Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Hunger Strike in Solidarity with Khader Adnan

On February 8th, a worldwide hunger strike was called for on Twitter in support of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, who was on his 53rd day of hunger strike. “My dignity is more precious than my food.” This was his declaration, after he was arrested in front of his pregnant wife and two young daughters at 3:30 am. After he was beaten up inside the Israeli jeep on the way to the detention center. After his gastric disc problems were ignored. After Israeli interrogators smeared dirt from their shoes on his beard. After they obscenely insulted his wife, mother, and two daughters graphically. After he was tortured and placed in painful stress positions. After he was placed in isolation.

All of this, and no charges were brought up against Khader Adnan. He was given four months of administrative detention, subject to being renewed anytime and for any period of time for no reason at all.

Tonight he is entering his 60th day of hunger strike.

I decided on Thursday, after the Twitter hashtag of #Feb9hungerstrike that I too would go on hunger strike, to really know what it feels like to be in solidarity with one who had been doing it for almost two months. My experiences are below.

2nd Day
On Friday I went to the village of Qaryout for its second protest under the popular struggle umbrella. This post here sums up the experience pretty well. The men of the village were very courteous and natural with me and my other two comrades, the only three Palestinian women to join their protest. In other words, no sexism!

Toward the end of the protest, where it became obvious that we couldn't pass through to plant trees in the stolen land as armed settlers added to the presence of the Israeli army, we began turning back to the village. A car was available, and my two comrades gratefully climbed in, but I wouldn't, out of sheer stubbornness. I didn't feel like I still had something to prove to the village men around me, but still. That wasn't the wisest decision to make. The situation in Qaryout is potentially volatile. The protesters are in the valley, with armed settlers on the hill on our left side edging closer to us. The Israeli army is in front of us. One small mistake, one tiny calculated action, and mayhem would ensue, no doubt leaving behind a bloodbath.

As it happened, that day one settler threw a rock at us. The protesters responded back with more rocks, which gave the Israeli army an excuse to tear gas the hell out of us, which in theory would provide perfect cover for the settlers to aim and shoot at us.

One of the men, Adham grabbed my arm as we fled to the other hill on our right. As we climbed the enormous hill. I vaguely realized I wasn't supposed to exert myself physically. I felt disconnected, my head and body two separate entities. I wasn't really aware of what was going on around me, and was only half listening to Adham.

"Watch out, you have to look where the canisters are falling...no, come this way quick before the gas gets to us..up, up quickly. Watch out! Don't slip!"

I looked up and was surprised at the clouds of toxic gas around us. I suddenly wanted to give up. What was the point anyway? I couldn't feel myself. All I wanted to do was just lie down on some green grass away from the mud and thorny bushes. Adham yanked my arm sharply and I began to focus again. I was so tired.

"I swear to God Linah, you're worth ten men," Adham said.
"Not 100?" I gasped as I ignored his outstretched hand and climbed over another rocky ledge.
"That too. Listen, when we get back to the village you're all having dinner at my mother's place."
"I'm fasting."
"Are you on hunger strike?"
"You're a quick one. Yes."
"You're not supposed to be on one if you're protesting. You're crazy."
"I'm exhausted."
"Just a little bit more, we've almost reached the trail."
I had a couple sips of coffee that morning. I forgot myself and also ate a few sunflower seeds one of the village boys tipped in my outstretched hand earlier that day.

After Qaryout, back to Ramallah, I went with one of my friends to the Red Cross building. We stood outside in the freezing cold holding up posters of Khader Adnan, with a fire burning in a grill someone had procured from somewhere, before ascertaining that a protest at 1pm the next day will take place in front of Ofer/Betunia prison.

3rd Day

Biochemistry lecturer at Birzeit University Munir Nasser said a build-up of acids would result in Adnan loosing his sight, and eventual kidney failure and coma.

Health expert Dr. Amr al-Hussaini said his body would be vulnerable to infection as his immune system lost protein, while Al-Azhar University nutritionist Dr. Samir Radi warned Adnan's heart muscles could hypertrophy, leading to his death.

