Palestinian prisoners reportedly agree to end hunger strike

Just after midnight on May 15 (the day Palestinians mark the Nakba, or catastrophe), a deal has reportedly been struck to end the hunger strike, which for Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Thiab had reached its 77th day.

Below is the Electronic Intifada’s Linah Alsaafin’s blog on how she heard about the deal from Thaer Halahleh’s family.

EI’s Ali Abunimah also blogs about the deal here, offering the warning, “Media reports of an overall deal, which have cited almost exclusively Israeli and Palestinian Authority sources, should be treated with caution and are difficult to independently verify as Israel severely restricts the access of media, lawyers and family members to prisoners.”

You can also read about the deal via Al Jazeera English, Ma’an News Agency, Huffington Post, Haaretz, and the New York Times.

What Thaer Halahleh’s family told me about his release brings joy, but raises troubling questions

At around 1:30am Palestine local time I was lying on my side in my bed trying to sleep and doing my best to ignore the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach as I thought about how the 64th commemoration of Nakba Day would pan out.

My phone suddenly vibrated jarringly. I grabbed it and the name of the last person I expected to call me was flashing on the screen: Abu Thaer Halahleh, the father of Palestinian hunger striker Thaer Halahleh. I immediately answered.

What I learned in the conversation was a cause for both joy, and serious concern about a pattern of pressure to isolate prisoners and coerce them into accepting deals.

“Hello?”

“Hello…is this Um Muhammad?”

“No, this is her daughter. Is that Fathiya?”

“Yes, it’s me, Thaer’s sister.”

My heart stopped. I thought she had called to tell me Thaer had died. She cleared her throat. “I just want to tell you…I’m happy to tell you that Thaer has taken the decision to end his hunger strike in the morning.”

My heart swelled. “Tell me more!” I almost shouted.

“He will be released on 5 June after Israel signed a contract promising not to renew his detention… during that time he will receive medical aid to help his recuperation.” Fathiya was bubbling with happiness.

“What about Bilal Thiab and the other hunger strikers?”

“I’m not sure yet about Bilal…Thaer called my family in Kharas at around 12:45 am to inform them of the news. People in Kharas fired their guns in the air at 1 am when they heard the news. The mosques’ loudspeakers carried the call of ‘Allahu Akbar’ at that time too. My family immediately called my father to tell him the news but he didn’t believe him. Thaer was allowed to make another call to my house, and we almost didn’t pick up because it was a private number…anyway, talk to my father.”

“Uncle! This is fantastic news!” I said to Abu Thaer.

“Yes, my daughter, thank God. You heard he was to be released on 5 June?”

“Yes…tell me, how did he sound on the phone? What was it like talking to him again after two years?”

“His spirits are high, and his voice…well you know, it’s a good thing he can even talk after 77 days on hunger strike. But one thing he said struck me hard. He told me that if I wasn’t satisfied with his decision he was ready to continue his hunger strike.”

I asked him if he knew more information. He told me that all administrative detainees signed a deal with the Israeli Prison Service (brokered by an Egyptian mediator) to end their hunger strike in return for getting released once their detention was up, with Israel promising not to renew their detention.

“This means that Bilal Thiab will be released in August, because that’s when his administrative detention ends,” Thaer’s dad said.

Bilal was arrested on 17 August 2011.

“I don’t know if Bilal will be released on August 17 or not,” continued Thaer’s dad. “You know how it is with the occupation. They will find any excuse to postpone the release of a prisoner even by a few days. Thaer’s administrative detention ends on May 27 but he is getting released a week later.”

Deal raises new questions over role of Jawad Boulos and pressure on hunger strikers

The deal was struck after midnight, in the Ramle prison hospital. It is not known for sure whether Thaer and Bilal’s lawyer, Jamil Khatib was present, but Jawad Boulos, the lawyer who conducted the deals for Khader Adnan and the even murkier one with Hana al-Shalabi was there.

Israel has consistently denied prisoners access to their lawyers of choice, so there is special reason to be concerned when Israel allows lawyers who do not represent the prisoners into the room.

On 14 May, Maan News Agency reported that Issa Qaraqe, a Palestinian Authority minister, had told media that Boulos had been dispatched to Ramle Prison to speak to Thaer Halahleh and fellow long-term hunger striker Bilal Diab.

The Egyptian mediator, the Higher Committee for prisoners, and the Israel Prison Service officials were also there.

Boulos was the key figure in the deal which ended up with Hana al-Shalabi being banished to Gaza for three years on 1 April in exchange for releasing her from administrative detention.

Boulos and Palestinian Authority officials claimed that this was al-Shalabi’s “choice,” but this was challenged by Hana’s father and by Hana herself in an interview with The Electronic Intifada:

In her comments to The Electronic Intifada, al-Shalabi demanded that her lawyer [Boulos] clarify to her and to the public the controversial circumstances surrounding the deal to send her to Gaza.

Al-Shalabi’s account casts doubt on the claims that it was her “choice” and confirm that she may have received misleading information in order to induce her to accept the deal.

Is there a pattern here? It does look like Israel and those working with it to end the strike are creating conditions where prisoners are isolated from family, their own legal representation and independent medical personnel and then a “good cop” lawyer of Israel’s and the Palestinian Authority’s choice is brought in to pressure them to accept a deal.

This has now become a pattern with Boulos and there must be clarity and accountability.

A deal, but is it a victory?

