Categorized | Palestine Affairs

Khader and Bobby, 66 days seperated by 31 years

NOVANEWS

By: Gaza TV

Khader and Bobby, 66 days seperated by 31 years 

On Tuesday February 21st, 2012, Khader Adnan ended his hunger strike after 66 days, the same length of time Bobby Sands endured before he died on May 5th 1981. Throughout Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, he was compared to Bobby Sands, the first of ten men to die in the Irish Hunger Strike of 1981.  Forever, the 2 men will be talked about in the same breath for their courage, determination, and in Bobby’s case,  ultimate sacrifice.

I was first alerted to Khader’s hunger strike via an article on the internet. At that stage he was on day 42, and receiving little to no coverage.  Through the Gaza TV News web site, and their facebook and twitter outlets, I started to push the news of his plight.  Little did I know he would go 66 days without food, and bring me into contact with the families of the  men who died on Hunger Strike in 1981, and with Tommy McKearney who went 53 days without food in 1980.

In 1980 I was an 11 year old boy growing up in Tyrone, and considering the Troubles started a month after I was born, I had known nothing else but the constant news of death and destruction on a daily basis. Towards the end of 1980, 7 men embarked on a hunger strike seeking to re establish their political status, which the British Government had ended 4 years before. One of those men was Tommy McKearney, who was from Moy, a town 5 mile from our home.

With some of the men near death around the 50 day mark, high level negotiations were taking place in attempts to end the strike. On the 53rd day, the British Government issued a document that on the face of it, gave in to the the prisoners demands, and 1 week before Christmas, the hunger strike was called off, and the 7 men survived. Shortly after the end, the Thatcher led British Government reneged on the deal. In the aftermath, another Hunger Strike was planned.

At the beginning of March 1981, Bobby Sands began his Hunger Strike, and 66 days later, on May 5th, he died. Over the course of the summer, another 9 men died before it came to an end on October 3rd.

A few weeks after Bobby started his fast, the Member of Parliament for my area died, and an election was called. A decision was made to run Bobby as a candidate in order to gain more attention to their plight, and on his 41st day on hunger strike, he was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

It was an amazing victory, and I can remember the moment well in our kitchen, watching the result live on a  portable black and white TV. No one gave him any hope, and despite all the odds, he triumphed. There was wild celebrations at the announcement of his victory, and it was a serious boost to the prisoners, and their struggle. Over the coming days and weeks, we all thought that there was no way they would let an MP die, and that his life and that of the others following him would be saved. We slowly and painfully found out we were wrong.

In the early hours of May 5th, Bobby Sands died after 66 days on hunger strike. That Tuesday morning, everyone awoke to the news, and over the course of the day, rioting was taking place all over Belfast, and in many towns throughout the North.  People were raging that Thatcher let him die, and likely to let the others die too.

That same day,  3 miles from home, my father was on his way home from work in his new truck. He was stopped, and at gun point he was ordered out. Before his feet hit the ground, 2 petrol bombs were thrown into the cab, and in seconds the fire was blazing, within minutes, destroyed.  Coming home that evening my father was in a state of shock, and devastated. His livelihood wiped out in a flash. The following day, a milk delivery driver, Eric Guiney, and his 14 year old son were attacked during rioting, and they both died in the following days from the injuries they received.

A few days later, over 100,000 people attended Bobby Sands funeral, with schools and businesses closed as a mark of respect. It was a week that our family have never forgotten, and every time I hear his named mentioned, the memories of that week in May come flooding back.

My father bounced back, with incredible support from far and wide, and a few months later, the truck was fixed and back on the road, ironically, the same day that Joe McDonnell was been buried. Joe had gone on hunger strike replacing Bobby Sands, and had died after 61 days .

To the day my father died, he was never angry about it, and considering there was a gun involved, he always counted his lucky stars that he wasn’t shot. The day in October when new came through on the radio that the hunger strike had ended, I was with him. We were at a farm in Fermanagh listening to the news, and after a few minutes, he remarked on how lucky he was. Despite only receiving 50% compensation, he was able to replace what he lost that day in May. The Sands family couldn’t replace Bobby, or the 9 other families couldn’t replace their loved ones, and the Guiney family couldn’t replace Eric and Desmond.

Following Bobby, Francis Hughes, Ray McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee, and Mickey Devine all died before the strike was called off. Within weeks, their demands were met by the British government. Thatcher didn’t have to let them die, but she did. And she has been despised in Ireland and beyond ever since.

31 years later, a Palestinian man, Khader Adnan embarked on a hunger strike in protest at the Israeli policy of Administrative Detention. This allows for Israel to arrest and detain anyone they chose, and hold them for whatever length of time they like. Currently, over 300 Palestinians are detained under this rule, and the longest a person has been held has been 8 years. In Ireland in the early 70′s, the British Government tried a similar policy, Internment. Hundreds of men were arrested, and thrown into Long Kesh without any charge or trail. It was wrong in the 70′s, and it is still wrong today.

