The hunger striker and the ‘lion of Nablus’

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  August 210, 2022

Israel assassinated Nabulsi and his comrades and imprisoned Awawdeh because of what they have become: symbols of resistance and hope for eventual liberation

On August 9, 2022, Israeli forces killed four Palestinians in two separate incidents. In Nablus, three Palestinians, including Ibrahim Nabulsi, a notable Palestinian resistance fighter from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (Fatah’s armed wing) were assassinated in a daytime military raid, while in Hebron/Al-Khalil 17-year-old Momin Jaber was killed in confrontations as occupation forces raided the city.

Moreover, the death of Ibrahim Nabulsi, “the lion of Nablus,” is connected to the ongoing struggle of Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh, whose hunger strike has persisted for five months, and who is now being held at Ramleh Prison’s infirmary.

All of these incidents are part of the same story — the Israeli campaign to eradicate Palestinian resistance.

Israeli crackdown on Palestinian resistance

The recent string of Israeli killings, including the assassination of Nabulsi and the killing of 16-year-old Hussein Taha, came a mere 48 hours after an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was reached to halt the latest Israeli assault on Gaza — dubbed Operation Breaking Dawn.

The pretext behind Breaking Dawn was to preemptively target members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement who the Israeli military suspected of planning an attack against Israel.

However, the focus on the PIJ has also concealed what was taking place weeks before the assault. The Israeli military undertook a series of operations in the West Bank that were part of Operation Break the Wave, which was launched during the spring of this year.

On July 24, the Israeli army invaded the old city of Nablus, targeting several houses and residential areas with live ammunition, explosives, and teargas.

“We will go out and harm the terrorists in their homes,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a meeting with his cabinet that day.

The assault resulted in the killing of two Palestinians, Mohammad Azizi, 25, and Abed al-Rahman Sobh, 28, and injuring at least 12 others, according to the Ministry of Health. Azizi and Sobh, like Nabulsi, were reported to be affiliated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

However, this was preceded by another Israeli military invasion on February 8, when three Palestinian fighters were also assassinated in Nablus, one of whom is reported to have been a close comrade of Nabulsi, Adham Mabrukeh — also reportedly a member of the Al-Aqsa Brigades.

On the day of Nabulsi’s assassination, Col. Roi Zweig, commander of the Samaria Regional Brigade, said the Israeli army, “will not allow there to be cities of refuge in Judea and Samaria. We will put our hands on every terrorist and we will go wherever we are required.”

Zweig’s statement rings true for another Palestinian family, that of Khalil Awawdeh in Hebron.

An attempt to quell Palestinian resistance: hunger striker Awawdeh

One pivotal aspect of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s ceasefire agreement was the fulfillment of three primary demands: the release of senior PIJ leader Bassam al-Saadi (who was detained by the Israeli military in Jenin on August 1), the suspension of Israel’s targeting of PIJ members or affiliates in the West Bank, and the immediate release of hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh, 41, who has been held under administrative detention with no trial or charge.

On August 9, Awawdeh was scheduled to have a court hearing at Ofer military camp near Ramallah. “The court was again postponed today,” his 32-year-old wife, Dalal Awawdeh, told Mondoweiss.

Awawdeh was arrested four times prior to his arrest from his home in Hebron, as he bid farewell to his four daughters on December 27, 2021. His eldest, Tuleen, was only 9 years old when she witnessed her father being taken by military forces.

On January 5, Awawdeh was supposed to be released after being arrested on alleged charges of incitement on his Facebook account by Israeli authorities, but his file was turned over to administrative detention a few days later. According to 7amleh’s January–March quarterly report, nine people were imprisoned by Israel over incitement.

Awawdeh has now been on hunger strike for over 150 days to protest his administrative detention.

Due to his deteriorating health, Awawdeh was unable to appear before the court on August 9, as he remains held at the Ramleh prison clinic inside the Green Line. This practice of moving occupied persons from occupied territory is illegal under international law.

“There was a medical report in the hands of this judge that warned that Khalil may die at any moment,” Dalal said in a despairing tone. “Still, the judge directed a set of questions at Khalil, and he wasn’t even capable of responding because of his ill health.”

The use of extra-judicial killing and administrative detention to plant fears

“This occupation is known to be hypocritical and does not adhere to agreements,” Dalal told Mondoweiss from her home in Hebron. “They would not want us to feel like there is anything to win. Even if they did plan on releasing Khalil, they’ll probably postpone and prolong it with the sole purpose of not letting anyone — not us, not the resistance — feel like there was any achievement in it.”

Awawdeh’s health continues to deteriorate, as he continues to be unlawfully held in administrative detention. Indeed, Israel routinely operates outside of the law in order to achieve its intended “security” objectives. An important example is the extra-judicial killing of Nabulsi and leaders of the PIJ such as Tayseer Jaabari in Gaza. What all these cases have in common is that they are decided on and executed based on speculations by Israeli military authorities and intelligence.

“The girls miss him,” Dalal said ruefully, referring to her four daughters. “I don’t know how to answer their questions when they ask, ‘mama, why does baba weigh 40 kilos now? Why do his nails look so brittle?’.”

As Awawdeh’s health continues to worsen, Israel seems to be denying that the release of Al-Saadi and Awawdeh were part of the ceasefire agreement in the first place.

Yet the targeted and brutal assassination of a 19-year-old whose reality dictated that he become a resistance fighter implicitly emphasizes the recognition that Palestinian armed resistance is not confined to a single political faction, rather extending from Gaza to Jenin, to Nablus, and to Palestinian communities with Israeli citizenship, as witnessed in the city of Lydd last year. While a sense of mourning looms over Palestinians, new fears are arising of renewed attacks by the Israeli army and emboldened settlers on Palestinian towns and cities.

Since Israeli military intelligence and counterinsurgency capabilities are one of the most technologically advanced in the world, and actively supported by the US, Palestinian resistance is further forced underground. Awawdeh continues his fight using his empty stomach. Nabulsi was a 19-year-old who refused to acquiesce to Israeli military aggression, and so Israel targeted him and his comrades, not for “security reasons,” but for what they have become—the symbols of resistance and hope for eventual liberation.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss