Until Freedom or Martyrdom: Thaer Halahleh on 60 Days of Hunger Strike

Dylan Collins published the following profile of Thaer Halahleh in the Palestine Monitor, Saturday April 28, 2012:

Kharas, occupied West Bank—Two year old Lamar Halahleh has never met her father outside of a prison cell. In fact, she wasn’t able to lay eyes upon him until she was nearly half a year old.

Thaer Halahleh, Lamar’s father, has not only spent the last two years in the Israeli prison system, the 33 year-old has actually been detained for the majority of the past nine years due to Israel’s exploitive practice of administrative detention.

Photo by Dylan Collins

“The only way she [Lamar] knows her father is through pictures,” says Lamar’s mother and Thaer’s wife, Shireen. “She has hundreds of pictures of Thaer. When she goes to sleep at night, she tucks his picture into bed with her.”

Always held without charge or trial, Thaer’s only officially stated wrongdoing has been his affiliation to Islamic Jihad, a political party officially outlawed by Israel.

Thaer’s most recent arrest came on 26 June 2010 during a midnight raid on his home in the small village of Kharras, near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Nearly 50 Israeli soldiers stormed the Halahleh’s home. Without knocking, the armed forces kicked down the door, made the women and children go outside in their bedclothes, and proceeded to search the house with two dogs for nearly an hour.

After a thorough search of the house, the troops then told the family they had an order to arrest Thaer. When asked why, the officer in charge responded that Thaer was a “threat to the public.”

Thaer had only just recently ended a year long stretch in administrative detention. He was home for all of about 14 days before being re-arrested and presented, yet again, with three- month administrative detention order.

Like all other administrative detainees, Thaer is being held on ‘secret evidence’ and has never been officially charged nor convicted of anything.

Cyclical and ambiguous arrests have plagued the lives of Thaer and his family. Every one of his four brothers, and even his father, has been held in administrative detention at some point. Thaer himself has been arrested 8 times and spent a collective six and half years total in administrative detention.

Thaer’s most recent administrative detention order has been renewed every three-months. The uncertainty of his detention’s length has been nerve racking to say the least. Thaer’s wife, Shireen, argues neither she nor Thaer, nor Thaer’s lawyer know whether the order will be renewed until the day it concludes. Shireen reveals that several times, Thaer has been directed to collect his belongings and prepare to go home only to be turned back at the gates of the prison with a renewed three-month detention order.

How to Fight Ambiguous Detentions

Thaer’s detention was most recently extended in January for a period of six-months. Left with little other options and encouraged by Sheikh Khader Adnan’s recent 66-day feat in protest of administrative detention, the exact same directive that has controlled Thaer’s life for the past nine years, he too entered into his own open-ended hunger strike on 28 February while in Al-Naqab prison.

Saturday 27 April 2012, Thaer entered into his 60th day with out food.

“He is determined,” said Thaer’s older brother Mohammed. “He will either be set free or become a martyr.”

When asked if they thought Thaer would be willing to accept an exile deal similar to the one Israel reached with hunger striker Hana Shalabi, through which she had been exiled to Gaza for the following three years, his family responded with a resounding no. “It was good for Hana,” says Thaer’s Uncle Wahib, “but Thaer would never agree to anything of the sort.”

On 28 March, Thaer was transferred to Israel’s Ramleh medical prison along with another hunger striking prisoner, Bilal Diab. According to Addameer, both men have been held in isolated cells in the general prison section. Despite numerous requests, Addameer lawyers have been denied access to Thaer and Bilal since their transfer.

Despite his rapidly deteriorating condition, Thaer Halaleh’s appeal against his administrative detention was rejected by an Israeli military judge at the Ofer military court on Monday 23 April.

Thaer’s wife Shireen has little faith in receiving justice from the Israeli military court system. “How can we have any faith in the court hearings. How can we believe that a just verdict will be reached when we are barred from even attending the trial, when the entire trial is conducted in Hebrew, and when the only people present are the Israeli judge, the Israeli translator, the Israeli prosecutor, and the mukhabarat [Israeli secret service]?”

Power in Numbers

Approximately 1,200 Palestinian prisoners from all political factions began a unified open-ended hunger strike on 17 April 2012 in commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and in protest of Israel’s exploitive use of administrative detention as well as its poor treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

Since its beginning, the movement has only been getting stronger.

In an April 25th update published by Addameer the estimated total number of prisoners on hunger strike had risen to nearly 2,000, a number which has most certainly risen since and has plans to increase in the coming days.

In Hasharon prison, six female prisoners have announced they will enter into the open-ended hunger strike on 1 May 2012. An additional 120 prisoners in Ofer prison are expected to join the hunger strike on 29 April.

The movement—“The War of Empty Stomachs”—has been effectively launched. It is, perhaps, a last resort by Palestinian prisoners to finally obtain just and fair treatment.

Thaer Halahleh, having reached his 60th day without food along with his compatriot Bilal Diab, is at the movement’s forefront.

Their demands, as well as those of the other active “Empty Stomach Warriors,” are neither absurd nor inappropriate. They are simply demanding a fair judicial process and improved living conditions but are risking their lives in the process.