I woke up on the third day with my head swimming. I stayed in bed for fifteen more minutes, before I finally got up and began getting ready for work. Oh Jesus, I don’t think I can last the day. My legs were shaking and I had to sit back down again because they wouldn’t support my weight. Before I left the house, I stuffed a mini Snickers bar in my bag and some pastries stuffed with white cheese and za’atar my neighbor must have sent down. Just in case. If I felt like I couldn’t last through the day, then at noon I’d break my hunger strike. I was simultaneously angry and ashamed at myself. Barely three days and already I was succumbing to the pathetic whining of a weakling. What is 3 days compared 56 days?

At work, I kept busy and was only reminded of my empty stomach whenever I got up to walk around the office. I stared at my legs, willing them to stop shaking. The hours passed without incident and I felt good again. It was past noon and I was due to meet my mother at the taxi depot so we could go to Betunia/Ofer prison.

After a few terse phone calls (Mama doesn’t like to be kept waiting) I made my way to the taxis. During the ride, Mama echoed what I was thinking: “I hope there will be a lot of people there, مش قردين و حارس"

We got out of the taxi, and watched the clouds of tear gas and smoke from a burning tire rise through the air.
“They’ve already started with their fuckery?” Mama shook her head. [She didn’t say the word ‘fuckery’-that was my own translation of her G rated version of the word.]
We walked a few steps forward. Young men and women, mostly students from Birzeit University, were clustered on the sidewalks and the street, bending over coughing and wheezing from the tear gas they had just run from.
One girl came up to us and offered strips of alcohol.
“Do you know how many injuries there are?” I asked.
“Three so far. I have to find Fadel.” She left.
Mama and I took another few steps forward. The wind blew the remnants of tear gas from the last canister fired by the Israeli Border Police, standing like buffoons a hundred meters away.
“Iffee!” Mama raised her scarf to cover her nose. I tied her shawl around her lower face.
“Keep it up,” I ordered.

There were shabab near the Border Police who were throwing rocks at them, hiding behind trash cans. Another trash can whizzed past us, with the three young men behind it shouting cheerfully at everyone to get out the way. Tear gas canisters were fired again. We watched their course as they traveled up in the air before it became clear they were falling down on where we stood. We hurried back to where stacks of wooden crates shielded us and pressed up against the wall.
It went on like that for a bit. We’d advance, then retreat. Even when we weren’t advancing, just standing where we were, shots would still ring out. Rubber bullets now joined the tear gas canisters.

After a quiet lull, a different girl looked at me and said, “Let’s start chanting.”
I shrugged. “Ok. Get other people to gather around.”
“من بير زيت اعلناها/حضر نجمة بسماها!
نعم للجوع/ لا للركوع!"

We went further down the street, Mama treading on my feet.
“They know what they’re doing,” she hissed in my ear. “They want us to get closer and closer to them before they fire tear gas at us again.”
Sure enough, the rain of toxic gas began again. And this time we had no time to run as the canisters hit the ground all around our feet. Everyone began running, their backs to the Border Police who were still shooting tear gas, but that was the biggest mistake an amateur protester could make. You had to look to see where the canisters were falling, not run away blindly.
“Where do I go!” Mama gasped, her face buried in her shawl as the tear gas engulfed us.
I grabbed her arm and looked over my shoulder. “Just keep running.”
“I can’t breathe!”
“Hold your breath and keep running!”

The dizziness was back. It wasn’t the effect of tear gas. We made it to some field, hidden from the view of the Border Police. The ground was rich and extremely muddy. I made Mama sit on a rock and shoved alcohol strips under her nose. Guys were lying on the ground choking and gasping for breath, their tears mixing with great rivulets of mucus streaming down their faces. One guy came over and gave half of his cotton swab which was doused with stronger alcohol to Mama. People were shouting from the street and across the field.
“Are you ok Hajjeh?”
“Do you need anything Auntie?”
“Aunt, do you need a medic?”

The last experience Mama had with tear gas was three years ago, during a protest one Friday in January. The Palestinian Authority security forces descended on protesters who were chanting for their terrorized and massacred brethren in Gaza, and tear gassed them in addition to beating them up. She came home that day with my older brother, shell-shocked expressions on their faces, their clothes absolutely reeking of gas.

I looked around me. Rubber bullets were still being fired. One guy close to us groaned.
“The villagers of Nabi Saleh are so damn lucky,” he half coughed half laughed. “They’re immune to this shit. They have it for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Ahh wallah I have to go there next Friday so I can get used to tear gas.”

