Filming the story of an old friend’s hunger strike

A short film about a Palestinian hunger striker is screened in Amman after its premier at the Cannes Film Festival. The director was inspired not only by his Palestinian identity, but also an old friendship.

Photo by: TRT WORLD
Photo by: TRT WORLD

Muhammad Al Qeeq participated in a conference after the film.

Updated Jul 1, 2016

"Al Qeeq," a Palestinian short-film depicting the life of Muhammad Al Qeeq, garnered much interest at the Cannes Film Festival in May. 

Al Qeeq, 33, was detained by Israeli authorities without being formally charged. He went on a hunger strike which lasted for 95 days before officials released him. 

The film was screened on May 21, the day Al Qeeq's hunger strike ended. 

Directed by Nawras Abu Saleh, who is a close friend of Al Qeeq, the only Palestinian film featured at the Festival aimed to showcase the daily reality of life in occupied Palestine through the eyes of his friend. 

"Muhammad Al Qeeq is my friend from university. We studied together, and then he became a journalist and I became a film maker," said Abu Saleh. 

"I write and directed the film, I produced it because this voice has to reach everywhere, and also my friendship added to the reasons, and because I did not have time to look for the actor who is in the shape and the look of Al Qeeq , so I played the role," he added.

After the film was screened in Jordan's capital Amman, Abu Saleh spoke to TRT World, saying he aimed to tell not only Al Qeeq's story but also what is happening in the occupied territories.

Nawras Abu Saleh talks to TRTWorld about his film, Photo by: TRT WORLD (Özgür Tomakin)

The film was screened in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in France on May 21 – the day Al Qeeq was released after he went on a hunger strike. 

Abu Saleh rebuked calls from some critics who wanted the film to be removed from the screening list. 

The film was well received by attendees who complimented Abu Saleh on his achievement.

Live stream with Al Qeeq

After the screening of the film, Al Qeeq participated in a conference with a live stream from his house in Palestine through Skype, talking about his hunger strike during which he spent 95 days in Israeli detention without trial.

Al Qeeq stresses that the reason he went on hunger strike was to emphasise, "the illegal, insulting and humiliating investigation carried out by the occupying Israeli forces in the prison."

"I witnessed female prisoners being humiliated and verbally abused like other prisoners in cells next to mine. The hunger strike was not in my mind in the beginning. However, all these facts made me take this decision," said Al Qeeq.

Despite having endured a traumatic experience, he believes that the dignity he showed during this experience benefits the Palestinian cause.

"We live in Palestine and any film that conveys our experience to foreign countries and increases the attention towards our cause is really important for Palestine."

MuhammadAl Qeeq, Photo by: AP (Archive)

Israeli detention without charge or trial

Al Qeeq worked as a news reporter for the Saudi-owned TV network Al Majd.

He was detained by Israeli security forces on November 21, 2015, in connection with alleged involvement in Hamas activities.

However, Palestinians claim that he was detained only for expressing his opinions. During the period of his detention he wasn't charged. Israeli policy allows Palestinians to be held in prison for a six-month period without charge or trial if they pose a security threat to Israel.

Al Qeeq started his hunger strike after spending four days in detention. He was hospitalised in the city of Afula where he was detained. After spending 95 days on the hunger strike, he reached an agreement with Israeli authorities to secure his release. Al Qeeq was released from detention on May 21, 2016, a month earlier than originally planned by Israeli authorities.

Hundreds of Palestinians are still detained in Israeli prisons without charge or trial and ten of them are currently on hunger strike.

Author: Özgür Tomakin