Thaer Halahleh: Making His Own Palestinian Destiny
Thaer Halahleh narrowly skirted death when Israel agreed to a deal that ended his 78-day hunger strike, returning home on Tuesday night after languishing behind Israeli bars without charge for over two years.
“I had been in detention for 25 months, and in solitary confinement for 78 days, which is the hunger strike period,” Halahleh, his speech frail after the ordeal, told Al-Akhbar.
There was concern Israel would renege on its promise – as it has so often done in 64 years of its occupation of Palestine – and renew Halahleh's detention once again.
“I threatened the authorities with going on a silent hunger strike in case they didn't release me,” he said.
Israel has already renewed dozens of administrative detention sentences despite having made a deal with 2,000 Palestinian hunger strikers, pledging their release at the end of their current terms.
The Jewish state has also maintained a prohibition on family visits to a number of detainees, again in violation of the deal.
Halahleh's hunger strike has left him weak and thin, but is on the road to recovery.
“I am at al-Khalil hospital and staying there to take the necessary tests. Although I still feel pain when I eat sometimes, I am getting better,” he said.
Thaer, whose name means “rebel”, expressed deep joy at seeing his family, including his two-year-old daughter, Lamar, whom he barely knows thanks to Israel's stringent restrictions on family visits.
“I want to spend time with my only daughter who still doesn't know me and refused to acknowledge my presence until now,” he said bitterly, demonstrating deep resentment at the Israeli occupiers that robbed him of two years of his daughter's life.
But despite winning his own freedom, Halahleh could not contain the sadness at the thought of the many friends he left behind.
“I am overwhelmed with happiness and I am so glad to see my family again with their warm welcome. At the same time, I feel sad to have left my fellow detained brothers who hold the same mission,” he said.
Israel's draconian administrative detention policy dates back to the British mandate era of historic Palestine.
The policy enables Israel to detain Palestinians indefinitely without charge, and without disclosing the evidence supposedly gathered against them.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have slammed the policy as a violation of international humanitarian law.
Hundreds of Palestinians languish in Israeli prisons under the policy, which is just one of the many injustices Palestinian people suffer from under Israeli rule.
Halahleh described the inhumane conditions of the Israeli prison.
“The conditions in the jail were extremely harsh. They aren't fit for a human to live in. I was under the grip of the [Israeli] occupation which has all the means to provoke and pressure me.”
Halahleh has spent much of the past 15 years behind Israeli bars. The first time the 33-year-old was arrested by the Israeli occupation army was just before his senior year in high school.
Due to his frequent arrests and time spent in prison, Halahleh only managed to study for one year at Hebron University. He later managed to open a used furniture store.
He expressed hope in returning to his studies and continuing his furniture store business.
“I still haven't graduated from university. I think I will pursue my Quran and Islamic Sharia studies which I had started before I was detained. I will also handle the management of the furniture store I own,” he said.
Halahleh wrote the following to his daughter on the final days of his hunger strike, concerned that his non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation would take his life.
The letter describes the pain that Palestinian people must endure, and the misery Israel is bent on imposing upon them. But in Halahleh's case, his strength won him his freedom.