Samer Issawi’s Story: A Hunger Striker’s Tale
Yesterday, Wednesday the 26th, I woke up thinking of the last episode in Samer’s story; of his heart; of his mother; and of an innocent family. He has been charged with spurious charges and denied a fair trial in the Israeli military courts. Now, he has been on hunger strike for 152 days, deprived of his freedom and proper medical care.
I have lived in Gaza “the biggest prison” since my childhood. Yet I cannot envisage the situation of Samer’s small cell. Indeed, there is no comparison. Being on a hunger strike for more than 151 days, and living in a dirty dark cell for around 11 years is not at all easy, particularly without a fair trial and proper charges, and not knowing the day of your release. You are in a constant state of suspense.
Samer has been detained more than once. His current arrest took place only eight months after his last release. On Sun Dec16th, I contacted Samer’s sister to delve more into the latest news regarding his brother’s case. I knew it would be difficult to get in touch with her during this difficult time, but I convinced myself to be as strong as I can since this might help spreading the plight of Samer. When she answered, the first sentence she uttered was; “Save Samer, he is dying”. She carried on and I could sense how gloomy her voice was:
“We got a piece of news on Dec 14th when the Occupation Court refused to release Samer Issawi on bail. I have received news from different sources indicating that my brother has recently started suffering from severe pain in all of his body especially in his muscles, the abdomen, and kidneys. He has an acute vitamin B12 deficiency. His body has begun to eat his muscles and nerves. It seems he has lost the control of his limbs as a result of malfunction of the nerves. His vision is frail as a result of fainting four to five times a day and his body is covered with bruises. He is vomiting blood, his heart is weakening, and he can barely breathe.”
A Mother’s Plea
On Nov 22nd I talked with Samer’s father on the phone. Hearing his sad voice gave away how depressed he was. On Sunday, December 16th, though the situation is even harder as his son is at a critical condition, I had the chance to talk to him again, and I asked about his wife who had fainted after her son’s re-arrest; she has hardly been able to speak or move since then. “Her condition is worsening each day. She was shocked and kept looking at her son’s face when she attended the court hearing on Thursday, December 13th. She could not endure seeing her son losing more than half of his weight. Unconsciously, she screamed at the judge’s face, “Your apartheid regime is illegal and we do not recognize it. Samer will be released either you want or not”. I do not know how to describe this, but my wife is just a mother with a heart!” “Her physical and psychological condition is now more at risk than ever. She cannot endure seeing her own son dying. She spends most of her day at hospitals and every single moment, she repeats the same plea: “Can’t anybody help my son to be free and to live!”
I cautiously asked Shireen: “When have you seen your brother?” “No one has met or spoken to him since his current arrest. I have seen him on Thursday (December 13th) when he appeared in court. He is turning into some bones covered with a human wrap. In other words, he is a skeleton sitting in a wheelchair, and he can’t move or walk. My brother was put in the slaughterhouse of Ramla Prison Hospital during his first month of the strike. A month later he was put in a small cell as a punishment. He suffered the solitary confinement in a two-meter square room, meant to pressure him to end his strike,” she answered with sorrow.
“Where is he now?” I asked with growing anxiety. “He is still in a small dark room in Assaf Harofeh hospital. He is kept in isolation; no one can see him, not even his loved ones. The only human contact he has is the guards, who misleadingly wear white uniforms. His legs are tied with shackles that look even bigger now against his tiny skeleton.”
It is very difficult to describe this kind of torture. In a recent article, I said,
“Only imagine that you are in a silent void filled with your own fears and pain, in a deafening silence. You wait for somebody to arrive, but nobody, not even your loved ones are allowed to visit you. The only human contact is with the guards who are the lords and masters over every minute of your day. It is a sort of a living grave where fears unfold. You have nightmares about not having a place to be in. And no reason is given for your detention, and no process is outlined for your release. And consider going without food, and not just for the evening, but for days and days. And what you can imagine does not get near to the reality of what the prisoners are feeling. But the link between the prisoners and you will give them power and strength over their misery, to overcome some of what they are facing now.”
I phoned Samer’s mom today December 26th, to know the latest in regard to her son:
“The day 152 is a time of a severe head ache and pain in the spine, as well as a severe chest pain due to having been assaulted by Israeli police in Dec 13th. My son also mentioned that the prison administration did not conduct the necessary tests to him after that attack e against him. As the lawyer of The Prisoner Forum said that my son launched his strike for three main goals; bring the prisoner’s voice to the free world that we have the right to live, tell the occupation that if he thinks of arresting more free prisoners, he will got more and more problems, and the last objective is to be free which is the remaining demand.” She stopped for a while and I could hear her wail, “He has been taken away from his home, tortured with no charge except his commitment to Palestine. Isn’t there any free body to let me see my darling before his death? Please help him to be free and alive. My eyes want to see him. My heart wants to touch him. My mind want him by me!”
An Assassination Attempt or Criminal Neglect?
“It is worth mentioning that there is no medical treatment for my brother’s condition as his health gradually deteriorates and his condition becomes unbearable. My brother stopped drinking water 10 days ago. On Sunday, December 9th, at 3:00 pm, Samer was given medicine. Seconds after taking it, he lost his consciousness for two full days. The administration department in the ‘hospital’ stated: “This was given to Issawi by mistake.” There is no doubt that they want to kill him,” said the evidently distressed Shireen.
In a letter from Samer – translated by Ahrar Center and published on Wednesday Dec 12th, Samer writes about his health and about the aforementioned incident:
“I take B12 injections because I have gradual damage in my nervous system and I have pains in my eyes, nerves, abdomen, hands, arthritis, and muscles and can’t stand. They told me that they will give me an injection weekly in order to help my nervous system. My pain in my kidney and hands is increasing. The pain in my head is like the electrical shock and I have continuous diarrhea due to the fluids they give me in hospital. I have blood in urine twice a week. They put me in an isolated room in the hospital with plastic doors so that they can’t hear me when I call them. I accepted to take fluids and vitamins because the intelligence promised me that my file 80% finished.
They gave me on Wednesday a medicine. I slept for two days, then they said it wasn’t for me! It was for a civilian prisoner! And they didn’t even talk to the one. Before two days I found myself on the ground! I think I slept deeply, but they came searching for a cell phone thinking that I have one, but I told them that I asked the police man once to call the lawyer, and because I found a phone card they think that I have a phone! But the card, I didn’t take it, I threw it to the bed of the sick civilian man.
After a week of taking fluids and vitamins I stopped everything, because they were liars. My isolation is very hard.”
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association writes more about the medical neglect he and other prisoners are subject to: “Like the other prisoners, Samer is not being treated as an ill patient by the Ramla prison clinic. On Saturday December 1st, 2012 during an examination with the prison clinic doctor, Samer tried to stand and lost consciousness. Instead of assisting him, the doctor left him lying on the floor and exited the room. We express our deep concern for the health of Samer and the other detainees who are on hunger strike protesting their unlawful custody.”
In a recent interview with Samer’s sister, November 22nd, she explained why exactly her brother is detained, “The Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv paid a visit to the prisoners who were supposed to be released in accordance with the prisoner swap deal. He told them that there would be no restrictions on their movement. However, on July 7th, my brother was captured from a place named Kufr Aqab between the Palestinian village of Hizma and the Zionist settlement, Adam, a region within the boundaries of the municipality of Jerusalem.” Shireen also recounted that this area belongs to the Israeli authority but since Israeli courts had no charge to justify my brother’s detention, they claim that “Samer breached the deal as he was captured from a place that is not a part of Jerusalem, but the West Bank.”
Samer’s father speculated, “We do not know what Jerusalem is for us. Whenever the Israeli regime wants to change its boundaries, it does it by deceit and under the false cover of security.”
When asking Shireen about the Egyptian Representative’s response in regard to her brother’s issue, she answered sadly, “They always tell us that they have spoken many times with the Israeli government but that is all, we get nothing that makes us believe that attempts to free my brother are bearing fruit.
“It is still disputed whether the location of the arrest was considered Jerusalem or the West Bank” Labib Habib, Samer’s lawyer from Nazareth, stated.
Habib added, “The Israeli Military Committee will put anyone on trial in Ofer Military Court for three main reasons: if they claim that they have covert proof of a security threat; if the person has committed an offense the sentence for which is more than three months; or in response to a claim the person has violated conditions signed upon release.” The Military Committee has requested the Israeli Military Court to have Samer continue his remaining term of 20 years in jail from the original 30 years of his previous sentence, as he broke the conditions of the deal by entering the West Bank. Apart from this, the Israeli Magistrates Courts in Jerusalem are trying to charge him with disobeying the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank. If convicted, he will be sentenced to more time in prison, in addition to the ruling of the Military Committee in Ofer Military Court.
