Empty Stomach Warriors (IV): Thaer Halahleh All in The Name

Protesters hold posters depicting Palestinian hunger strikers Thaer Halahla and Bilal Thiab who are in administrative detention during a protest outside Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem on 3 May 2012. (Photo: AFP - Gali Tibbon)

By: Linah Alsaafin

Published Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Monday May 7, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeals for the release of Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Thiab, who are imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial. The men are on their 70th day of hunger strike.

Thaer’s father came to Ramallah from Hebron, and sat in the prisoners’ solidarity tent at Clock Square with a photo of his son hanging from his neck. His daughter Fathiya sat by his side, the gravity of her brother’s bleak situation apparent on her face.

The Halahleh family found out about the court’s appeal rejection through the media, before the lawyer Jamal Khatib had time to properly inform them. Thaer’s wife Shireen had a nervous breakdown and had to be taken immediately to hospital. The family home was filled with visitors once the news was heard, but there was a conscious decision not to tell Thaer’s mother the truth because of her frail health. “We are here to wait for Thaer’s release,” was what they told her.

“The court’s decision was expected,” Thaer’s father said. “It was expected from the [Israeli] occupation. They told the media first so we could find out the hard way, which just proves that this wicked occupation is determined to make us suffer.”

The first time 33 year old Thaer was arrested by the Israeli occupation army was just before his senior year in high school. He was held for three months on administrative detention, again not being charged with anything. In 1999, he was arrested again and sentenced for two years for belonging to the Islamic Jihad group. Because of his frequent arrests and time spent in prison, Thaer only managed to study for one year at Hebron University. Later on he managed to open a used furniture store.

According to Fathiya, Thaer spent a total of ten years in Israeli prisons, the majority being under administrative detention. He was arrested two weeks after his wedding and held for a year and a half. Five months after his release, Thaer was arrested again, with his wife heavily pregnant.

On 14 June 2010 just after midnight, around 30 Israeli occupation soldiers surrounded the Halahleh family home before charging in with three police dogs. The children were woken up and were terrified by the police dogs, which the soldiers kept bringing close to them. The Israeli military commander of the Hebron governate was present and told Thaer as they arrested him that as long as he was Hebron’s military commander, Thaer will always be in prison.

Thaer immediately received a six month administrative detention order, which has been renewed several times.

A month later on July 19, Thaer became a father to baby Lamar but only got to meet her months later on October 9, the first visit allowed him since his last arrest and the only time his family were able to see him. Lamar is almost 2 years old now, and knows her father through pictures. She goes to sleep with a photo of her father tucked beneath her cheek. She is convinced that there is a wedding every day because of the solidarity tent set up outside the family home in the Hebron village of Kharaas. Her mother Shireen cries privately when Lamar insists on wearing a new dress every day.

Thaer’s older brother Shaher was sentenced to seventeen years in Israeli prison, and has spent ten years and two months so far. When Thaer was arrested in 2010, he was transferred from Ofer prison in Ramallah to Eshel prison in Bir Sabe’, then to the Naqab prison, where Shaher is held. They were absolutely forbidden from seeing each other by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), even for a brief visit. Recently the IPS wanted Shaher to pressure Thaer into ending his hunger strike, and as a response Shaher began his hunger strike on April 16 in solidarity with his brother. Thaer was placed in solitary confinement many times for leading the Friday prayers sermons, which the IPS consider as “incitement” and for his solidarity strikes with Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi.

“Ever since his childhood, Thaer was always attached to the Palestinian cause,” his father recalled. “When he was in fifth grade he wrote a great essay on why he loves Palestine. That stems from what this family has been through under occupation.”

Thaer in Arabic means “Rebel.” His grandfather was imprisoned by Israel after the 1967 war, and Thaer’s father was also arrested numerous times.

“I was arrested in the first intifada and was imprisoned when the prisoners Bassam Samouri and Asad Shawa died after the hunger strike in 1988,” Thaer’s father said. “I was arrested again during the second intifada and held for two years under administrative detention.”

Thaer was very close to his father. “I can’t find the right words to describe my feelings about my son…he’s the most like me both in image and personality. He loved to give to people, he’s a unique person. He was like a candle unto those around him. He loves life, and he made that clear in his court hearing on May 3rd.”

In fact, Thaer’s exact words were “I am a man who loves life, and I want to live in dignity. No human can accept being in jail for even one hour without any charge or reason.”

Thaer’s father now says, “I ask all the prisoners, especially administrative detainees, to share in this current mass hunger strike on its 21st day, not just for my son but for the seven other hunger strikers who have entered their third month without food.”

“The UN does not care about the Palestinian prisoners or Palestine. The UN are a failure. They are weak and allow Israel to behave with impunity,” he added.

“My son Thaer has a very strong and unyielding character,” his father continued. “I expected him to maintain his hunger strike past seventy days from the moment he started it. I know my son. He has vowed to hunger strike until freedom or martyrdom. I say to the occupation, if you kill Thaer or Bilal, a million more Thaer and Bilal will rise up!” He paused. “We used to write poetry together,” he shared. “I always repeat this verse in my mind.”

If my love for Palestine is a crime
Let the world be witness to the fact that we are criminals
We will make the rock understand if the people do not
And if the people rise up we will be victorious

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