Hana Shalabi ‘could have been me, or my sister’: Palestinian Canadian student launches solidarity hunger strike with Hana Shalabi

This article by  was published at Mondoweiss on March 22, 2012.

As an Israeli military judge postponed ruling once more on hunger striking Palestinian political prisoner Hana Shalabi’s four-month administrative detention without trial or charge, and she was denied transfer to a hospital despite a severe health crisis in her 35th day of hunger strike, a Palestinian Canadian student has undertaken his own hunger strike to highlight Shalabi’s struggle.

Mohammed Horreya, 20, a third-year student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and the president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at the university, launched his hunger strike on Monday, March 19. He says he was inspired to begin his hunger strike because “Hana’s case has not received the slightest bit of media attention here in Canada. That is devastating to me. To think that if she had been born anywhere else in the world, subject to less than half of the cruel treatment she had to endure, she would have been presented on every big media outlet…it’s disheartening.”

“Hana Shalabi, Khader Adnan, and all other political prisoners who follow in their footsteps represent an Idea. That is, freedom and dignity are more important than anything else,” says Horreya. As a Palestinian Canadian, he points out that, in another situation, “It could easily have been me, or my sister. I sympathize with Hana, and in solidarity with her I chose to go on Hunger Strike to try and reach out to many people here in Toronto; because I know if people actually knew about her, they would genuinely care.”

Shalabi’s case – like that of Khader Adnan before her – has captured the attention of people around the world and filled many blogs and websites, but at the same time, has largely been marginalized in mainstream media. Khader Adnan ended a 66-day hunger strike on February 21, after his own protest of administrative detention without charge or trialsparked international protestssolidarity hunger strikes, and the call to end administrative detention was taken up both by Palestine solidarity activists globally and also by human rights organizations like Amnesty International. Shalabi had been freed after two years in administrative detention in the prisoner exchange of October 2011 only to be re-arrested in February 2012 and once again placed in administrative detention, immediately launching her hunger strike. Despite a reduction of her sentence to four months, she has refused to end the strike, demanding freedom.Hana Shalabi and Khader Adnan are two of 310 Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, and of 4,498 total Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli occupation prisons. “Palestinian prisoners represent our freedom. As Hana’s father said, ‘Hana is not only my daughter, she is the daughter of every Palestinian.’ Khader Adnan, Hana Shalabi, and others like them represent the values of Palestinians and demonstrate just how far we are willing to go to demand our freedom…. More than that, Hana, Khader, and all other political prisoners represent the courage of the Palestinians,” said Mohammad Horreya.

Looking at the situation on his campus and among Canadian students, Horreya noted that “generally speaking, support for Palestine on campus is there but hidden.” Regarding Palestinian political prisoners, he said “I don’t think it’s something that many students even know about. This is one of the reasons I decided to take on the hunger strike… I wear a shirt designed with words of support for Hana, info on her (any my) hunger strike, and twitter hashtags. Automatically people are learning about Hana whether they want to or not…. So I think the more people know about Hana, they will respond to her and all other prisoners’ calls.”

Canadian policy toward Palestine under the Stephen Harper government has become stridently pro-Zionist even beyond its long-term support for Israeli occupation, including Foreign Minister John Baird’s involvement in attempts to oust a Palestinian speaker on Palestinian legislators imprisoned by Israel from the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva this week; Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney’s condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week (condemned by over 70 organizations across the country); Baird’s affirmation of Canada as Israel’s “greatest friend”; and the systematic defunding of Palestine House, the Canadian Arab Federation and Kairos, attempting to silence and bankrupt community organizations and institutions that highlight the Palestinian cause. Kenney’s ministry, in fact, cited Palestine House’s hosting of an event celebrating the release of Palestinian political prisoners (who it labelled “terrorists”) as the reason for the defunding of Palestine House’s separate immigrant resettlement programs.

Horreya pointed out the sharp disconnect between the proclaimed values of the Canadian government and its actions in regard to Palestine. “Canadian policy on Palestine is flawed to say the least,” he said. “We stand for equality, Israel defines itself as a ‘Jewish State,’ it cannot be disputed that Muslim and Christian Arabs living within Israel are subject to less freedom and rights. With various members of parliament condemning Israeli Apartheid Week recently, it is becoming clear that in defending Israel they are taking steps to dissolving Canadian values like freedom of speech. Canadian policy on Palestine and Israel needs a makeover, it is a 64 year long story on an oppressed and an oppressor; the Harper administration clearly has it backwards.”

He placed the imprisonment of Shalabi and her thousands of fellow political prisoners within the context of the struggle for justice, return and liberation for Palestine and the Palestinian people. “The fact that Israel is practicing mass imprisonment proves that the struggle is far from over. Throughout the 64 years of occupation, Israel’s oppression towards the Palestinian people has evolved. It has now reached a point where there is a complete and utter disregard for what the world thinks about it. …After the Nakba, Palestinians stood firm, after the Naksa, Palestinians stood firm, after the first and second Intifada, Palestinians still stood firm. Israel has learned that no matter how many bombs they drop, and how ever many acts of genocide they commit, unless they kill us all Palestinians will not just get off of their land. To me these imprisonments also represent a way to get people out of their homes.”

Protests and demonstrations are continuing around the world as Shalabi’s health situation has grown more dire. Demonstrations are planned in New York and Toronto on March 23,Glasgow on March 24, and a number of other cities, while many more are mobilizing for April 17, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association has reported that over 24 Palestinian prisoners have joined Shalabi’s open-ended strike, and protests and solidarity sit-ins have taken place throughout Palestine.

Horreya said that Palestinians in Canada, and around the world in exile and diaspora, can play a major role in supporting Palestinian prisoners and their freedom everywhere they are. Speaking of the prisoners, he said, “while they don’t know me, I know them, and they are a big part of me. They are my inspiration to spread the word about the Palestinian cause; they give all the doubters and propagandists something to think about. Hana is the first person on my mind when I wake up and the last on my mind before I go to sleep.”

About Charlotte Kates

Charlotte Kates is a Palestine solidarity activist with the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign (http://boycottisraeliapartheid.org) and Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network (http://samidoun.ca) in Vancouver, on unceded Coast Salish Territories. She is a member of the Organizing Committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (http://www.usacbi.org) and is active with the National Lawyers Guild and its International Committee (http://www.nlginternational.org).