Is freedom in sight for Samer Issawi?

April 30, 2013

Patrick O. Strickland reports on a possible deal to free a Palestinian hunger striker.

ON APRIL 23, the news broke that long-term Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi struck a deal with Israel and agreed to end his eight-month hunger strike in exchange for additional time served and his release to Jerusalem.

At once flying in the face of the most basic concepts of human rights and habeas corpus, Israel's military order Article 186 empowers a military committee to put released prisoners back behind bars and force them to serve the remainder of their former sentences.

In accordance with Article 186, Issawi "was re-arrested last July after Israel said he violated the terms of his release by crossing from his native East Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank, and ordered the 32-year-old to stay in jail until 2029--his original sentence," Al Jazeera English reported.

According to the Addameer Prisoner Support Network, Issawi was tried on "secret evidence" that prevented him from sufficiently defending himself.

In protest of the terms of his re-imprisonment, Issawi announced his hunger strike on August 1, 2012, and pressed on for some 270 days intermittently. Israel tried to strike a deal with Issawi in which he would end his hunger strike in exchange for release and deportation, but "Samer has remained steadfast in his refusal to be released anywhere but his home in Jerusalem," Gavan Kelly of Addameer said in an interview.

Supporters celebrate the news that Samer Issawi may soon be released
Supporters celebrate the news that Samer Issawi may soon be released (Tali Mayer)

Throughout his hunger strike, Issawi's family, his village and a number of solidarity activists have been targeted by Israeli occupation forces. Villagers from Issawi's Jerusalem village of Issawiya have complained of repeated politicized, collective punishment.

In January, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that a series of clashes and raids on Issawiyya during the previous month had resulted in the arrest of 50 residents, 17 of whom were minors.

Police forces set up a checkpoint at the entrance of the village, impeding the flow of human traffic for visitors and residents alike. Jerusalem authorities cut off their water and sewage, and residents were subjected to a number of punitive measures, including arbitrary fines for crimes such as the "possession of wild birds."

In an emotional letter penned from prison, Issawi wrote, "My health has deteriorated greatly, but I will continue my hunger strike until victory or martyrdom. This is my last remaining stone to throw at the tyrants and jailers in the face of the racist occupation that humiliates our people."

As part of the agreement reached between Israel Prison Services and Issawi's lawyers, he will serve another eight months before being released to Jerusalem.

ACCORDING TO Addameer's most recent numbers, there are 4,812 Palestinians currently imprisoned are classified as administrative detainees. Of them, 178 are classified as "administrative detainees," who are detained without being charged or tried.

Often, these prisoners are academics, activists, intellectuals, journalists and other representatives of civil society who are simply seen as a threat to colonial designs on the fortified remnants of Palestine. They are tossed behind bars as part of the Jewish state's broader strategy of preserving hegemony at gunpoint.

Israel has stepped up the repression in recent months, launching mass arrest campaigns across the occupied West Bank as well as injuring and killing a number of unarmed protesters. In response, the Palestinian street has joined their imprisoned compatriots in what has come to be known as the "Prisoner's Intifada."

In February, detainee Arafat Jaradat died in the hands of Israeli secret service, prompting widespread accusations that he had been tortured to death. The following day, Israel Prison Services estimated that 4,500 prisoners engaged in a mass one-day solidarity hunger strike, and his funeral was turned into a 25,000-strong protest that drew the participation of every party across the Palestinian political geography.

On the morning of March 20, soldiers arrested 27 minors in the segregated West Bank city of Hebron. B'Tselem reported that 14 of those detained were under 12 years old.

In early April, accusations of medical negligence sprang up when Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a 64-year-old prisoner serving a life sentence, died of cancer. His lawyer claimed that the prison's medical services provided the terminally ill patient with nothing more than painkillers until he was belatedly transferred to a hospital and diagnosed with esophageal cancer that had spread to his spinal cord.

Against this dramatic political backdrop, Samer Issawi's eight-month hunger strike brought him to the edge of death to secure his right to live.

The agreement marks a massive victory over the apartheid state, but it also restores dignity for those gripped in a struggle against the institutions of dispossession and occupation. "I not only see hunger strikes continuing but I see them escalating," said Addameer's Kelly.

"The prisoners have brought a huge amount of attention on their cause through their sacrifices, and rightly so. But Israel is pushing them into a corner and of course there will be a reaction."

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