In lengthy talks held last night in Jerusalem last night, an agreement was reached between hunger striker Samer Issawi and Israeli Prison Services that Issawi end his hunger strike in exchange for an additional 8 months in prison to end all his military court charges ‘once and for all’.
Over the last week, Issawi has stopped taking vitamin supplements and fluids which has caused his health to dramatically deteriorate, prompting Israeli authorities to enter into talks with him and his lawyers at Kaplan Hospital, Jerusalem where Issawi was admitted several weeks ago.
Lawyer, Jawad Boulos (Head of the legal units for the Prisoners’ Club) made the announcement last night stating that part of the deal was the annulment of his previous 20 year prison sentence, no further legal action against him regarding this case and for his release to his hometown of Issawiya, Jerusalem. Reportedly, Israeli officials agreed to the deal after Issawi said he would boycott any future court hearings and refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli courts.
Issawi was first arrested for military activities on behalf of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and given a 30 year prison sentence. He was later released as part of the prisoners’ Swap Agreement in October 2011, ten years into his sentence. This agreement saw the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit who had been captured on the Israeli-Gaza border in 2006. Israel then re-arrested a large number of the freed prisoners and drafted a military law that allows for them to be re-charged for the same offence. Issawi was re-arrested in the summer of 2012, only 9 months after his release. It was shortly after this arrest that he began his hunger strike.
Samer Issawi has become a symbol of the resistance for Palestinians, with many taking to the streets in support of his strike and calling for his release. The determination and strength that he has shown in withstanding a hunger strike for 9 months: holding true to his demands and rejection of exile despite his deteriorating health has sent a message throughout the world of the persevering willpower of the Palestinian people.
It was around this time last year that the world was awakened to the horrendous numbers of Palestinians in administrative detention through the hunger strikes of Khader Adnan, Tha’ir Halahleh, Bilal Diab, Mahmoud Sarsak and Hana Shalabi – to whom this organisation owes its’ name. These are just a few of the individuals who took part and inspired the Karama (Dignity) Hunger Strike which took place from April through to May 2012, in which around 2,000 Palestinian Prisoners went on hunger strike in protest against the unlawful and unjust process of administrative detention. The world rallied to their call and protests ensued in cities around the world gathering thousands to the streets to call for justice for the Palestinians.
Worldwide solidarity with the Palestinians and the pressure this puts on the Israeli authorities has long been an effective weapon against the occupation however it is only effective if it held up in the public eye and continued. Tha’ir Halahleh, one of the iconic names and faces of the Karama hunger Strike was re-arrested just under two weeks ago, for the eighth time. Halahleh ended his hunger strike after 77days and was released by Israeli authorities however as his recent arrest proves – a public official release is no protection from a re-arrest when all has quietened down. This is the fear many have for Samer Issawi.
In the cat and mouse game the Israeli authorities play with the lives of the Palestinians the rules constantly bend and twist. A law that may hold in place and seem to protect you one day could be altered to imprison you the next. The press conference due to happen today to confirm the deal for Issawi’s release in December should and will be cause for celebration among the Palestinian people and their supporters. December however is a long time away.
We must keep up the media pressure on Israeli authorities to help ensure the release of Samer Issawi does happen and that it happens on Issawi’s original terms. We cannot sit back, relax and trust in the word of the Israeli authorities that this release will take place ‘as promised’.