Palestinian Hunger Striker Thaer Halahleh Speaks to PSP

4 July 2012

On June 5th, 2012, Palestinian activist Thaer Halahleh was released from prison after completing his 77th day of a hunger strike. Thaer began his strike on March 9th, along with fellow inmate Bilal Thiab, to protest their imprisonment for almost three years without charge or trial under Israel’s administrative detention policy.

After 30 days of refusing food, Thaer was transferred to the Ramleh prison hospital in critical state, where his inhumane treatment did not end. He described the horrible medical care given to himself and other Palestinian prisoners, recalling how even those with severe illnesses such as cancer were just given water and painkillers. He contrasted these conditions with those of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for over five years, who was provided with ample food, a television, expert medical service, and was even allowed to walk around parts of Gaza during his imprisonment.

Although Thaer said his strike became easier after the first week, he admitted that by his 60th day without food he began to believe he would die, and by his 70th day he had lost hope that he would ever see his family. He continued in his strike nonetheless, citing faith in God, personal determination, and patience as the factors that helped him persevere.

Thaer’s imprisonment was equally difficult for his family; during his strike, Thaer’s mother and sister also fasted in solidarity. His imprisonment was especially hard for his wife Shireen, who had barely spent eleven months with her husband following his release from his first arrest before the Israeli state put him in administrative detention once again. She described the days of Thaer’s strike as the most difficult moments of her life, explaining how she worried constantly about whether he was alright and how much he suffered. She said that the conflicting media updates, which alternated between confirming him alive and announcing him dead, made her stop wanting to even think.

At the same time as dealing with her own suffering, Shireen had to explain Thaer’s absence to her 2 year-old-daughter Lamar, who was born sixteen days after her father’s arrest and had only seen him once during a prison visit. She said that Lamar, though only knowing Thaer through pictures, once woke Shireen up crying that she missed her father and needed him to come back home. She described the pain she felt every day Lamar asked when her father would come home and she could only answer “tomorrow”, and her relief when she was finally able to answer with certainty that Thaer was to be released that evening.

Though Thaer’s return has given his family and village of Haraas much joy, his homecoming has not been an easy process. Even after Israeli authorities published the date of Thaer’s release, they refused to specify when and switched the discharge location at the last minute, preventing him from being reunited with his family for several more hours. Thaer is also still recovering from the physical consequences of his fast: by the time of his release, the hunger striker had lost more than 28 kilos (60 pounds) and currently weighs only 55 kilos. Even now, he and his family must live with the possibility that he could be arbitrarily arrested again at any time.

Despite the hardships experienced by him and his family, Thaer is determined to continue in his fight against the Occupation. Back at home, he emphasized the importance of nonviolent resistance- to him best embodied through hunger strikes- in combating international stereotypes and showing that Palestinians are a peace-loving people. Thaer said that by exposing the realities of the Israeli occupation, he hopes that he and other activists will achieve their struggle for Palestinian freedom.

Thaer with his wife and daughter