International Solidarity Movement Podcast Episode 11
In this episode we speak to Isam Odi about the work to commemorate Martyrs in occupied Palestine. We met Isam [in December 2022] after we had attended a demonstration in the city of Tulkarem as part of a general strike called to remember the Martyr Nasser Abu Hmeid. Nasser had died earlier that morning in prison after a battle with cancer. Prisoners organisations and his loved ones said that Nasser had been denied proper medical care. And now over to Isam to talk about the importance of revolutionary remembrance in the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle.
He is Isam Odi actually he is a teacher of driving…
[in English] Driving instructor.
-this is his official job that he is paid for, but he is here as a head of a Prisoners Family Union [Collective] as a volunteer since six years. Their job is to visit the families of martyrs to [check in on them] and see their suffering, and to give them support – like material support or social support – by visiting them and to let them see that when they lost their sons as a martyr, we – the collective of volunteers – are here to support them. So, whatever their needs, they can ask, we can visit them, we can [behave] like their sons. Even sometimes, kiss their hands, according to our culture – so they can feel that we are their sons, and to make them [feel the loss less]. This way the families feel that there are people around them, supporting them, instead of [feeling the] losses of their sons. It is a nice thing to do.
When we say the collective of the families of martyrs, [people] think we only mean the families of martyrs who have died by resisting the occupation. There are a lot of people who died by suffering, going to the hospitals, or children who are going to the schools and who by accident are killed by the Israelis or things like this – [what we mean by] martyrs are the people who are suffering under the occupation. Whether they are killed directly by the occupation or by the suffering of them living under the occupation.
And of course this kind of harassment or killing, it can be [a part of resisting the occupation or can be because of the things they are doing while they are treating our nation this way].
And he is hoping that maybe next time, or if you have time on other days or are ever in some other places, that you can visit some of these martyr’s families and see how they are suffering, how they are telling the stories of people who have died by this occupation, and also who have died [indecipherable], and see how many children, women, elderly people have died because of this suffering besides the resistance martyrs. So of course if you stay here, maybe you can feel that. Maybe while you are in Ramallah if you have a chance to visit the family of Nasser Abu Hmeid, for example, you will see how much this woman – the old woman, the mother of six prisoners, one martyred, how it can be.
We appreciate you and other international media and human rights organisations coming here, and becoming our window to the world. To tell our suffering, living under the occupation – we know about the difference in international experience, like what happened in Ireland. You mentioned earlier there is a lot of films, media and news reports about what happened around the world so it would be appreciated that we – the Palestinians suffering for this long time – to be also covered by you or by national media in order to show that we have the right to resist occupation and to end this occupation.
It is, like, we know that you can’t imagine. Maybe in your countries some people are suffering for a few years and a few people imprisoned or martyred – it is not like as much that has happened for our nation. There is daily suffering from checkpoints, killed at the checkpoints […] killed in the street and the long occupation. If European countries [rather than] the Palestinian people had to live in the same situation, it will not be accepted… you cannot live with that. So you may feel that about this issue, and send a large message to the world about how this goes.
Are there specific questions about something? You can mention it?
So, is it possible to give a bit of overview of the history of the organising around the martyrs and the martyr families?
[relays question in Arabic]
This [Collective] of the Martyr Union is an old [organisation], since the start of the occupation. And it is part of [indecipherable] branches in order to support the martyrs’ families who have lost their sons by human support, maybe also financial because they lost the one who works in the family. We find jobs for their brothers, sisters, other small salaries in order for them to manage to keep alive. It is a whole [collective] started with these martyrs’ families.
And the main issue is for visiting those families, especially in the aftermath of the death of the person that belongs to that family. And the [memorial] feast, the different national services – give them some financial support. Most of all for social support, human support, beside other support. As much as possible.
This [collective was] officially established in 1995 it was established after the Palestinian Authority (PA) comes here – established in 1995 in order to support families and dependent cases- [asks Isam a question]
And also to give all those martyrs, like, rights. Because if someone died, he [had] rights and his family has rights to get some support, some income, […] education [for] his brothers and his sons when they grow up.
Also to support the values of what is means [to be a] martyr.
Is it possible to talk a bit more about what it means- like what the symbol of the martyr means? Because, for example, today we went along on a demonstration. Maybe it’s possible to talk about the situation today? But also if you could expand a bit about the significance of martyrs in the struggle because a lot of the people listening to this will also not be so familiar with this context of people falling in the resistance and falling in the struggle, and what it means for somebody to be a martyr.
