Hana Shalabi: Palestinian non-violence and global indifference




No sooner had Khader Adnan ended his life-threatening 66-day hunger strike than new urgent concerns were voiced for Hana Shalabi, another West Bank hunger striker now without food for more than 33 days. Both strikes were directed against the abusive use of administrative detention by Israeli occupying military forces, protesting both the practice of internment without charges or trial and the degrading and physically harsh treatment administered during the arrest, interrogation, and detention process.

The case of Hana Shalabi should move even the hard-hearted. She seems a young, tender and normal woman who is a member of Islamic Jihad but is dedicated to her family, hopes for marriage, and simple pleasures of shopping.

She had previously been held in administrative detention at the HaSharon prison in Israel for a 30 month period between 2009 and 2011, being released in the prisoner exchange that freed 1,027 Palestinians and the lone Israeli soldier captive, Corporal Gilad Shalit. Since her release, she has been trying to recover from the deep sense of estrangement she experienced in prison, and has rarely left her home or the company of her family. As she was returning to normality, she was re-arrested in an abusive manner, which allegedly included a strip-search by a male soldier.

Beginnings of a strike

On February 16, 2012, the day her administrative detention was renewed, Hana indicated her resolve to start a hunger strike to protest her own treatment and to demand an end to the practice of administrative detention – under which people are arrested and imprisoned without charge. A practice now relied upon by Israel to hold at least 309 Palestinians in prison.

Hana’s parents have been denied visitation rights, she has been placed in solitary confinement, and her health has deteriorated to the point of concern for her life. According to her lawyer, Raed Mahameed, Hana Shalabi was examined by a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights and the doctor said that «she suffers from a low heartbeat rate, low blood sugar, loss of weight, weakness in muscles, yellowing of the eyes and high levels of salt in the blood which [has] affected her kidneys, causing her pain in her sides, especially the left side, as well as pain in chest bones.»

Physicians for Human Rights said that Shalabi cannot sleep because of pain; she also suffers dizziness and blurred and occasional loss of vision. Ms Shalabi told Mahameed that she took salt last week, but refused to take any more and is living on two litres of water a day.

Impressively, her parents have committed themselves to a hunger strike for as long as their daughter remains under administrative detention. Her mother, Badia Shalabi, has said that even to see food makes her cry – considering the suffering of her daughter. Her father has likewise made a global appeal to save the life of his child.

Despite frequent mentoring to Palestinians by liberals in the West to rely on nonviolent tactics of resistance, these extraordinary hunger strikes (Palestinian human rights group Adameer recently tweeted that it was aware of 24 such hunger strikers) have been met with silence or indifference in both Israel and the West.

Israeli authorities crudely declare that undertaking a hunger strike is a voluntary action for which they take no responsibility, and that the striker alone is responsible if any harm results. There is also not a hint that Palestinian grievances about administrative detention will even be considered, much less acted upon. Such hard-heartedness in the face of such sacrificial bravery is a sure sign that Israel is not ready for a sustainable and just peace with Palestinians.

The UN also disappoints those who believe in its ideals. It has not raised its voice even to take notice of Hana Shalabi’s plight or of Israel’s accountability. I share the view of Khitam Saafin, Chairwoman of The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees: «The UN must be responsible for the whole of violations that are going on against our people. These prisoners are war prisoners, not security prisoners, not criminals. They are freedom fighters for their rights.»

The sad yet noble situation of Hana Shalabi is also well expressed by Yael Maron, a spokesperson for the NGO, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel: «The story of Hana Shalabi, like that of Khader Adnan before, is, in my opinion, a remarkable example of a struggle that’s completely nonviolent towards one’s surroundings. It is the last protest a prisoner can make, and I find it brave and inspiring.»

Spiritual collapse

To engage in an open-ended hunger strike, especially for a person who is not in a leadership role, requires a deep and abiding dedication to right a perceived wrong of the greatest gravity. It is physically painful and dangerous to bodily health, as well as being psychologically demanding in the extreme. It presupposes the strongest of wills, and usually arises, as in these instances, from a sense that any lesser form of resistance has proved futile, exhibiting a long record of failure. In the end, this unconditional hunger strike is an appeal to the conscience and humanity of the other, and a desperate call to all of us, to understand better the cartography of abuse that abusive imprisonment entails – which can only be pervasively humiliating for a religiously oriented young Islamic woman. To risk life and health in this way without harming or even threatening the oppressor is to turn terrorism against the innocent on its head. It is potentially to sacrifice one’s life to make an appeal of last resort, an appeal that transcends normal law and politics, and demands our response.

We can only fervently hope and pray that Hana Shalabi’s heroic path of resistance will end with her release and the complete restoration of her health. For Israel’s own moral well-being, it is time – really, long past time – to renounce reliance on administrative detention and, to do more than this, to end forthwith its varied crimes of occupation. At this point the only possible way to do this is to withdraw unconditionally behind the 1967 borders, and to start peace negotiations from such an altered position of acknowledged wrongdoing without asking or expecting any reciprocal gesture from the Palestinian side. In the present atmosphere, it is politically unimaginable that Israeli leaders will heed such a call, but it is morally unimaginable that Israel will survive its impending spiritual collapse if it does not quickly learn to do so.

In the meantime, we who are beyond these zones of occupation, abuse, and imprisonment, must do more than stand and watch as this tragic drama plays itself out. We need to do all we can to strengthen the demands of Khader Adnan, Hana Shalabi – and all who act in solidarity with them – for the immediate release of all Palestinians currently held in administrative detention, for an end to detention without charge, and to abusive arrests in the middle of the night.

Alresalah Press – Hana Shalabi: Palestinian non-violence and global in.

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