Thaer’s father was speaking to me outside on a street, waiting for a taxi to take him back home to Kharas in Hebron. He hadn’t slept for three days.

“You better prepare the mansaf,” I joked.

“Of course. I’ll be waiting for you and your mother to come down to Kharas,” he laughed.

The fact that Thaer and Bilal and the other six hunger strikers in their second or third month without food will survive is a cause for great happiness. Yet this deal doesn’t seem like a victory.

Thaer and Bilal have vowed over and over again that they will not end their fast until immediate freedom or martyrdom, and with the involvement of Jawad Boulos in the arrangement similar to that of Khader Adnan’s, there seems to be more to it than meets the eye.

Palestinian hunger striker told he ‘could die any moment’

Below is the Electronic Intifada‘s latest update (May 10) on the mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. To support the hunger strikers, you can:

Thaer Halahleh has been told he “could die any moment,” by an Israeli prison doctor, as the gravely ill Palestinian who is held without charge or trial by Israel, completed his 73rd day of hunger strike.

Meanwhile, there have been continued solidarity protests in Palestine against international neglect of the estimated 2,000 Palestinian hunger strikers, and new expressions of solidarity.

Halahleh recounted the warning he was given to a lawyer from Addameer who was allowed to visit Halahleh and three other hunger strikers at Ramle prison clinic.

According to an Addameer statement today (full text below), Thaer “now weighs 55 kg. He has exceedingly low blood pressure and his temperature is fluctuating at dangerous levels. In addition to vomiting blood, Thaer is also bleeding from his gums and lips.”

Despite his dire physical condition, Halahleh is mentally “still strong” according to Addameer’s lawyer.

Halahleh is still being denied family visits by Israeli authorities, and by keeping him in Ramle prison clinic instead of transferring him to hospital, Israel continues to deny him medically necessary treatment.

Physicians for Human Rights – Israel issued another urgent call on 9 May to Israeli authorities to end such medical malpractices and transfer long-term hunger strikers to hospital.

Warning about long-term hunger strikers

Three other hunger strikers held at Ramle, Mohammad Taj (54 days), Jaafar Azzedine (50 days) and Nidal Shehadeh (24 days) are suffering physically and being kept in “isolated rooms,” according to Addameer.

Addameer also reiterated its urgent concern for the lives of Bilal Diab (73 days), Hassan Safadi (67 days) and Omar Abu Shalal (65 days) whose critical conditions are being “blatantly disregarded by Israel and the prison authorities.”

Protests at ICRC inaction

Families of prisoners and other protestors today blocked the entrance of the International Red Crescent (ICRC) in al-Bireh near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank today to protest the perceived inaction of the organization. Ma’an News Agency reported:

Family members prevented employees from entering the building, calling on the UN to intervene to protect hunger strikers, a Ma’an correspondent said.

Protesters said they opposed the negative role which the Red Crescent plays in relation to the issue of prisoners and called on international organizations to stop Israeli violations against Palestinian detainees.

Yesterday, protesters blockaded the entrance of the UN offices in Ramallah, prompting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to issue a statement urging Israel to avert “any further deterioration in the condition of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody who are on hunger strike,” and that those held without charge “must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay.”

70-day Irish hunger striker Lawrence McKeown sends message to Thaer and Bilal

In 1981, Laurence McKeown took part in the Irish Hunger Strike that was led by Bobby Sands. McKeown endured 70 days without food before ending his fast. He sent this video message to Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab.

Full text of Addameer statement

Update: Situation of Long-Term Hunger Strikers Becomes Increasingly Urgent

Ramallah, 10 May 2012 – Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf visited four hunger strikers in Ramleh prison medical clinic today, including Thaer Halahleh, now on his 73rd day of hunger strike. According to Ms. Neddaf, Thaer’s condition continues to deteriorate. The prison doctor has said to Thaer that he could die at any moment. Thaer has lost significant weight, and now weighs 55 kg. He has exceedingly low blood pressure and his temperature is fluctuating at dangerous levels. In addition to vomiting blood, Thaer is also bleeding from his gums and lips. The prison doctor also told him that he now has an infection in part of his body. Thaer is drinking water, but not taking any vitamins or minerals. Though he is very weak, Ms. Neddaf reported that mentally he is still strong. Thaer was supposed to receive a visit from his family today, but the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) cancelled the visit yesterday.

The health of Mohammad Taj, now on his 54th day of hunger strike, is also at a dangerous level. In addition, Jaafar Azzedine, on his 50th day of hunger strike, reported that he had stopped drinking water for a short period but has started to drink again, with minerals and vitamins. Nidal Shehadeh, who began his hunger strike on 17 April as part of the mass hunger strike, was moved back from a public hospital to Ramleh prison two days prior. He is on hunger strike in protest of receiving inadequate medical treatment while in prison.

Ms. Neddaf noted that all the prisoners on hunger strike in Ramleh prison are in isolated rooms. She further reported that they continue to be threatened by the IPS. Even at this stage of hunger strike, they have been told that if they do not stand for the “daily count”, they will not be permitted lawyer visits.

Addameer fears for the lives of Thaer, Bilal Diab, also on his 73rd day of hunger strike, Hassan Safadi, who is now on his 67th day of hunger strike, Omar Abu Shalal, who is now on his 65th day of hunger strike, and all the other prisoners on hunger strike whose critical conditions are being blatantly disregarded by Israel and the prison authorities. Addameer reiterates its call for immediate action on behalf of the hunger strikers.