Saturday, December 16, 2017

Women on hunger strike for the "Old Prisoners"


By Leona Vicario - March 18, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Hunger Strike] [UN] [Oslo Accords] [pre-Oslo prisoners] [US President Barack Obama]

Photo by Leona Vicario.

Sawsan and Nasim Shaheen are two sisters that began their hunger strike together on February 20 in a tent in front of the United Nations building in Ramallah. They have joined the Palestinian hunger striking prisoners in order to demand the liberation of political prisoners incarcerated by Israel. 

The youngest one, Sawsan, is thirty four and subsists to this day only on water and salts. 

“I came to knock on the [UN] door to say 'Wake up, we have prisoners,” she said. “Many of them have been in prison for 22 to 25 years. I know that all the hunger strikes are important but for me, on the personal side, the pre-Oslo prisoners are more important because they have lost their lives inside the Israeli jails. Imagine yourself into a prison, any prison, when you are a child or a teenager. After that, you are forty, fifty, sixty…Where is your life?”

As the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association Addameer exposes, there are 66 political prisoners that have spent more than 20 consecutive years inside jails, with the total number of pre-Oslo prisoners being 111. The Israeli government considers them to be political prisoners under the control of the state of Israel, and not of the occupation because they were arrested under alleged offenses caused before 13 September 1993 -the cutoff date for prisoners who were supposed to be included in subsequent releases.

Before the Oslo Agreement in 1994, Israel held more than 12,000 Palestinian political prisoners in its detention centers. During the singing of the Accords, Israel assumed the release of 5.000 Palestinian prisoners.

“I put my body to fast in my struggle in the same conditions as the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike,” said Sawsan. 

A number of diplomatic delegations have visited the tent during recent days, such as  the International Humanitarian Aid, the Official Coordinator for the Peace Process in Middle East, and even the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Salam Fayyad. 

“I hope they take my message,” Sawsan said. “I think that this is a peaceful struggle. Around the entire world everybody is talking about the peaceful struggle and I am here as a Palestinian lady to say I am going to use my body for my country, for our dreams, for our lives.” 

She wants to make clear where her struggle is directed and wishes for the unity and more support from the Palestinian people. 

“I am not challenging my government, I am challenging the occupation. Come support me, come take my hand and stand up with me, not just for me, but for the pre-Oslo prisoners.” 

Her sister Nasim shares with Sawsan the same struggle, including and a brother in jail. 

“Why have I joined her in this initiative?” Nasim asks. “We both have been active for several years for the Palestinians prisoners. We followed all the political demonstrations on the Palestinian and in the Israeli side. But the Israeli side played us like a game, moving the prisoners around without taking into account what they want or what they need. We want to enforce the international community to look to the Palestinian prisoners’ situation because [Israel has violated the] International Conventions, International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.”

Palestinian prisoners’ ongoing illegal situation 

The current situation of Palestinians in Israeli prisons violates Articles 49, 76 and 77 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions that prohibit forcible transfers of protected persons out of occupied territory and require any imprisonment of protected persons to take place inside occupied territory. Additionally Article 77 states, “Protected persons who have been accused of offences or convicted by the courts in occupied territory, shall be handed over at the close of occupation, with the relevant records, to the authorities of the liberated territory.”

Furthermore, the isolation and abandonment that prisoners suffer infringe upon Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil on Civil and Political Rights: Any discrimination on any ground such as race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status is illegal. All persons are equal before the law.

In this case, there is preferential treatment for Israelis prisoners, whereas Palestinians captured inside the Occupied Territories are always tried under Israeli military Law. 

Nasim cites another reason to join the cause. “We do not have to handle our ongoing situation just against the Israeli side but also against the extended idea that Palestinians are terrorists. Therefore we have to prove our rights through nonviolent actions.” 

The Peace Process marked the beginning of the use of prisoners as “confidence-building measures” and they have been considered since then as a key element of the further development of negotiations between Israel and the PA. 

Meanwhile, the administrative detention policies and violent arrests go on. The recent death of the prisoner Arafat Jaradat set on fire the population and triggered protest around all West Bank that even brought out the idea of the starting of the Third Intifada in some minds. Jaradat died due to sustained injuries caused by torture under interrogation, after being arrested a few days earlier. 

This is a chance for Obama and the world that he is representing to define one’s position about our situation

Hoping for change from Obama

Both women have lost their faith in the Palestinian Authority government and its options to deal with the situation, and so they appealed for the international community to intercede. The main goal of this hunger strike is to reach US President Barack Obama to become aware about the Palestinian prisoner cause.

“He is talking all the time about his family, about his humble presidency,” Nasim said. “We need him to pressure Israel to release Palestinian prisoners. If he leaves without accomplishing anything, we won’t care anymore about what it means to be Obama. Almost all of us have a special story. I have mine. My brother is in prison. He is a political leader and was sentenced to twenty seven years. Until now, he has already spent ten. The first time that the Israeli system allowed us to visit him was five years after his arrest. And now, we just can come to visit him once per year.”

“The international community is talking about the Arab revolutions, as they are pointing out the importance of Democracy and Freedom. And what about us?” Nasim argues.  “This is the last chance for the international community to take care for the Palestinians’ rights. We do not know what would happen in the future or tomorrow. This is a chance for Obama and the world that he is representing to define one’s position about our situation.”

The sisters have sent a formal letter to the U.S. President for his upcoming visit this week, as well as to different embassies via the United Nations. The sisters concur that more lip service from the governments to satisfy the mainstream media is not acceptable, and stress that they want one decision to be made on the ground: The liberation of the Palestinian prisoners.

 

Sawsan Shaheen's message to US President Barack Obama




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