As Khader was approaching his 50th day, I knew from the hunger strikes in ’80/’81 that his life was now in immediate danger. I didn’t give him much hope of lasting another ten days, and held zero hope that Israel would show some compassion and release him. Having witnessed at 1st hand their murder and destruction in Gaza over several trips to the besieged region, I held no hope for him. Time was against him, and action was needed.

It was at this point that I called Tommy McKearney and asked for his help. Tommy was aware of Khader’s plight, and didn’t hesitate. Considering Tommy had gone 53 days in 1980, I knew his help would be invaluable. Tommy agreed to record a message of support, and along with my good friend Paudie McShane, we met Tommy at his home and he recorded a very sincere and heartfelt message for Khader and his family. Khader was on day 53 at this stage, and the message carried sincere and genuine support, and a unique understanding of Khader’s condition.

Within hours, the message was on YouTube, and had started to go viral. I also e mailed the message to Richard Falk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. He was in the region and was working on Khader’s case among other things. I also sent the video to my good friend in Gaza, Ahmed Alnajjar. Ahmed took the video, added Abaric sub titles, and through his networks, sent the video far and wide through Palestine and beyond.

With no signs of release or charging Khader, and day 60 approaching, I contacted Oliver Hughes in Bellaghy, south Derry. Oliver’s brother, Francis, died after 59 days on hunger strike, and his cousin Thomas McElwee after 62. Oliver was aware of Khader’s situation, and he too was only to glad to help. Paudie and I met Oliver, and he too recorded a very powerful message for Khader and his family. This was recorded and released on Khader’s 59th day. Once again, it was uploaded on YouTube, along with an Arabic version from Ahmed, and i sent it to Richard Falk. Richard was in contact with me from Jordan, where he was working closely on Khader’s case, and he encouraged me to keep on getting support from an Irish perspective considering our history of the hunger strikes in ’80/’81.

At this stage, various main stream media outlets were picking up on Khader’s hunger strike, and several of them referred to to these messages of support. One such piece was from Richard Falk:  Saving Khader Adnan’s life is saving our own soul.

In his article, he made reference to the complete silence from western leaders in speaking up for Khader, and highlighted the support Khader was receiving from Tommy and Oliver. Another article appeared in The Independent by Donald MacIntyre, Khader Adnan: The West Bank’s Bobby Sands

Around this time, Khader’s story was spreading far and wide through social media networking sites, and in particular Twitter.  Through this campaign, people became not only aware of Khader Adnan, but also the draconian law of Administrative Detention. The world was waking up to his story. An excellent article appeared in the media highlighting the power of Twitter in Khader’s case. Hashtagging Khader Adnan: A Global Protest on Twitter

I was using the power of social media through Gaza TV News. It is a news site I created along with my good friend Tom Baker. Tom and myself had travelled to Gaza several times as part of the Viva Palestina convoys, and from our experiences, decided to set up GTV. For nearly 2 years we have been reporting daily on what is happening in Gaza, the West Bank, and internationally with respect to Palestine. We use facebooktwitter,YouTube, and ipadio to report the news. We have a combined following of over 50,000 from across the world, and when we started reporting on Khader Adnan, we knew we were reaching a massive audience. As has been witnessed across the Middle East in the past year or so, the power of social media has had a serious  impact on what has become known as the Arab Spring.

Another man I contacted for help was Carlos Latuff, the amazing political cartoonist. For years Carlos has been producing incredible cartoons highlighting the suffering of the Palestinians. He didn’t hesitate to help, and came up with three cartoons. One depicted Khader and Gandhi together, in reference to the calls for a Palestinian Gandhi many journalists have made in the past, and one of Khader shackled to his bed refusing food.

Two other men I was in contact with were Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Both men have been outspoken critics of Israeli policies and actions against the Palestinians for decades, and they too added their support. Norman used his web site, twitter and facebook page to report the latest news on Khader’s plight.

On Sunday 19th, as Khader was on his 64th day, and no doubt staring death at any minute, I got in contact with 3 more family members of the 10 men who had died in 1981. The McCreesh family, from South Armagh, sent a statement of support for Khader and his family. Ray McCreesh was the 3rd man to die after 61 days, and on the same day, May 21st, Patsy O’Hara also died. He too had gone 61 days on hunger strike.

On the Sunday evening, Patsy O’Hara’s brother Tony sent a message of support  on behalf of himself, and his mother Peggy. This too was a very personal message, and along with the McCreesh statement, added serious weight to the worldwide pressure that had now built up in support for Khader.

Late on the Sunday night, I got a call from Michelle Gildernew, our local MP, and she too wanted to record a message of support. She had been following Khader’s case, and wanted to offer support in any way she could. Michelle is the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, the seat once held by Bobby Sands. We arranged to meet on Monday at 1pm to record her message for Khader and his family.

Waking up on Monday morning, I received another statement from the family of Mickey Devine, the last of the 10 men to die in 1981. Mickeys children, Michael og and Louise, sent through a heartfelt message, and considering they were around the same age as Khader’s children when their father died, their voices added a special meaning. Mickey Devine, aged 27, died on August 20th 1981, after 60 days on hunger strike.

