Samer Issawi: Palestine's forgotten hunger striker battles on

Published March 9th, 2013 - 09:32 GMT
Layla Issawi (R) holds a picture of her son Samer Issawi, a Palestinian held in Israeli jail and on hunger strike for more than 200 days. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Layla Issawi (R) holds a picture of her son Samer Issawi, a Palestinian held in Israeli jail and on hunger strike for more than 200 days. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)

“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,” wrote Samer Issawi in the Guardian on March 3 (republished in Gulf News on March 5)

Today marks Issawi’s 222nd day on a hunger strike, but the warrior struggles on. He has emerged as the human face of Israel’s brutal policy of indefinite ‘administrative detention’.

Israel holds some Palestinians in this way based on evidence presented in a closed military court. It says the practice pre-empts attacks against it while keeping its counter-intelligence sources and tactics secret.

Issawi either wants to be formally charged and given a fair trial, or released, and will continue his hunger strike until one of these things happens.

Because of the length of his hunger strike, Issawi experiences dizziness and sometimes loses consciousness. His vision is impaired and he has lost control over his limbs and suffers severe pain all over his body, especially in his abdomen and kidneys, his sister has said.

Arrest

Born on December 16, 1979, in Issawiyeh (to the north-east of occupied Jerusalem), Issawi, who was affiliated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was arrested in April 2002 and sentenced to 26 years in prison for membership of an illegal organisation, attempted murder and possession of explosives.

During the second intifada he was convicted of manufacturing and distributing pipe bombs, and in several incidents opened fire indiscriminately on Israeli civilian vehicles.

After almost 10 years in prison, he was released in the Egypt-sponsored deal between Israel and Hamas to release the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. However, on July 7, 2012, he was arrested again near Hizma, an area within the municipality of occupied Jerusalem, on charges of violating the terms of his release — that he should not leave occupied Jerusalem.

The prisoners’ campaign for better conditions and against detention without trial touched off violent protests over the past several weeks outside an Israeli military prison and in West Bank towns.

Hundreds of Palestinian protesters met Israeli soldiers in clashes across the West Bank last week.

Protests

Demonstrations were organised in support of Issawi and other hunger strikers at flashpoints including Ofer prison, Qalandiya checkpoint and Bili’in, a village whose struggle against encroaching Israeli colonies was captured in the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he had been in contact with Israel and urged it to release the men. He said Egypt, which helped mediate the Shalit prisoner swap and also negotiated an end to a Palestinian mass hunger strike in Israeli jails last year, was trying to end the new protest. Israel has defused previous long-term hunger strikes among the nearly 5,000 Palestinians in its jails by agreeing to release individuals or deporting them to Gaza.

The Quartet of Middle East negotiators — the US, Russia, the United Nations and European Union — have expressed concern at the hunger strike.

Western support

But Issawi believes that Israel would not dare continue with the occupation had it not been for western backing. He has argued that Britain, in particular, should take responsibility for its role in the genesis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the subsequent suffering of Palestinians.

Pointing to the UK’s “historic responsibility for the tragedy of my people”, he said the British government should impose sanctions on Israel “until it ends the occupation, recognises Palestinian rights and frees all Palestinian political prisoners”.

Perhaps all right thinking people concerned about Issawi’s wellbeing should find solace in his words: “Do not worry if my heart stops. I am still alive now and even after death, because occupied Jerusalem runs through my veins. If I die, it is a victory; if we are liberated, it is a victory, because either way I have refused to surrender to the Israeli occupation, its tyranny and arrogance.”

— Compiled from the Guardian, Reuters and Aljazeera

 

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