On Sept. 8, the International Committee for the Red Cross informed Thameena Husary that she was not allowed to visit her imprisoned husband, Hasan Karajah. Husary had been hoping to see him for the first time in two months, but Israel is still denying her this most basic right.
Karajah, 31, is one of dozens of prisoners in Ofer military prison who are banned from receiving family visits. Israel’s ban came as a punishment for the hunger strike held by those prisoners in solidarity with their comrade Bilal Kayed. The ban is especially heart-wrenching as the families desperately wanted to see their loved ones during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
A Palestinian leftist and community organizer, Karajah was arrested by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near Ramallah on July 12. Five days later, he was issued a six-month administrative detention order.
Under administrative detention, a practice introduced during the British Mandate and commonly employed by Israel against Palestinians, detainees are held without charge or trial and are not informed of the secret evidence used against them. According to rights group Addameer, 750 Palestinians are held under administrative detention in Israeli jails.
Karajah got married last March and his wife is expecting twin girls. He is likely to be in jail when she gives birth.
With a suspended sentence hanging over his head, Karajah learned to take nothing for granted. Even the happy moments were tainted with uncertainty.
Under Israel’s military occupation, where any act of resistance is criminalized, Palestinians have to snatch those moments before they are scuppered.
Explaining his insistence to hold his wedding as soon as possible, Karajah told his friends last year that he did not have the luxury of waiting. “Looking out of my window,” he said, “seeing Israeli military jeeps, I’m always reminded of the possibility that I might be arrested again, that time is not on my side.”
Hasan’s commitment to the cause of Palestinian political prisoners appears to be the main reason for his arrest.
Israel’s decision to transfer prisoner Bilal Kayed to administrative detention, on the day he was scheduled for release after nearly 15 years in Israeli jails, sparked outrage among Palestinian prisoners. Kayed went on a 71-day hunger strike to protest this decision. Hundreds of prisoners, mainly from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, joined in solidarity hunger strikes.
On July 31, Karajah, along with dozens of detainees at the Ofer military prison, launched a hunger strike that lasted for over two weeks to demand Kayed’s release. Kayed suspended his hunger strike after Israeli occupation authorities agreed to release him at the conclusion of his current administrative detention order.
Israel continues its punitive measures against hunger-striking prisoners even after the end of their solidarity hunger strikes.
“The experience of going on hunger strike is like a new school,” Karajah wrote in a letter smuggled out of jail. “I will graduate from this school with more strength, knowledge and humanity.”
Karajah’s assiduous campaigning for prisoners’ rights is just one dimension of his activism.
The farmer from Saffa shunned the relative comforts of urban life in nearby Ramallah, opting to remain in his village to work with the youth and give back to his community.
An influential trainer at the Handalah cultural center, Karajah helps local youth articulate and develop their talents and encourages them to act with the freedom and creativity that traditional education curtails.
The center also seeks to promote civic consciousness and preserve Palestinian identity and culture among the youth of the village as a form of resisting the occupation.
Karajah is also the director of the annual Saffa Festival for Arts and Culture that offers local youth a platform to showcase their potential, while also bringing guest artists and singers from all over Palestine.
Aside from volunteering in his village, Karajah is an active member of Tijwal Safar, a grassroots group born out of the Ramallah-based Arab Education Forum, that organizes monthly tours in Palestinian villages. The list of villages includes those threatened by Israeli land grabs or affected by the wall or incursions by the Israeli army and settlers.
Over the last few years, this initiative has brought together hundreds of Palestinians from different backgrounds and redefined the concept of the political tour. Under the slogan, “if you walk in the land, you own it,” Tijwal Safar attempts to overcome Israel’s policy of fragmentation and division by holding tours on both sides of the “Green Line.”
The days in Tijwal Safar end with singing and chanting just as they begin, with Karajah’s voice typically among the loudest.
Hasan Karajah is known as an eternal optimist, who could crack a joke during the most difficult of times. Thameena Husary, his wife, describes his energy and passion as “infectious.”
But he’s never had it easy. Indeed, he and his family have a long and painful history with Israeli repression.
His father, Yasser Karajah, was violently arrested by Israeli occupation forces in front of his own eyes for his involvement in the popular struggle during the first Intifada and for his affiliation with the PFLP.
Sumoud Karajah, Hasan’s sister, was arrested in Oct. 2009 after stabbing and moderately wounding an Israeli soldier at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
Though she was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Ofer military court, she was released in Oct. 2011 in a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas. The family’s joy was shortlived: less than a year after Sumoud’s release, her brother Muntasser was arrested in Sept. 2012 and sentenced to 10 months in Israeli jail.
Budour Hassan is a Palestinian writer and activist based on occupied Jerusalem. Follow her on Twitter: @Budour48