For Shalabi, Gaza is Still Home

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Yesterday, as Hana’ Shalabi was escorted into the Gaza Strip by Israeli police, all would probably agree, it was a tough scene. Visibly emaciated, even under her loose Islamic garb, Shalabi was most likely feeling a myriad of mixed emotions: relief that she would not die –” at least from her 44 day hunger strike; elation that she would be free from Israeli prison bars, security checks, harassment and mistreatment at the hands of Israeli interrogation and prison authorities; and sadness because although she was free from Israel’s iron cells, she would not be going home.

Two days ago, news broke that Shalabi, in dire health condition, had cut a deal with Israeli authorities whereby she would be exiled to the Gaza Strip for three years in exchange for being released from her administrative detention sentence and ending her hunger strike. The deal, apparently, took many by surprise including Shalabi’s own family and lawyers who said they had no prior knowledge that discussions between the two were taking place. The lawyers, the Prisoner Affairs Ministry, the Prisoner Society which represented her, the Islamic Jihad and her family later said Israel had purposely isolated Shalabi for days, had not let her see family or legal counsel, in order to coerce her into accepting the deal. They all, without exception, condemned the deportation order, saying they would not recognize it in any way so as not to give it any semblance of legitimacy.

As for Hana’ Shalabi, weak and dehydrated, she did manage to address the masses of people out to greet her and welcome her to her new home. After bidding her family goodbye (they were allowed one hour together at the crossing with police presence) she asked everyone to “respect her decision”, pointing out that it was a decision she made freely and not out of weakness.

That may be true and it may not. It is hard to imagine being on hunger strike for 44 days, isolated in a hospital bed with only Israeli security guards around you, and making a decision completely of your own free will. Shalabi was bleeding from her nose and mouth, she was suffering from muscular atrophy and she had lost the ability to sleep. Most of all, she was alone, cut off from the world and from her loved ones and she made a decision to save her life, even at such a heavy price.

This is not a judgment on Hana’ Shalabi but rather a question of Israel’s intentions. Hana’ Shalabi should not be judged except as the courageous soul that she is. She fought a good fight and decided this was her best option. She did, after all, end her administrative detention, which is in and of itself a victory.

But Israel cannot be trusted. Three years is a long time by any book, especially, like her brother Omar said, since her sentence was only four months. But who can guarantee that this will not drag on longer than the three years? Who is going to make Israel abide by its own deal? The Nativity Church deportees were ostensibly to be exiled from their homes for two years . It has been 10 years to the day since their exile and they have not been allowed to return.

Besides, Israel knows that Shalabi has affiliations with Islamic Jihad, a movement that is opposed to any agreement with Israel and is at odds even with Hamas. All Israel needs to do is claim that during her three years in Gaza, Shalabi formed ‘dangerous relationships’ with the Islamic Jihad and is plotting to attack Israel, the perfect excuse for keeping her in the isolated Strip or targeting her in one of its ‘surgical strikes’.

No, Shalabi’s deportation does not sit well with any Palestinian because it is unjust, not to mention in complete contravention of international law. [see Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention]. Israel has always acted above every possible law, even its own and this may pan out no differently.

But then again, Shalabi is still in Palestine and among her people. And she is alive.

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