On Monday afternoon, Noam Chomsky sent me a very strong statement on Khader’s plight, and a stong critism of Israel’s policy of Administrative Detention. He finished his statement with the line “His life is in our hands, and there is no time to lose.” When this article appeared on the web site and through social media outlets, it went viral immediately. It was as if God had spoken!

On top of these messages, 2 other former hunger strikers stepped forward and added their voices for Khader. Pat Sheehan who went 55 days in 1981 issued a statement, and Ray McCartney who went 53 days alongside Tommy sent a video message of support. When Khader was extremly close to death on day 65, Danny Morrison, who was a friend of Bobby Sands issued a statement. 

Throughout Ireland in Derry, Belfast, Newry, Dublin, Cork and Galway, thousands of people attended vigils and added their voices in support. People with very clear memories of 1980 and ’81 knew how much international support meant back then, and they didn’t flinch in their support for Khader. 22 TD’s issued a statement calling on the Irish Foreign Affairs spokesman to call on Israel to save Khader’s life. Parallels between the Irish hunger strikers were been made in practically every article about Khader, and when the spotlight focussed on Ireland, the Irish people stood tall and spoke out.

Going to bed on Monday night, I dreaded the feeling of that fateful day in May ’81 when Bobby Sands died after 66 days. Would Khader be alive or dead when I awoke on this, his 66th day? Would it be too late for him, and would Israel follow Thatcher and let him die?

Tuesday morning arrived, Khader was still alive, and various stories started to emerge. Al Jazeera put out an article saying that he had ended his hunger strike, and was to be released. This proved to be false. Many more media outlets quoted them, and people were celebrating a victory. I was not convinced, as I was only following one source for the truth, and that was Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.

As my days work finished in the city of Derry, I called in with a good friend, Eamon McCann, to record a message of support for Khader. 5 minutes after recording Eamon’s message, Tom called me to let me know that Addameer had released a statement confirming Khader has officially ended his hunger strike. The news was incredible, and both Eamon and myself were able to breath a sigh of relief knowing that his life had been saved. Considering that Eamon has been to the forefront of campaigning for human rights both here in Ireland and around the world for over 40 years, it was a privledge to be in his company when confirmation came through.

The following day, Richard Falk covered Khader’s story, and what he had achieved through his 66 day hunger strike.  In an article entitled Saving Khader Adnan’s life and legacy he went on to mention Bobby Sands, and the messages Khader Adnan and his family received from the families and people mentioned above. Khader’s wife also issued a statement  praising her husband, and thanking everyone worldwide for voicing their support.

I write the above account from a personal perspective, and with a sense of history.  Having traveled the world over, the name of Bobby Sands is known by millions world wide. He is regarded as a hero to many, and a terrorist to a few, just like Khader Adnan. However, he was a son, a father, and a  brother who to this day is sorely missed by his family, and will never be replaced, just like the 9 other brave men who followed him to their graves in 1981.

After 66 days Bobby died, and Khader lived. Khader will hopefully regain his strength and return to his wife who is 5 months pregnant, his 2 daughters, and wider family circle. Hopefully he will go on to lead a life where he will share his experience on hunger strike for the greater good, and contribute to peace and justice just like Tommy McKearney, Pat Sheehan, and Ray McCartney have. Khader’s contribution to a peaceful settlement in Palestine could be huge.

I’m so happy that Khader didn’t die after 66 days on hunger strike, and that his family doesn’t have to live with his loss the same way as the Sands, Hughes, McCreesh, O’Hara, O’Donnell, Hurson, Lynch, Doherty, McElwee, and Devine families have had to deal with for the past 31 years. Plus, by ending his hunger strike, countless lives have undoubtedly been saved, as the prospect of mass rioting in Palestine breaking out if he had died were only too real. A repeat of the suffering of the Guiney family, and to a lesser extent, my own family were avoided.

In doing what I did for Khader, I did it in memory of my uncle Brian Mallaghan, who just like Khader, was kidnapped from his bed in the early hours one August morning in 1971 and threw into the dungeons of Long Kesh and held for nearly 2 years without charge or trial. There was no twitter, facebook or YouTube to help Brian or the hundreds of others like him in ’71. Instead, it was left to his parents, and  his brothers and sisters who suffered so much in trying to highlight his case as he lay in Long Kesh suffering beatings and humiliation.

Today, as I think of Khader Adnan, I think of my uncle Brian, and the  people  here in Ireland, Palestine, Guantanamo, and further afield who lie incarcerated without charge or trail. Their fight is our fight, and as has been proved over the past few weeks, people the world over will embrace their fight for justice, freedom, dignity, and humanity.

Today, I am Khader Adnan and Brian Mallaghan, the man who motivated me to fight for human rights, and who sadly passed away a few short months ago. As Khader lives, so too will Brian.

 

John Hurson

Tyrone

February 24th, 2012

 

Carlos Latuff

 

Khader’s father, wife, and 2 daughter

Khader Adnan

 

 

 

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