“Due to the fact that Israeli Court does not have any charge against Samer, The Prisoner Forum’s lawyer, Mofeed El-Hajj, revealed that the court also decided to drop the new charge leveled against Samer El-Issawi for allegedly assaulting police officers who were transporting him to court.”
Samer is not the only prisoner on hunger strike. Three prisoners, Jafar Azzidine, Tarek Qa’adan, and Yousef Yassin have been striking for 30 days now, in protest of their administrative detention orders.
I have met with Jafar Azzidine’s brother who lives in Gaza after his release in the last Deal, October 18th. He has been banned from entering Jenin, his original city:
“My brother had been on hunger strike for 54 days in July 2012 and has imposed his condition on the Israeli Prison Forces (IPS) by getting his freedom on Nov 22nd. Now, as his body does not endure another hunger strike; as he is again administrative detainee with neither charge nor trial, we call the world to end administrative detention, the sword pointed on the neck of the Palestinian detainees.
“Based on a letter I have received from my brother Dec 19th, Jafar along with Tarek Qa’adan, and Yousef Yassin were formerly striking to end administrative detention. They mentioned that their open hunger strikes are to protest the Intelligence and their policies and not just to gain individual freedom. They are under the pressure of the Israeli Prison Services to end their strikes but they will never give up and will never be undermined until achieving justice and freedom for all the imprisoned and hunger striking brothers, and the oppressed and those who were tortured by the fiery tormentors for decades. He ends his letter by a call on the free people to stand by them and to show responsibility for fellow prisoners, especially Samer Issawi who is nearing death. They also call on all local and international institutions and those that are specifically for human rights to intensify their efforts and to raise their voices high in international forums to expose the barbaric occupation and its practices.”
“Jafar, 41 years old from Jenin, has been detained by the Occupation seven times, his most recent arrest being 21 March 2012. He participated in a hunger strike on May, 14th, and was released on June 19th, after spending 4 months in administrative detention. As a result of his most recent hunger strike, he suffers from low blood pressure, continuous dizziness and headaches, protein deficiencies and pain in his joints, knees, hands and spinal cord.”
I met with Yasir Muzhir, the Head of Muhjat Al Quds Institution for the Prisoner Affairs in Gaza who is in a direct contact with the prisoners’ families in the West Bank to give more details on Taek and Yousef.
“Tarik Qa’adan is of 40 years from Jenin. He has detained by the Israeli Military 13 times since 1989 and has been on hunger strike more than once in solidarity with former hunger strikers including Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi. Yousef Yassin is of 29 years from Jenin. He is a free detainee and detained 13 times too. They are all administrative detainees. He also said that another prisoner named Odai Kilani is on hunger strike for 74 days now also against administrative detention!”
I met with Abd Alnaser Firwana a former detainee, a researcher, and the Head of the Statistic Branch in the Ministry of Detainees to ask about the legal condition of what-s-called administrative detention.
“It is a procedure allowing the Israeli Military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial. There are currently 178 administrative detainees. Before the beginning of Khader Adnan’s strike, there were around 320 administrative detainees and now, there are around 180 only. This shows that it is a greatly successful battle!”
All the speakers I have met condemn the continued practice of administrative detention against the Palestinians. They also call to end this arbitrary practice and to comply with human rights law.
Samer’s Message; Merry Christmas!
On Dec 24th, Samer forwarded a short message via his lawyer, “My detention is unjust and illegal, just like the occupation is. My demands are legitimate and just. Thus I will not withdraw from the battle for freedom, waiting for either victory and freedom – or martyrdom.”
He also conveys his warm greetings to Christians around the world on the significant occasion of Christmas, especially the Christians in Palestine. He wishes them a joyful feast and hope that during the same occasion next year – Palestine, Jerusalem, Al Aqsa mosque and the church of Nativity are freed so that everyone can pray together in peace, without cruel walls or atrocious restrictions.
I contacted Samer’s sister yesterday December 26th; to send a message to the world:
“imagine yourself put in a small dark dirty cell alone for around five months. Samer is a human like you asking and calling on you all to stand by him. Think of him as if he was your brother or son. He needs every bit of your support. It is a message to those who have hearts, to those who belong to humanity, to the free world – save Issawi before it is too late!”
I was speechless; my voice grew harsher. Who can hear this story and remain silent?