A young man lies on the bed in the intensive care unit at the Wolfson Medical Center, Holon. His mother sits in the doorway, grieving over her dying son. His name is Malik. On May 23, in the dead of night, soldiers broke down the door of their house in Bethlehem, since which time Malik had been under “administrative” detention, without trial. On July 16, he began a hunger strike. Not a crumb passed his lips. On September 9, he lost consciousness. On Shabbat he returned to life, but continues to refuse to eat or even take medicines until his detention is canceled. He spent his 19th birthday in isolation, where he had been sent after declaring his hunger strike. In the corridor stands his father, Tzalakh, shocked and ashen, his face twisted in pain, his hand pulling at the fabric of his shirt.
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A few days ago, the court rendered Malik’s detention provisional. Not canceled, but provisional, because of his medical condition. He is dying. Right now, until he either gets better or dies, he’s under arrest. Yet a soldier stands like a dividing wall by the entrance to his room, blocking access to any visitor who is not a first-degree relative.
Malik communicates with his mother Yosera with great difficulty and suffering, in slow whispers. Even when she bursts out crying, he tells her he won’t relent. He does not want to die. On the contrary, with every cell in his body, he wants to live, but he wants freedom, too.
What exactly are the visitors barred from Malik not seeing? The strength of an individual against the impossible. The fear of death and how a 19-year-old boy is mastering it, all by himself. The passersby who do not pause in their daily routines. The power of the act, by which the strongest of oppressive regimes can be vanquished.
If he dies, the world needs to know that his death was avoidable. Before he dies, to prevent his death, his tortured whispers to his mother need to turn into a shriek that shatters the calm.
In the room next door is Mahmad al-Balboul, an administrative prisoner (held without trial) who is also on hunger strike, who has lost his vision because of starvation. His brother Mahmoud, also a hunger striker, is hospitalized in the ICU unit at Assaf Harofeh Hospital. Both are also on the brink of death.
Malik’s father paces up and down the corridor, holding onto his chest. In agony, he tells himself, the people around him, the passersby, rather like the way one mumbles prayers while holding a rosary: “If you have cause, put him on trial. Let him go to jail. Put him on trial.” The father’s entreaty ostensibly makes sense, and the logic is alluring, but it is a cry of despair by a man whose entire world is on the verge of disaster. His hope is that if his son is charged, if he knows why he was arrested, he will be gratified and eat. There isn’t a father in the world who wouldn’t want to save his son’s life, at any cost.
But let us not pretend naivete. Malik, Mahmad, Mahmoud and the hundreds of other Palestinians held without trial are not materially different from the thousands of other Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. They did have trials. Saying: “Put them on trial, Israel, or let them go” means to recognize Israel’s right to run the Palestinians’ lives by the force of the military and military police, and its military tribunals, where the judges are uniformed army officers.
No, do not put them on trial, Israel. You have no right. Let them go!