Ayman
Sharawna (36) was forcibly transferred to the Gaza Strip in March 2013

 

Today,
17 April 2013, marks Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, an international day of
solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. Ayman Sharawna (36), a former prisoner
from Dura, Hebron, in the West Bank, recently arrived in Gaza for the first
time. He will remain here indefinitely as, last month, Sharawna was released
from an Israeli prison on condition that he would be forcibly transferred to
the Gaza Strip.

 

Prior
to his recent detention, Sharawna spent 10 years in prison in Israel. On 18
October 2011, Sharawna was released under the terms of the prisoner exchange
deal, in which 1,027 prisoners were released in exchange for the release of the
Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. According to his release agreement, Sharawna was
prohibited from leaving the Hebron district, where he resided, and was required
to attend a meeting with Israeli intelligence every two months. At 2am on 31
January 2012, Sharawna’s home was raided by Israeli soldiers, who arrested him
on the basis of a secret administrative file, which was said to contain
evidence that he had breached the terms of his release agreement. The military
prosecution was demanding that Sharawna serve the remaining 28 years of his
original sentence. In response to this situation, on 1 July 2012, Sharawna
declared an open-ended hunger strike which lasted for 261 days, until the
Israeli authorities agreed to release him, provided that he agreed to end his
hunger strike and take up residence in the Gaza Strip; this amounts to forcible
transfer and is a violation of international humanitarian law.

 

The
former prisoner describes the motivation for his hunger strike: “The main
reason I decided to go on hunger strike was because I had been arrested and
detained, less than three months after my release under the prisoners’ deal,
and I was not told of the charges against me. There was no investigation, and I
had no idea when I might be released. The Israeli intelligence held a secret
file about me. Not even my lawyers were allowed to see the file. According to
the Israeli intelligence, this was to protect the identity of the person or
people who provided information about me. Being held under administrative
detention is worse than being charged with any crime, because you don’t know
what you are accused of. I felt that the Israeli authorities were trying to
implement my previous sentence, even though I had been released under the deal.
I had no hope.”

 

Sharawna
describes his poor treatment in the Israeli prisons: “The prison authorities
treated me very badly. They treat all of the Palestinian prisoners poorly, but
in particular the hunger strikers. When I decided to begin my hunger strike, I
suffered much ill-treatment, both physically and psychologically. In addition
to the insults, they treated me coldly. I know they were following instructions
from the higher authorities. They would transfer me from one prison to another,
and from one hospital to another, although I was suffering. I was in solitary
confinement for months. They kept me in total isolation. The only people I saw
were the prison guards and the doctors. They tried to force me to eat, and
brought food and water and placed it in front of me. They prevented me from
seeing my lawyers, and I did not have access to a radio or television. I did
not know what was happening in the outside world. I had no sunlight, no fresh
air, no exercise. I was kept in a small room and not allowed to go anywhere.
Even worse was the treatment I received from the doctors in Soroka hospital.
They showed no sympathy. When I told them how much I was suffering, that I had
pain in my kidneys and my eyes, they just said, “If you eat, you will feel
better. If you don’t, you won’t.””

 

 

Sharawna has suffered severe weight
loss and health problems as a result of his hunger strike

 

It
is clear that the prolonged hunger strike had a serious impact on Sharawna, who
currently walks using a Zimmer frame. “During the hunger strike, I lost
consciousness and fainted many times. By the time I was released and I came to
Gaza, I couldn’t see clearly. I am suffering with my health. I cannot walk on
my left leg. At the end of this month, I hope to have surgery on my back and my
leg. I have already had an eye operation. Throughout my hunger strike, I
depended on Allah to help me through. My faith was what sustained me. Before the
strike, I weighed 111 kilograms. I used to work out and play sport for four or
five hours a day. I think this gave me the strength to survive as long as I
did. For 61 days, I accepted water only. For the following 200 days, I took 22
vitamin pills and an intravenous saline solution every day. Without this, I
would have died.”

 

The
decision to accept the deal from the Israeli authorities was very difficult for
Sharawna: “The Israeli authorities offered the deal to me four or five times to
be released under the condition that I would go to Gaza. I felt that they were
not serious about the deal in the beginning. In March, when they offered the
deal again, I told them to speak to my lawyer. I thought a lot about it. I felt
sure that if I did not go, I would die. I was suffering, physically and
psychologically. I decided I would go to Gaza. Many criticised me for my
decision, but my family supported me. The people of Gaza welcomed me, though
they live under terrible conditions. I am happy that I came here and I don’t
regret my decision. It is more secure here than in Hebron, but it is very
restricted. My experience in prison prepared me for life in Gaza. To be exiled
to Gaza was the least loss I could expect. I am against exile, but it was my
only option. Otherwise, I surely would have died.”

 

Sharawna
has suffered greatly due to the prolonged separation from his family, which is
still ongoing: “When I was in prison from 2002 until 2011, my family was
allowed to visit me. After I was released following the prisoners’ deal in
2011, I was able to spend three months with my children. But I was arrested and
detained again, in January 2012, and my family was prevented from seeing me.
For 14 months, I did not receive any family visits. Now, I am still separated
from my family. It is very difficult for them to get into Gaza. So far, since
my release, I have only seen my mother, who came to visit me here. My nine
children are all in the West Bank. I have five sons and four daughters, and the
youngest is 11 years old. My eldest daughter, Suheir, is 18 years old. She is
now married and has one son and one daughter. I have hardly seen her, and I
never had the chance to get to know her husband.”

 

On
24 April, Sharawna will turn 47. He will spend his birthday in a new place,
separated from his family: “When I arrived in Gaza in March, it was the first
time I had ever been here. The conditions here are totally different to the
West Bank. There, I used to live in the mountains. Now, I am by the sea. I live
in a rented apartment, although I own two houses in the West Bank. I don’t know
anyone here. I have been released from prison but I am not in my home. I miss
my village. I miss the mosques, the schools, the hills of Dura. I feel sad when
I think of my children and my mother who is ill. I call my family on the phone
but, of course, there is no substitute for being able to see them face to face,
to hold them in my arms. My main purpose in trying to secure my release was to
return to my family. Although I am now with the people of Gaza, who are my
family too, nothing can replace my family in Dura. I hope one day I will be
able to bring them here to join me in Gaza.”

 

Forcible
transfer is prohibited under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which
holds that “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of
protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying
Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited,
regardless of their motive”. Unlawful transfer also constitutes a grave breach
of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In relation to the release of Palestinian
prisoners who originally come from the West Bank, on condition that they take
up residence in the Gaza Strip, a spokesperson for the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that “choosing between staying in detention or
being released to a place other than the detainee’s habitual place of residence
cannot be considered as a genuine expression of free will".

 

Israel
continues to apply the procedure of administrative detention in a manner that
does not conform with Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture. PCHR is
increasingly concerned by the continued detention of Palestinians without
charge or trial for long periods without recourse to even the most basic
requirements of judicial procedure. Administrative detention orders are
generally based on classified information to which the detainee’s lawyer has no
access. They are issued by Israeli military commanders in the occupied
Palestinian territory, rather than judges, and can be renewed an indefinite
number of times.

 

Denying
a detainee access to his lawyer is prohibited under Article 72 of the
Convention, which provides that, “Accused persons […] shall have the right to
be assisted by a qualified advocate or counsel of their own choice, who shall
be able to visit them freely and shall enjoy the necessary facilities for
preparing the defence.” Furthermore, imposing a collective prohibition on
family visits is a further violation of the Convention, namely Article 33.