Samer Issawi is on the 74th day of an open-ended hunger strike in protest of his political detention by Israel. In October of last year, Samer was released in the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, but was re-arrested on 7 July 2012. Since 1 August, he has only ingested water and salt. International Committee of the Red Cross doctors have been refused access to Samer, but his lawyer, Fawaz Shalodeh, visited him on Tuesday and said that Samer is in a state of continuous deterioration, is experiencing constant joint, head and back pain and is unable to sleep. Sister Shireen: "Samer is striking to come home."
Samer's father and sister, Tariq and Shireen, holding a photo of Samer in the family's home in East Jerusalem's Issawiya (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)
At Samer’s family home in Issawiya, an East Jerusalem neighborhood infamous for neglected infrastructure and civil resistance, we are hospitably seated in the living room of Tariq and Shireen Issawi, Samer’s father and sister. The father is friendly and maintains a sense of humor despite the gloomy topic of our visit. From under a magisterial moustache he smiles and welcomes us into their home.
All of Tariq Issawi’s six children, including his two daughters, have been held in Israeli detention at one time or another since 1987, the start of the First Intifada. In 1994 one of Tariq’s sons, 16 year old Fadi, was killed by live Israeli gunfire at a protest in Issawiya. In addition to Samer, another one of Tariq’s sons – Medhat - is also currently detained. Medhat was arrested on 14 May 2012 while participating in a peaceful march against the political imprisonment of Palestinians. Next year, Tariq intends to celebrate Ramadan with all his remaining children, which, if it occurrs, would be the first time in 26 years.
40% of all males in the occupied Palestinian territory have been detained by Israeli authorities at least once in their lives. Many of these detentions are based on military orders that criminalize opposition to occupation. “I want the world to see Israel’s policies and witness Palestinians’ humanity. That is our only hope,” said Tariq.
Samer's father fingering prayer beads during the interview (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)
The Issawi family claims Israel imprisoned Samer for his political beliefs and not for criminal actions. Samer was arrested on 11 April 2002, during the Second Intifada, and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He was released nine years later in the October 2011 Prisoner Exchange Deal that swapped GiladShalit, an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza, for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
Photo of Samer during his previous imprisonment (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)
Samer’s reunion with his family was short-lived. On 7 July 2012, Samer was re-arrested at a checkpoint near the Adam settlement on his way from the village of Ram to Jerusalem. Samer’s family and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club say that Israel is reneging on the terms of the prisoner exchange by re-arresting Samer and seven other Palestinans released in the deal. In Samer’s case, Israel claims he defied the terms of his release that required him to remain in Jerusalem, which the family challenges. Samer’s family contests that they had not been sufficiently informed of Samer’s restricted movement and that he had in any event been in the Jerusalem municipality when detained.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club has demanded that details of the October 2011 Prisoners Agreement deal be published. The PPC believes that publishing the Agreement will demonstrate Israel’s violation of the deal, which includes guarantees against arresting ex-detainees without charge.
Doctors have concluded that the Nafha prison where Samer is held is inadequate for responding to Samer’s deteriorating health and recommended transferring him to a clinic in Ramla, where prisoner Ayman Sharawna is being held. Sharawna was also re-arrested after the prisoner exchange and is on his 105th day of hunger strike. He is reported to be in critical condition. Samer refused water for two days last week, protesting his continued detention without adequate care.
Samer has communicated to his lawyer and family that he will maintain his strike until he is freed. Furthermore, Samer is refusing deportation from Palestine as part of a release settlement. Former prisoners including hunger striker and administrative detainee, Hana Shalabi, were deported to the Gaza Strip and Egypt instead of released, a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that prohibits forcible transfer of political detainees.
Only Shireen, Samer’s sister, has seen him since his re-arrest, and that during a court session on 1 September. “He is striking in order to come home,” says Shireen.
Shireen Issawi with a photo of Samer (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler)