Just outside the Tbeish family home, people began to gather at sunset. Some carried flags, but most held posters of the town’s native son, Ayman. A child carried a placard depicting a young man in chains; “Ayman is dying” read another sign, held by an elderly man.
In what has almost become a weekly event, neighbours and complete strangers have come to support the Tbeish family; their 34-year-old son has gone on hunger strike to protest his incarceration without charge or trial in Israeli prison. The process, known as administrative detention, allows Israel to hold Palestinians it deems a “security risk” indefinitely.
And as Tbeish’s fast entered its fourth month – he has been refusing food for 99 days -, his family feared the worst: “The Red Cross called us the other day to tell us Ayman is facing some extremely serious health issues,” said Tbeish’s brother, Mohammad.
Another 120 Palestinian administrative prisoners are also on hunger strike. The campaign began on April 24 with 100 prisoners. Since then, others have joined the campaign, while thousands have held one-day fasts in solidarity. This week, the total number of striking detainees reached 1,500.
Sitting in the shade of a grape vine, Tbeish’s mother wept quietly. Her son was arrested in May 2013, but started his fast ten months later. “I think about him every waking hour,” said the 55-year-old mother of eight. “I pray for him every time I drink or eat.”
This is Tbeish’s fifth time in an Israeli prison, and his fourth on hunger strike, since 2001. In all, he has been incarcerated for 12 years, five of them under administrative detention. His years in and out of prison have left him a perpetual junior at the Polytechnic University of Hebron. His family says he’s been incarcerated for his political activism on campus.