Palestinian prisoners maintain hunger strikes, discomfiting Israel

Nada El-Kouny , Tuesday 19 Feb 2013

Family members of two Palestinian hunger strikers explain to Ahram Online the significance of their cases, especially after Israeli court rejects Samer Issawi's appeal request

Hunger striker Samer Issawi, one of four Palestinians held by Israel who has been on an intermittent hunger strike, gestures as he leaves Jerusalem's magistrates' court, Tuesday (Photo: Reuters)

Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi has garnered significant media attention for breaking the record for an ongoing hunger strike, reaching 212 days without food.

On Tuesday, an emergency hearing was held by Israel's Magistrate Court to deliberate demands for an appeal of his sentence, which was rejected.

Speaking to Ahram Online over the phone from Jerusalem, following the decision, Issawi's sister, Sherine, said: "Once more, it's like hitting our heads against a brick wall."

Sherine stated that family members had been refused access to Samer during and after the trial, as the prisoner was transferred directly to detention again.

"The Israeli authorities are purposely keeping him from the public eye and not allowing any media access to him," Sherine stated in an expression her perceived helplessness. "This in addition to refusing his family any access to him since the time of his detention."

Issawi, 33, who was released from jail in 2011 as part of a prisoner swap deal between Hamas and the Israeli authorities, started his hunger strike after being re-arrested in July of last year under an administrative detention law for reportedly breaking the conditions of his release. The law, which has been in place since the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948, allows for the arrest of Palestinians if they are deemed a "threat" to Israel's national security.

A resident of the West Bank city of Jerusalem, Issawi is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist faction in the Gaza Strip that has also been involved in peaceful activism in the West Bank. In April 2002, Issawi was rounded up in the West Bank city of Ramallah and sentenced to 30 years in prison after being accused of possession of weapons and involvement in the formation of the group's military wing.

Since the start of February, Issawi's health has reportedly deteriorated significantly after he decided to abstain from drinking water, taking vitamins and be subject to medical tests.

"He is hanging on a very thin line between life and death; he is reaching his final stages," Sherine said.

He has lately appeared very frail, and has been seen in a wheelchair as a result of his deteriorated condition. He has lost 47 kilos since his detention in July, in addition to experiencing protein shortages, sugar shortages and poor vision.

Issawi's family has also been subject to attacks. most recently, on Sunday, Issawi's brother Shadi was arrested along with three others after being pulled from their homes, Sherine said. She claims that his whereabouts remain unknown since his detention two days ago. She added that she had been arrested repeatedly for criticising her brother's unjust treatment at the hands of the Israeli authorities.

A letter from behind bars

In a letter written by Issawi from jail on Saturday, which was published by Sherine on Facebook, he stated: "There is no going back; I am the owner of Right."

"I'm stronger than the occupation army and its racist laws," he asserted. "I, Samer Issawi, son of Jerusalem, send you my last will that, in case I fall as a martyr, you will carry my soul as a cry for all the prisoners, men and women, cry for freedom, emancipation and salvation from the nightmare of prisons and their harsh darkness."

He also stated that his battle was not for his individual freedom, but "the battle of the Palestinian people against the occupation and its prisons."

Not alone

Issawi is one of three other prominent hunger strikers out of roughly 4,700 Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

The three other Palestinian hunger strikers are Tarek Qaadan, 40; Jafar Ezzedine, 41; and Ayman Sharawna, 36, all of whom have been refusing food for more than two months.

Qaadan's brother Moawada told Ahram Online on Tuesday from the West Bank city of Jenin that the four striking prisoners were a representation of Palestinian society at large. They represent a diverse cross-section of Palestinians from Jenin, Khalil and Jerusalem, he said, and had become a "source of unity" for many Palestinians.

His brother's only weapon, Moawada added, has been to abstain from food in an attempt to find justice, "not just for himself, but for all the prisoners facing arbitrary detentions."


The scope of the hunger strike has posed a new challenge to Israel, which has come under international criticism over its policy of detention without trial – and could face a violent Palestinian backlash if any of the hunger strikers die.

Since Issawi's detention, the plight of Palestinian prisoners – especially those on hunger strike – has drawn increasing attention.

Sherine stated that the Issawi family was "very hopeful" about the popular movements across the world that have shown support for Issawi. She nevertheless expressed her frustration with most reactions on the part of officialdom.

Protests have taken place around the world and in several West Bank villages – including Jerusalem and Ramallah – in support of the hunger striker. Solidarity demonstrations have also been seen in the UK, Paris and Egypt. In Cairo, dozens recently stood outside the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate to protest the ongoing detention of Palestinian prisoners by the Tel Aviv regime.

"While these expressions of solidarity are very much appreciated, it is not enough," Sherine said. "Governments and international institutions must push for an end of the Israel occupation of Palestine and the daily injustices faced by thousands of Palestinian prisoners."

Most recently, on Tuesday, 800 Palestinian prisoners in three Israeli jails took part in a one-day strike, among them members of resistance movement Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, AFP reported.

While the fate of these Palestinian hunger strikers remains uncertain, their persistence and determination has only appeared to have gained momentum, as they use the only means at their disposal – their bodies – to achieve justice and end their unfair incarcerations.

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