Empty Stomach Warriors (I): Hasan al-Safadi Time and Time Again

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Palestinian women shout slogans during a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails in Gaza City on 25 April 2012. (Photo: AFP - Mohammed Abed)

By: Linah Alsaafin

Published Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On Wednesday April 25, 33-year-old Hasan al-Safadi entered the 52nd day of his hunger strike in protest of not just administrative detention (a form of internment where a prisoner is held indefinitely without ever knowing the charges against him or her), but the Israeli occupation’s policy of imprisonment in general.

Safadi was arrested for the seventh time by Israel on 29 June 2011. He spent 60 days under interrogation, and was only allowed to meet with his lawyer Mohammad al-Abed for the first time after 30 days.

Safadi was in Megiddo prison when he began his hunger strike, which the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) responded to by transferring him to Gilboa prison.

Prisoners who are transferred from one prison to another suffer immensely due to the harsh conditions they travel under, which include having their hands and feet shackled inside a metal ridged vehicle. The process of transfers, referred to as bosta, turns a two-hour trip into a torturous journey that could take up to three days.

After refusing to eat or drink water for five days in Gilboa, Safadi was taken back to Megiddo. After it became clear that he would not end his hunger strike, he was placed in solitary confinement in Jalameh prison. Ten days later, Safadi’s health deteriorated rapidly, and he was taken to the Ramleh prison hospital where he has remained since.

Safadi is no stranger to spending time in Israeli prisons. He was first arrested when he was just 16 years old, in 1994. From 2007 to 2010, he became the longest administrative detainee in Israeli prison, with his detainment renewed every six months over and over again.

After his release, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority for 48 days and spent the next five months being summoned for interrogation regularly. Prior to his arrest by Israel in 2007, he had spent 43 months in prison. In total, Safadi spent 10 years as an administrative detainee in Israeli prisons, without ever once being sentenced or charged officially.

In the living room of his family’s house in the old city of Nablus, photographs of Safadi taken over the years cover the coffee table. Framed pictures of his oldest brother Farid, who was killed in 1996 in the Battle of the Tunnel near Joseph’s tomb, and of his sister Nelli, imprisoned for 18 months back in 2010, adorn the walls. Nelli was finally able to travel to the Gaza Strip to be reunited with her husband Obadah Saeed Hakam, also an ex-prisoner, who was freed in the October Hamas-Israel prisoners’ deal but exiled to Gaza.

The day before Israeli forces came to arrest Safadi, his mother recalls, was a good one. She had gone to see a bride for Safadi, and was planning on going back again with Safadi.

Instead, later that night the Safadi family was rudely awakened by an explosion that blew the front door off its hinges at 2am. Suddenly the house was teeming with soldiers, with more coming down from the roof. They took Safadi and as his mother began crying out and screaming at the soldiers, they beat him up on the way to taking him to the jeep.

Safadi had studied maintenance but could barely keep a stable job, due to his frequent summoning for interrogations by the Palestinian Authority and Israel, which sometimes lasted for days on end.

He is adamant that he will not break his hunger strike unless he attains freedom and rejects the notion of exile unequivocally.

His sister Najiyeh, whose four young sons are all wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their uncle’s face, elaborates more. “The Israeli authorities have presented Safadi with the chance to go into exile as opposed to the continuous arrests and harassment he faces from them since 2004,” she said. “They offered him exile again in 2007, and the Israeli intelligence officer’s exact words were, ‘It’s better for you to go to a different country instead of rotting here in Palestine.’”

Safadi’s detainment was extended by another six months on December 2011. None of Safadi’s family members have seen him since last June, or were allowed the courtesy of speaking to him by phone. Safadi has reportedly lost 20kg so far.

Safadi’s mother shook her head slowly. “I support his hunger strike,” she said, “but it’s extremely difficult watching your own son dying.”

Despite her age, Safadi’s mother went on hunger strike for 15 days in solidarity with her son. She almost collapsed, and had to be taken to the hospital where she was forced to end her strike.

“I don’t want Hasan to know of my hunger strike,” she said speaking softly. “I don’t want him to worry about me. One of my grandchildren wanted to write on his Facebook about my hunger strike but I forbade him from doing so.”

She added, “He’s a compassionate person. Quick tempered, but the most loving of my 11 children. Safadi has told me time and time again, in and out of prison, that he gets his strength from me. If he sees my crying on TV for example, he tells me it’s like I’ve placed him inside another prison.”


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