Samer Issawi must be freed

A network of Palestine solidarity organizations is spearheading an urgent campaign to save Palestinian political prisoner Samer Issawi, reports Eric Ruder.

Residents of Gaza campaign for justice for Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, including Samer Issawi (Joe Catron)Residents of Gaza campaign for justice for Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, including Samer Issawi (Joe Catron)

AN ISRAELI military court has refused to grant the release of Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi despite grave concerns about his health.

Under the ruling, Issawi, who has already been on hunger strike for more than 210 days, will remain behind bars while awaiting his next scheduled hearing on March 14. After the hearing, Um Ra'fat, Issawi's mother, collapsed from the trauma of hearing the decision. In addition, 800 Palestinian prisoners announced their decision to join those already on hunger strike.

Issawi had been released from Israeli prison in October 2011 as a part of a prisoner swap in exchange for the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. But Issawi was detained again on July 7, 2012. He has been refusing food since August 2012 to protest his detention. He is now in critical condition--he is losing his vision, vomiting blood, and lapsing in and out of consciousness.

Israel is holding Issawi under administrative detention--its practice of denying detainees knowledge of the evidence and charges that are the supposed justification for their incarceration.

A network of Palestinian solidarity organizations is coordinating an emergency campaign to try to save Issawi before it's too late. The list of the campaign's endorsers includes the Palestine Solidarity Group (Chicago), U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), USPCN (Chicago), Coalition to Protect People's Rights, Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Committee Against Political Repression (Chicago), Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace (Chicago) and American Muslims for Palestine.

What you can do

Call President Barack Obama at 202-456-1111 and ask that the U.S. government support the campaign to save Samer Issawi.

Call Secretary of State John Kerry at 202-647-4000 and/or the Office of Near East Affairs at 202-647-7209 to make the same statement .You may use the following as a guide. "My name is ____ from ____, and I demand that the U.S. administration intervene for the immediate release of Samer Issawi, who is close to death, the other hunger strikers, and all the administrative detainees and Palestinian political prisoners."

Join the Twitter campaign. Check @samerissawi1 for the hashtag to use.

Follow the Facebook page for "The Free Samer Issawi Campaign" to receive updates on the worldwide campaign.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Among those expressing concern for the situation in recent days were United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who urged Israel to either release the prisoners or put them on trial."

Demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners have also been breaking out across the West Bank, including in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. During one such protest near Ramallah, clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Issawi plus three other prisoners held in administrative detention--Ayman Sharawna, Jafar Izzedin and Tareq Qadan--have been the focus of the recent protests.

Currently, Israel holds more than 4,500 Palestinians in its jails, with nearly 10 percent of them serving life sentences. This figure includes many high-profile leaders and elected officials, including 47 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who belong to Hamas, the party that governs Gaza and won a majority in elections for the council in 2006.

All people of conscience are encouraged to take part in this urgent campaign to free Issawi so he can receive medical treatment.