So the meaning of martyr, when some people die for resistance, it will be the highest level or [honour] for anyone – it is above all things. Above presidents, above any kind of- yeah. It can be the collective of the people. When someone is martyred- like what happened today, it was, like, a normal activity to ask- to demand the return of the bodies but when Nasser Abu Hmeid died as a prisoner and as a resistance person, and as a symbol, The people – without announcing – like, if you announced anyone there would be an activity there would be tens or maximum hundreds of people would be gathered. But when it was announced that [Nasser] had become a martyr, people, normally without invitation, can come and gather and feel it. So it is like the martyr is the symbol of the Palestinians – it is the symbol of the resistance. It doesn’t matter how he, how he died or how he [was caused] suffering, through the occupation or by, [being shot] by the occupation, by the organs dying. So the martyr is the big issue and no one can cross the line of a martyr.
Like, [to speak about] Nasser’s case, he was suffering from cancer for a long time and his- his case is hopeless for a long time, but they [the Israeli Prison Service] refused to release him in order to be treated outside in hospitals and they are not treating him in Israeli hospital because they [would] take him to the hospital, [and] take him back to the prison too many times.
So they refuse to release him in order, to just punish him. It is a collective punishment for the whole- prisoners and their families, and especially his mother. Who [is] the most patient lady. She has five others: five prisoners and one marty, and they want to punish her because she is still patient and that’s why.
She knows, she expected the death of her son, but she said that even if he died, ‘I will continue struggling with the prisoners family. It is not- he’s not only my son, he’s the son of the- of the nation. So we are keeping struggling.’
Yeah, this is a new issue that- when they [finally] allowed his mother to see him only yesterday! That they know that he is… already done. And, uh, in his weakness issue that- and of course he’s not like, uh, speaking or- but she saw him in his [weakest state]. It is a kind of… what we call it? Punishing her even, even this [allowing her to see him], this, [is] a kind of punishing, and… and also she saw him while he was, even he lost everything, he was chained [restrained] in that- in that bed.
Yeah.Is it possible to explain a bit more some of the struggles that the Martyrs Association helps with, like trying to get the bodies returned to families, for example?
So before your question, I will translate- he [Isam], uh, hope that they will, uh, they will give the body of Nasser back soon even [though] he is not expecting that. He not expected that [in order] to keep collective punishment in order. According [humanitarian law], they should. Yeah, but maybe they will not. Uh, what’s the [other] question is about.
Yeah [so we have] activities to bring back the bodies of the martyrs who are in, uh, the Cemetery of Numbers […], we are doing activities, including asking the international organization who [work] in this issues to put the pressure on Israel to release those bodies. Beside that, even there is an Israeli Jewish organization who asked that this keeping the bodies of the martyrs, of prisoners who died is illegal under the international law. There is voices inside Israel, saying that it’s a, the Jewish community-
Even in the [Jewish holy book], the Torah, it is [forbidden] to keep the body of a martyr without giving him back to his family, to his nation, to bury him and to feel-
[in English] Peace of mind.
like to feel… the soul is resting.
So the martyrs in the Cemetery of Numbers are 256 and in the […] freezers: 119.
In total there is-
There is six martyrs from Tulkarem six martyrs in the freezers and 60 in the Cemetery of Numbers.
For the people who are listening who don’t know what the Cemetery of Numbers means, is it possible to just briefly explain?
So, the Cemetery of Numbers is, the Palestinian martyrs who are died by resistance and especially who come from abroad or killed in, uh, like armed clashes. And sometimes they found part of the bodies. The Israelis used to take this part of the bodies and bury them in random places. Like there is one, uh, in Bisan, Northeast Palestine, near the Jordan Valley, South inside inside ’48, and one in the North, and they give numbers-
They say that they keep the numbers and they have the parts for when it is time to be released because I think, like, three years ago there was a deal with Hezbollah that they would release some 90… 99 I think, the bodies. Some of the bodies- and some of the bodies are not- what they say- and like [name of martyr] is a martyr killed in ’74, I think, in Tel Aviv and basically they claim that there is the body but with the DNA test happening, it is not [her?]. [Sometimes] there is some bones- what about remains in these cemeteries?
And at that time Germany is the one who, like, make the agreement between Hezbollah [and the Israeli state] to release the bodies back. [It is] good that nowadays there is DNA testing and something that is happening, but sometimes they are digging for somebody and it is not there. It is just part, what remains – maybe they throw it [the body] out… It [can bring] more pain, even. But this is a kind of cemetery- someone […] for a long time.
From the Second Intifada, most of the bodies are still in freezers, but some of them [have now been] buried.
And it is internal for Muslims and Palestinians, because we know that one who is killed, his soul [goes] to the God, but the issue emotionally for the mother of this [person] she needs to know the place and the tomb of her sons to visit, to read the Holy Quran, and other things… that it makes feelings, yeah- the suffering feeling when somebody has died and the body is gone somewhere in the ground or [kept] in refrigerators, it keeps the suffering going on. So it is just an emotional thing, that we know that, ‘he died, he died’ but this is the emotional feelings. The Israelis’ occupation are also, like, punishing [with] this emotional feeling, especially [for] mothers and sisters I think.
