x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Detained Palestinian starves for justice

Hana Shalabi is near death, having not eaten in 38 days in protest against the Israeli practice of administrative detention.

Badiya and Yahia Shalabi, the parents of Hana Shalabi, hold posters of their detained daughter following the weekly demonstration in support of their daughters hunger strike in the village of Burq'een.
Badiya and Yahia Shalabi, the parents of Hana Shalabi, hold posters of their detained daughter following the weekly demonstration in support of their daughters hunger strike in the village of Burq'een.

BURQ'EEN, WEST BANK // Walking through crowds of supporters gathered near his family home in this West Bank village yesterday, Yahiya Shalabi was exhausted but determined to support his daughter.

Dark circles sagged beneath his eyes, and he slurred when he spoke. Family and friends stood carefully at his side, fearing the 67-year-old could faint from several days of starving himself.

Yet he vowed to carry on without food in solidarity with Hana, his daughter, who was arrested by Israeli soldiers in February and who doctors say is about to die.

Her hunger strike in Israeli custody is now in its 38th day. It has become a rallying point of protest against Israel's use of a special military procedure known as "administration" which allows it to arrest and hold Palestinians without charge for indefinite periods.

Amnesty International yesterday urged Israel to release the 29-year-old, saying she was "at risk of death." The watchdog said Hana should be immediately released or charged "with a recognisable criminal offence" and promptly put on trial.

While Mr Shalabi said he was proud of his daughter, he also feared her protest might come at great cost.

Hana's health has deteriorated rapidly - a physician who visited her last week said she was on the verge of dying. She has lost 14kg and her pulse is feeble.

"We fear she might die, but that is something we are prepared for," Mr Shalabi said from his home in the village of Burq'een, which yesterday held a rally in support of his daughter. "If she dies a martyr for the Palestinian cause, we will be proud of her."

Hana's arrest and hunger strike have highlighted mounting public frustration against Israel's use of administrative detention. It denies suspects everything from due process to family visits. Over 300 Palestinians are presently estimated to be held in administrative detention.

Palestinians hope Hana's hunger strike will encourage others to protest what they see as Israel's abuses by using non-violent means.

"We're hopeful Hana will teach us to use this new tool - hunger-striking - as a new way to combat Israel by shaming it in the eyes of the world," said Hashem Atiq, 50, a schoolteacher in Burq'een who attended the rally.

Earlier this year, another Palestinian, Khader Adnan, managed a 66-day hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention without charge before brokering a deal with Israel for his release. Israel did not explain why it held Mr Adnan.

Between 2009 and 2011, Hana spent 30 months in administrative detention without charge before her release last year in a prisoner-swap deal between Israel and Hamas. The deal exchanged 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive by the Islamist group.

Ms Shalabi is widely believed to be affiliate with Islamic Jihad, which Israel considers a terrorist organisation. At yesterday's rally at the Shalabi home, her pictures were festooned with the group's black flags, as well as those of other Palestinian factions such as Hamas and Fatah, which runs the West Bank.

But her mother, Bediya, 67, denied that Hana belonged to any faction. Moreover, she said her daughter had never been involved in militant activities

"She spent her time at home with us," she said. "She was preparing to go back to school. She wanted to be a nurse. She was preparing to get married."

But soldiers instead raided the family home on February 16. A week later, Israel issued her an administrative detention for six months.

That prompted Hana to start starving herself. She has consumed only water since then.

On Monday, an independent physician determined Hana was gravely ill after visiting her at the Sharon Prison inside Israel, Physician's for Human Rights, said in a statement.

It said she was in danger of heart failure at "any moment" and called on Israel to move her to a hospital.

Israel's prison service announced it had moved her to Meir Hospital in the northern Israeli town of Kfar Saba. But Israel's Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) called on Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, in a letter sent to his office on Wednesday to either release Hana or provide evidence against her.

"I ask you to act promptly - to stop the shameful practice of unrestrained use of administrative detention against the Palestinian population which is under Israeli military occupation," ACRI's executive director, Hagai El-Ad, wrote in the statement.

Although fearing for her life, Hana's father said he was prepared to stand with his daughter and her refusal to eat until her release - even if that meant risking his own health in the process.

It was for a greater cause, he said.

"Believe me, what my daughter is doing will change things," he said. "It will forever change the way Israel treats Palestinians."

hnaylor@thenational.ae