative detention a violation of International Humanitarian Law as it is only justified in use in the “most exceptional circumstances”.

Israel is currently holding 250 Palestinians under administrative detention.

Samer’s hunger strike was avoidable. In May, Samer stopped his 50 day hunger strike along with 2,000 other hunger strikers after an Egyptian brokered agreement. He resumed his hunger strike a week later however when his detention without trial was extended for a further three months.

Samer is not looking to die, but he is willing to risk death in search of real life with real freedoms. As an occupying power in Palestine, Israel dictates whether or not he and his countrymen can have these freedoms.

Israel must end its use of administrative detention.

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UPDATE: Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak ‘losing consciousness’ 73 days into hunger strike

Twenty five year old Palestinian footballer, Mahmoud Sarsak is reported to be ‘losing consciousness’ seventy three days into a hunger strike as his health continues to decline.

Sarsak is protesting against his three year detention without trial. He is currently being held under Israel’s ‘Unlawful Combatant Law’.  This law allows the Israeli state to hold him for an indefinite period of time without trial. Sarsak reportedly has not been told why he is imprisoned.

On 16th April 2012 Sarsak was transferred to Ramleh prison hospital as a result of his deteriorating health. Today, seventy three days into his hunger strike his lawyer has described him ‘losing consciousness’ regularly.

Please take urgent action on this case.

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No father, no food and an unknown future

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”.


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Administrative detention on the West Bank

This article was written by my colleague Bjoern Gunnar and was originally published in Norwegian and English on his blog.

By invitation from the Qalqiliya branch of Prisoners’ Club, the EAPPI team at Jayyus attended the demonstration against the administrative detention of Khader Adnan who has been detained since 18 December. Adnan is now on his 64th day of hunger strike and has lost a third of his body weight. According to Al Jazeera, the 33 year old baker was arrested in his home in the middle of the night and ‘sentenced’ to four months of administrative detention,  “World leaders have expressed growing concern over the fate of the prisoner, who is being held without charge under a procedure known as “administrative detention”. There are currently more than 300 Palestinians being held in administrative detention by Israel, without charge or trial, for renewable periods of six months, without any way of defending themselves.”

EAPPI teams do not actively participate in demonstrations, but attend to show sympathy and talk with people. Sometimes we find eloquence without the use of words.

In the small town of Qalqiliya, more than two hundred attended the demo. Not bad!
Mothers and sisters with husbands, sons and brothers in administrative detention; faces showing the destructive effects of the use of illegal imprisonment.
There is beauty to be found on the West Bank. Administrative detention is not among these. The life of Khader Adnan is on the line; a very thin line. Should he die in illegal detention, scenarios including disruptive, violent response are more than probable. Israel’s Supreme Court will hear an appeal for Khader’s release today.

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