As winter temperatures rose slowly to above +10 degrees Celsius in Palestine, 33-year-old journalist and father-of-two, Mohammed Al-Qeeq, entered the 77th day of a hunger strike. Captured at night by Israeli forces from his Ramallah home in November 2015, he has reported being tortured during interrogations, denied a lawyer, and transferred to an isolation cell. By this time he had begun the hunger strike, refusing even routine supplements such as salt; after being issued with a six-month ‘administrative detention’ order (ie imprisonment without charge on secret evidence lawyers are not allowed to see) while in solitary confinement, Al-Qeeq continued his hunger strike, this time for freedom. Today, 77 days later, he has lost the ability to speak and can only communicate in writing, on those moments when his consciousness returns; he has also, reportedly, lost the ability to see. His general health condition is described as ‘on the verge of death’.
As Palestine is awaiting for the spring to come and the rains to hold back, Mohammed Al-Qeeq recently rejected an offer from Israeli courts to free him on 1 May, in three months’ time. Instead, he demands his immediate release and guarantees to be treated in a Palestinian hospital (currently he is being held in HaEmek hospital in the Israeli town of Afula). For Al-Qeeq, it is now ‘martyrdom or freedom’.
Solidarity protests demanding freedom for the journalist have been organized in Gaza, New York, Berlin and many other cities, in Palestine and abroad; other Palestinians held captive in Israeli jails have also refused meals in solidarity with Al-Qeeq.
As rain poured and then drizzled from Ramallah skies, stopping for a while only to continue with more force, a wooden fire was warming the temporary inhabitants of a solidarity tent in Ramallah’s central Arafat Square. Here stayed overnight, among other activists, the baker and community leader from Jenin city, Khader Adnan, who has completed two long-term hunger strikes that eventually got him his freedom from Israeli occupation prisons. In 2012, Adnan refused food for 66 days; in 2015, his hunger strike against his illegal detention by Israel lasted for 56 days, until a deal was reached that he would be released.
Speaking from the Ramallah tent following a one-day solidarity hunger strike, Adnan called on the free people of the world to support Al-Qeeq’s struggle for dignity and freedom, as well as that of the around 600 other Palestinians imprisoned indefinitely without charge, and the more than 6,000 Palestinian people currently held in Israeli prisons. Adnan also expressed hopes for unity among the Palestinian society, its political factions and its prisoners across the political spectrum. ‘The prisoners’ movement and hunger strikes in particular are a symbol of the principle and demand for justice in Palestine. It proves that of course it is both possible and necessary to break the Israeli occupation,’ Adnan told the press after his victory in July 2015. ‘The prisoners, with strong will, are able to hold onto their rights. It is a symbol to show you what is possible.’
This same morning a group of youth occupied, for one hour, the headquarters of the Red Cross in Ramallah ‘in protest of the questioned silence of international organizations, especially the Red Cross, that grants Israel an international cover to execute journalist Mohammad al-Qeeq’. The youth demanded that the Red Cross visit Al-Qeeq in hospital and contact foreign embassies to deliver his ‘true message’ that he ‘wants nothing but his freedom’. Their communique goes on to say that the Red Cross is ‘a humanitarian organization that should be able to stand up against injustice and crimes’. So far there has been silence.
Yet little help is expected from the Ramallah Red Cross office, according to a local activist. ‘[Red Cross headquarters in] Geneva and New York are those that can make a difference,’ she said as a dozen mothers gathered at the blocked entrance to apply for prison visit permits. The Red Cross in Palestine is responsible for negotiating visiting permits for families of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. According to its statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross aims to ‘secure humane treatment and conditions of detention for all detainees, regardless of the reasons for their arrest and detention’ as well as ‘prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment’.
For Khader Adnan and dozens of other Palestinian long-term hunger strikers it was not, in the end, the Red Cross that won their freedom. It was themselves – with the support of people around the world.
US-based Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network has a list of actions people can take for Mohammed Al-Qeeq and all Palestinians imprisoned by Israel without charge.