Students fast in support of Palestinian prisoner

By Haley Goldberg, Daily News Editor
Published March 29, 2012

As the clock struck 11 p.m. last night, plates of hummus, chicken, fattoush, pizza and cookies were placed atop the desks in room 2436 of Mason Hall, as 14 members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality hungrily dug into the spread after spending the last 23 hours participating in a hunger strike in honor of Hana Shalabi.

In response to an international call for a day of hunger by one student at every American and European college, about 25 University student members of SAFE began a hunger strike at 12:01 a.m. yesterday to raise awareness for Shalabi, a Palestinian woman who was arrested and detained last month by Israeli forces without charge for allegedly supporting the Islamic Jihad militant group. In protest of the arrest, Shalabi began a hunger strike that lasted for 43 days, spurring movements for solidarity around the world.

LSA senior Abbas Alawieh, education chair for SAFE, said the organization decided to participate in the hunger strike at its meeting on Wednesday night. While only one student was asked to participate, Alawieh said about 25 members agreed to strike.

Members wore orange ribbons around their arms in solidarity of the international hunger strike, and Alawieh said the strike raised awareness for the more than 300 Palestinian prisoners being held without charge in Israeli prisons.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these prisoners have had to resort to the hunger strikes, and Hana isn’t the first to do a hunger strike,” Alawieh said. “This is something that has been employed by prisoners of countries for several years, but her story in specific has touched our group and groups across the world.”

According to SAFE’s website, the group’s mission is to “promote justice, human rights, liberation, and self-determination for the Palestinian people.” Alawieh said SAFE represents all individuals who endure the difficulties Shalabi has faced.

“Our stance here at SAFE is we oppose indefinite detentions without trials for anyone, regardless of if it was Hana or anyone in the world,” Alawieh said. “This is something that is fundamentally wrong.”

During the group’s hunger strike, Shalabi ended her 43-day hunger strike after Israelis agreed to extradite her to the Gaza Strip, according to the BBC.

LSA senior Mohammed-Ali Abazeed said at first, he was excited that Shalabi ended her strike, but upon hearing the terms of her release, he wasn’t satisfied since she will be unable to return to her home in the West Bank.

“My initial reaction was that it was great, but as soon as I logged on and read the story, it really wasn’t excitement at all,” Abazeed said. “If anything, this is a possible worse situation than it is now with what they agreed to do … she’s basically being transferred from one prison to another in many senses of the situation.”

LSA sophomore Suha Najjar, a SAFE member who participated in the hunger strike, said her father was held as a political prisoner in Israel for a year in 1988, noting that her uncles have also been held as prisoners. Though her father never went on a hunger strike while in prison, Najjar said she felt a connection to him through her experience yesterday.

Najjar was unable to inform her family, who live in the Palestinian territories, about her efforts to raise awareness due to power outages. She said she intends to continue to raise awareness about Shalabi’s situation and that of over 300 other Palestinian prisoners held without charges in Israeli prisons.

“On campus, I’m a very active member of SAFE and stuff like this is the number one thing: raising awareness,” Najjar said.

Before breaking their hunger strike at 11:15 p.m., which occurred earlier than midnight in order to allow more members of the group to participate, members of SAFE spoke about their experiences during the day. Among the participants, LSA senior and SAFE member Abdallah Ali explained that while he did grow wary during the 11 hours, raising awareness and striking with the other members motivated him to continue.

“Honestly, today, there was a period of time when I did get tired, but it wasn’t that bad,” Ali said. “There was a lot of stuff on Twitter about Hana today and I was like, ‘You know what? I can’t not do this.’ So I just kept going … it’s nice that we could all come together.”

LSA senior Bilal Baydoun, one of the SAFE co-chairs, said Shalabi’s situation was beneficial in raising awareness about the widespread issue of administrative detention. He added that it was also personally beneficial in connecting himself to the larger issue.

“(The experience) is more humbling,” Baydoun said. “You feel really small about when you think about what (Shalabi) went through … It really puts it all in perspective, and it helps you realize the little pain you felt today is just a drop in the bucket, more or less.”

Correction Appended: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated the reason for power outages in the Palestinian territories.