40 Days and 40 Nights: The Biblical Fast of Hana Shalabi

A Palestinian woman holds a placard depicting Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi during a rally in support of her hunger strike as well as calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, in front of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City 24 March 2012. (Photo: REUTERS – Ammar Awad)

Hana Shalabi’s hunger strike has put her life in danger but she charges on in her battle against Israel’s practice of imprisonment without charge.

Ramallah – Islamic Jihad spokesperson and former detainee Khader Adnan won the battle of “empty stomachs” and handed the torch to Hana Shalabi, another fierce warrior who refuses to give up on her rights.

On Sunday, Shalabi completed 40 days of an open hunger strike for “victory or martyrdom.” She is protesting against being held by Israeli occupation forces without charge, a procedure known as administrative detention. Her body is frail but she is defiant and intent on continuing her protest.

Shalabi continues to fight her battle with the Israeli authorities following the failure of negotiations between her lawyers and the prosecution to reach a compromise to end her agony.

On March 19, Shalabi had sent a message from the prison clinic in Ramleh through her lawyer, Jawad Boulos, head of the legal department in the Palestinian Prisoners Club (PPC).

“It is true that our lives are the most precious, but our freedom is even more precious and more powerful than their prison cells,” she wrote.

Shalabi explained how the authorities had suddenly transferred her to Rambam hospital in Haifa for medical checkups and then returned her to the hospital of Ramleh prison. This happened without her consent and even after she refused.According to her lawyer, Shalabi is being kept alone in the same room where Adnan held his hunger strike two months ago. She has lost about 16 kilograms (from 73kg to 56kg) and is facing enormous pressure to end the strike.

Authorities are attempting to break Shalabi by focusing on the adverse effects of the lack of food on her body, suggesting that she might become paralyzed or face permanent physical damage.

She is completely isolated from the outside world. Psychological pressure is also growing, especially when her plight is compared to Adnan’s and the amount of support he had received.

Countering the constant fabrications of Israeli authorities, president of the PPC Kaddoura Fares, denies the claim by the Prison Service Ethics Committee that Shalabi’s health situation is satisfactory. He describes her situation as critical and says that she may very well die.

Her family is a major source of strength that allows her to persevere. They have always been involved in the struggle. She is the daughter of Yehia Shalabi (67) and has five sisters and three brothers. Her fourth brother, Samer, was killed by Israeli forces.

Al-Akhbar met with Omar Shalabi, Hana’s brother, who said that she had decided to start the hunger strike prior to her release in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. She was protesting being administratively detained for 25 consecutive months.

He said she had told her family she was going on an open hunger strike the moment she was detained again last February 16. She asked them to support her and not to worry.

It is difficult for Omar to articulate his feelings toward his sister. “What you lose is difficult to regain,” he says, speaking of Samer. It worries her family most that Shalabi might face the same fate.

“Her spirits are high and she has faith in God,” he continues, “Our prayers have not stopped. The tent we set up outside our home is always full of visitors expressing solidarity, from Jenin, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and 1948-occupied Palestine. This makes things easier, along with the solidarity actions and protests.”Although many organizations and lawyers have tried to help, the occupation authorities still refuse to provide Shalabi’s family with a permit to visit her.

The PPC explains that Shalabi’s parents applied dozens of times for such a pass but the Israeli secret service kept refusing on grounds of a “security threat.”

Other Palestinian prisoners who had bravely stood by Adnan are also active in supporting Shalabi. Some decided to carry on with hunger strikes against the occupation and its prisons.

Iyad Mahamid, a lawyer at PPC, told Al-Akhbar that while visiting Majdo prison he found out that “the prison administration was punishing the prisoners who went on hunger strike in solidarity with Hanaa Shalabi. There were 50 of them just in Majdo.”

The lawyer confirms that the administration “segregated some of them, denying them visitation rights and the use of the canteen. It also imposed between 200 and 300 shekels (US$50 – 80) in fines and barred them from receiving lawyers, claiming they are in bad health due to the hunger strike.”

The Palestinian Joan of Arc

Hana Shalabi was born in February 1982 in the village of Barqin near Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank, to a family of refugees from Haifa. She is single and has been detained by the occupation twice.

She spent about two and a half years in detention the first time she was detained. This time, she decided it would be different.

She had experienced the reality of Israeli prisons and the meaning of detention: the endless interrogations for days on end, the harassment, and the sordid treatment used by the occupation against Palestinian prisoners, especially women.

On 14 September 2009, Shalabi was arrested for the first time. It was during Ramadan. In the al-Jalma interrogation center, she underwent intensive questioning 10 hours a day, for eight consecutive days.

The soldiers and interrogating officers would beat and humiliate her.

Shalabi lost track of time and did not eat because it was Ramadan and she was fasting. She would only drink some water after the interrogation sessions late at night.

The interrogators did not care about her fasting, and did not provide her with iftar or sohour meals on time. She spent a total of 17 days in a small, dirty, and unlit room containing just a bed and an exposed toilet.

“The Palestinian Joan of Arc,” as some supporters call Shalabi, confirmed that she was verbally harassed by an interrogating officer after a particular session.

He rudely called her habibti (my love), making her angry. He ordered the soldiers to hit her on her face and body. Then, they tied her to the bed and proceeded to insult her and film her on the bed.

Shalabi spent 25 consecutive months in administrative detention.

Shalabi was released on 18 October 2011 in the first phase of a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel. On 16 February 2012, she was rearrested inside her home.

The Israeli army surrounded her family’s neighborhood and raided the houses of her brothers and parents.

Shalabi was handcuffed and detained, without allowing her to say goodbye to her family or informing them of where they were taking her.

She was blindfolded until they reached the Salem detention center near occupied Jenin. That same day, she began a new struggle against the occupation and went on an open hunger strike.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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