We left the field and were back on the street again. Mama was a good distance behind me, the poor thing. She said she had a huge headache. “Don’t get too close,” she warned.

I wanted to pinch her cheeks. She really should come to Nabi Saleh.

Suddenly, more rubber bullets were fired. I crouched behind a metal pole with others as the bullets ricocheted off the pole with metallic whines. We waited it out. By God we were going to have a protest here, to hammer home the point of why we were getting shot at and why the shabab were throwing rocks. I chanted,
يا خضر يا بطل| انت رمز المعتقل!
تحيتنا بحرارة| لاسرانا النوارة

My head felt like it was going to explode. I felt like I had just ran a marathon, and my body was shaking again. After a few more rounds of tear gas, I made the first correct decision that day and quietly slinked back to the gas station where Mama was standing, and we went back to Ramallah, where oblivious people continued went about with their illusions of a proper life, made all the more exciting with the recent opening of a new KFC chain.

"I started my battle offering my soul to God almighty and adamant to go ahead until righteousness triumphs over falsehood.I am defending my dignity and my people’s dignity and not doing this in vain.

"The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey."

At home, I went straight to my bed before I could collapse on my feet. I lay down on my back and let my thoughts travel. My legs and right arm are not shackled. I haven’t been humiliated or placed in torturous stress positions. What a man Khader Adnan is. To possess even an ounce of his iron-willed resolve…I remembered the short clip on TV of him playing with his daughter, whose peals of laughter made me smile. She shouldn’t become an orphan at the age of four. My sister came in the room and raised her eyebrows.

“You’re still on hunger strike?!”
“Yeah, so bring me my laptop since I can’t move,” I said in an exaggerated weak voice.
“Get it yourself!” She obviously didn’t fall for it. Then, “Don’t you get hungry?”
“No, just dizzy.”
“That’s how I felt on Thursday. My legs were shaking.”
“Mine too, sometimes.”
“Imagine not having enough clothes to stay warm.”
“Ya haram.”
“Imagine not showering or taking a bath for 55 days.”
“I could do that. Imagine not changing your underwear for 55 days.”
“Mine would dissolve.”
We paused.
“You’re so disgusting!” I shouted as we both laughed our heads off. (I omitted the subsequent conversation on dissolving underwears for obvious reasons. And in the moment of comic relief, I should include that my sister, unlike me, still represents hope in securing marriage in the future so there’d be no use in tarnishing her reputation.)

Later that night, my mother found out I hadn't been eating for the past three days. "I don't care what you do anymore. It's not like you listen to me anyway. But you have to drink something ya habla. Even he drinks water." She sighed waspishly when I didn't reply.

I have so much respect for Khader Adnan. I have so much rage for the international community's complicit silence.

After midnight, my light-headed self drank water and had a bowl of cereal. I didn't gorge myself, but I still felt sick. It's been two days now but I still drink more liquids than food.

Khader Adnan is entering his 60th day on hunger strike. He has refused food since December 18th. He is staring death straight in the face. Tomorrow, Wednesday February 15th is a national hunger strike day for Palestinians that we will hope will spread to the wider world.

"It is time the international community and the UN support prisoners and force the State of Israel to respect international human rights and stop treating prisoners as if they were not humans.”
Khader Adnan. Palestine's living martyr. In the name of dignity, in the name of freedom, in the name of justice, you reminded us again what resistance is.


  1. Once again, incredible post. I think even Khader Adnan would be proud of you. I'm deeply impressed that protesting has become a family affair in Palestine, keep it up! Your mom sounds like a great lady, you should listen to her and not let your activism affect your health!

  2. If Khader is able to be on hunger strike for two months and you were able to be on hunger strike for three days, then every supporter should be able to at least boycott all food products of Israel, USA, UK, etc. until Palestine is free. If the supporters want to do more, they can eat only small amounts of local products.
    Khader Adnan made it very hard for people to claim they cannot do anything to support Palestinians. May Allah protect his life and grant him victory.

  3. Wow, what an amazing idea. You've inspired me to go on a hunger strike myself in solidarity with Khader. I cannot believe how little people are paying attention to this situation. It's unfathomable.