So the mother [is] emotionally injured- will continue when her son’s body and soul are far away and [not knowing].
So [the Israelis] you know when [Palestinians] have kidnapped soldiers or killed soldiers… they will do everything to get it [the body] back. So, yeah this is a kind of double standard that- they will announce a lot that this is a ‘[hamanitarian] issue’, that it should be- [given back] the body or the soul should go back. But when it comes to the Palestinians, as you see [there is the cemetery of] numbers and after many years, there is still, like, more than the 300 still, like, unknown or in the refrigerators. It is a double standard when they are talking to the world and media about the human rights.
I have two questions, actually, in relation to this directly. One, you spoke a lot about the suffering of the mothers and I’m wondering are the mothers also organised? Are they organised in the Martyrs Association? Or do they also have their own organisation? Like what- what kind of role do mothers play in organising? And then the second question I had is you spoke a lot about this torture that the occupation has been putting Palestinian families through and I’m wondering is there other ways as well that the occupying forces are attacking for example, funerals or graves or cemeteries or anything like that, like the Israeli forces also do these kinds of things?
About the mother of martyrs: always they are available in every activity. They have their own relation. They are the ones who are speaking directly to the human rights organisations, the media, because their voices and their emotions is more strong than others talking about their sons. So they are always when there is an activity, always they come and participate and talk about their suffering – besides the patience they are carrying all the time.
So, about the issue is that the punishment [does not stop] or the occupation does not stop when they kill the martyr- [it is not] finished. The collective punishment follows his family. First, after a martyr, they will arrest some part of the family – [sometimes] all the family are [prevented] from travelling and [the Israeli state] prevent[s them] from working inside Israel, for example…
Of the martyrs who resisted Israel, the first collective punishment is demolishing the family house. For prisoners or martyrs, demolishing the family house. Like Nasser Abu Hmeid, his family’s house [was] destroyed three times. When people rebuilt it, they destroyed it. And many martyrs- the collective punishment continues..
According to your question, even the part of the question like what they attack, like what happened with [martyred journalist] Shireen Abu Akleh as a journalist: they attack even the funeral and the grave, and also they attack many [other] funerals happening – because it can be kind of demonstration about his [the martyr’s] death […].
[He is] speaking about his brother-
… ‘Stop you take enough’- my daughter still inside sleeping, the officer said, ‘Stop, you take enough’. [the officer said: ‘We will [make an] explosion
[continues in Arabic]
When his brother, as a martyr, died they explode [demolished] their home. Like, a four floor family house – a big family house. They explode […], even giving them [only] 15 minutes to move anything out of the building except the people. When his wife [was] trying to take out her kids- [taking 15 minutes to get her kids] and there is a daughter-
[The daughter was] still sleeping and she [the wife] want[ed] to return back to pick her up, then the commander stopped her and told her that ‘you [have taken] enough time to move everything.’ She tells him that ‘my daughter is sleeping I want to take her!’ She knew that he will not refuse but he said that ‘No, you [have] taken enough.’ What’s the feeling of a mother going to pick her [daughter] from a demolished house? this is something happening. I remember that time- 2001? Ah, 2002.
He is speaking now about his specific issue- [his family’s story].
He explains that he still- all the family still thinks about [what happened].
Even [though] the two kids, now they are adults, they remember when they are kids that this [happened].
So it is not the demolishing a building… This house [was] built up step by step… there are ghosts inside. This kind of collective punishment it is not [just] a martyr issue…
So, when they ask the mother that [the house you were building] is gone. Of course the mother will say that the most expensive issue, the martyr himself, is gone so [there are no regrets] about rebuilding the house…
His mother is still alive, she is more than 80.
She remembers when she makes food, she remembers this is the food that [the brother] used to like.
I cannot translate this emotional thing, because she is still alive and she is still keeping his clothes, his [things, hoping] for the time [when she has] his body back. It is difficult to consider-
Of course his body is still [being kept by the Israelis], since 2002.
[We] hope that she is living, because she is an old woman now – more than 80, what she hope is to have his [Isam’s brother’s] body back and bury him and sit for a while at his grave and his tomb – and that’s it. That’s what she hopes.
[in Arabic, extremely emotional]
I think it is difficult to talk about personal issues – to translate or to speak about. We are sorry. Allah Yrhamu (May God have mercy on him).
We are very sorry
… So you see that [Isam is] the head of the [collective] – [and also] one of the families of martyrs.
Thank you for talking to us about- and yeah… I’m sorry.
Thank you for hearing us and what we are suffering. Thank you.