On Wednesday, a strange silence pervaded the normally chaotic, bustling Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The shops were not closed for Passover, Easter or any other religious holiday that has shut down the Old City during the past few days. Instead, the shopkeepers are on strike to mourn the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a Palestinian prisoner who died in Israeli custody.
Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, 63, died on Tuesday at Israel’s Soroka Hospital. Although he was diagnosed with cancer in January, it was untreated; according to his lawyer, Rami Alami, he was only given painkillers and antibiotics. Palestinian officials suspect that Israeli authorities refused to treat his cancer, ultimately causing his death.
An autopsy performed at the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine confirmed that his cause of death was cancer, rather than beating or torture, as suspected with Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian prisoner whom many suspected was beaten to death under Israeli custody a few months ago, sparking protest and unrest throughout the West Bank. Still, the belief that medical neglect could have precipitated his death is causing anger.
“The Israeli authorities killed him,” Jihad, a Palestinian student at Birzeit Univeristy who preferred not to give his last name, said of Hamdiyeh. “They killed him like they killed Jaradat—different, but in a way it is the same.”
Though the cause of death was not torture in this case, many Palestinians are similarly outraged. Tuesday afternoon clashes erupted in Hebron, where Abu Hamdiyeh was originally from, following the news of his death, as young Palestinian men threw rocks at an Israeli military base in protest.
On Wednesday, Hebron’s Fatah leader Kifah al-Uweiwi called on the Palestinian people to engage in a general strike in mourning for Abu Hamdiyeh and in support of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Schools, universities and community organizations closed across the Hebron district in support of Abu Hamdiyeh.
In Jerusalem’s Old City, many shop-owners observed the strike, closing their doors and making the ancient stonewalls of the city noticeably eerier in their absence. While Hebron can often create a sense of abandonment due to the economic depression caused by the restrictions imposed by an Israeli settlement in the center of the city, Jerusalem’s tourist-ridden Old City is more careful about hiding the ugly realities of Israeli occupation. On Wednesday, tourists wandered the unusually peaceful alleyways.
“It is important to show respect and make it feel like not everything is normal,” Moustafa, a Palestinian shopkeeper in Jerusalem’s Old City who engaged in yesterday’s strike, told me.
In solidarity with Hamdiyeh and the strike, 4,600 Palestinian prisoners throughout Israel refused their breakfast in a one-day hunger strike protesting his treatment. Palestinian Authority Minister for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe is advocating for Palestinians to join the International Criminal Court to bring Israel to court, claiming that the Israeli authorities knew about his health conditions for the past two years, but refused to treat him until it was clear that he was going to die.
According to Palestinian officials, there are 25 other Palestinian prisoners suffering from cancer in Israeli jails.
When a Palestinian prisoner falls ill, he is treated in a prison clinic until his condition escalates and necessitates hospitalization. Even in the weakest states of body and most dire health conditions, prisoners are still shackled to their hospital beds and guarded by Israeli prison guards. Since these hospitals are in Israel, it is very difficult for prisoners’ families to visit, as they need to apply for a permit to travel within Israel if they carry a West Bank instead of a Jerusalem ID. Many families, like Hamdiyeh’s, do not get a chance to see their loved ones until their last moments. Many others only get their permits approved once it is too late, leaving sick Palestinian prisoners to die alone in Israeli custody.
On Thursday, thousands attended Abu Hamdiyeh’s military funeral in Hebron where he was buried in the South Shuhada cemetery.