Monday, October 17, 2011

Prisoner of the Day: Hazem Elaydi

The Prisoner of the Day Campaign was created as a response to the alarming yet expected media coverage discrepancy regarding the recent prisoner deal arrived at by Hamas and Israel. While the world is holding its breath for that portentous moment when Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit is back in his mother's arms after five years of captivity in the Gaza strip, the 1027 Palestinian prisoners are treated as an empty numerical entity. This campaign will devote each day for a Palestinian prisoner, either included in the deal or not, as a means of awareness and a reminder that Palestinians will always be humans.

Prisoner of the Day: Hazem Elaydi

Hazem Elaydi is from the Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza. He was a young man who loved to read, and would get his hands on every newspaper he could get. In the summers he would help out at his father's store but would end up reading the stacks of newspapers he took with him instead. He was a highly intelligent knowledgeable person with an interest in knowing what was happening in places around the world. Everyone who knew him recognized that he had great potential. He was generally well-liked and respected by people owing to his pious and conservative nature.

Hazem Elyadi as a young man

He was majoring in Chemistry at An-Najah University in the West Bank, but at the onset of the first intifada he happened to be visiting his family back in Gaza when the borders were closed, thus effectively ending his education as it was impossible to get back.

During the first intifada, it was common policy for Israel to send out orders for random young Palestinian men to report to Israeli officials for interrogation. Usually it meant nothing, but when Hazem went it turned out to be more than just a routine interrogation. He was kept in administrative detention for three months as the Israelis attempted to gather charges against him. Two days before he was due to be released, two inmates who were being tortured told similar stories about Hazem. Back then, policy dictated that if two people gave the same testimony, the person it was concerning had to confess. After being beaten and tortured, Hazem confessed to false claims and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences without the courtesy of being given a fair trial.

Hazem's niece Fidaa got to know her uncle via secret phone calls. Cell phones of course are forbidden in prisons and are smuggled in. After spending the winter in Gaza, Fidaa wrote an eloquent piece highlighting how love of a family member imprisoned cannot be stunted the cold prison walls. She also drew attention to the conditions the prisoners undergo, and the humiliation they must routinely suffer. Since 2007, Hazem hasn't received any family visits as part of the extensive collective punishment on Palestinians in Gaza, who were forbidden from seeing their loved ones behind Israeli bars.

The amazing news is that today, Hazem Elyadi was released as part of the prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel. After 21 years in Israeli jails, he is now back in Gaza in his ailing mother's arms. I asked Fidaa how the celebrations were most likely going to pan out. She replied,

"As far as I know, every relative we have--no matter how distantly related-- will gather to welcome him. I'm assuming over 200 people will gather. It'll be chaos! I'm guessing some animals will be slaughtered for the occasion and a huge feast will take place. I'm also guessing that the women have been working for days making sweets to pass around to family, friends, and neighbor. The celebration will begin with his welcome at the Rafah crossing and then an hour's drive to Khatiba Square in Gaza City where thousands will gather and all of the prisoners will be shown a hero's welcome. My relatives will be travelling in busloads to Gaza City to celebrate and welcome the prisoners. The they will go to my uncle's house where our matriarch, my grandmother, lives. They have decorated the house days in advance. The wedding-like festivities will likely begin at sunset and continue throughout the night."

Fidaa is a law student in Texas. She desperately wishes she was there to welcome back her uncle and to witness the happiness etched on her family's faces in Gaza as they receive Hazem. This is where technology is truly a blessed thing.

"I wish with every ounce of my being that I could be there with them. For the first time in weeks, I won't be spending 8 hours in the library after class. I'm going straight home so my mother and I can video chat with out relatives in Maghazi and Deir il-Balah refugee camps. I will speak to my uncle, screen-to-screen, at 4 pm Dallas time, 12 am Gaza time."

Fidaa will also celebrate the release of her uncle in her own way. She made brownies for her 90 person law school class, a great idea as not only do the rest of the students enjoy the brownies but also opens their eyes to the plight of Palestinian prisoners, and what the released prisoners mean for their families away from the corporate mainstream media that paint the prisoner deal from only one side (that of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit.)

So what's next for Hazem? Well, as he was incarcerated as a young man he never married. Fidaa's aunts already have that covered though, as those living in different countries in the Middle East are making travel plans to Gaza as soon as possible. Fidaa thinks that a wedding is already in the making, with a bride already found!

"Rumor has it that the family has already found him a bride, and they're simply waiting for his approval and within a week there will be an engagement. I will not be surprised if his wedding is in less than a month! I'm hoping they will wait until the end of December so that I have a chance to go to Gaza after finals and make it to the wedding."

It seems like the Elyadi family have a lot to celebrate over the next few months. Hazem's return, Eid with Hazem, Hazem's engagement, Hazem's sahra [nighttime party] before his wedding, and Hazem's wedding.

All the best to Hazem Elyadi, an innocent man who spent twenty one oppressive years in the Israeli occupation's jails.

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