HUNGER striker Samer Issawi called for ‘rage and solidarity’ from his prison cell on Palestinian Prisoners Day.
Issawi wrote in a letter sent through his lawyer from his hospital bed:
‘Greetings to all without exception. I urge all the noble people of our Arab and Muslim nation as well as the free people of the world to turn April 17, 2013 into a day of rage and solidarity with Palestinian prisoners all over the world.
‘The voice of those heroes who have sacrificed and are still making sacrifices for the sake of the freedom of their people and land, and in defence of Muslim and Christian holy places in the holiest spot on the globe, should be heard.’
Issawi, who has been on hunger strike for over eight months, said Israeli forces continued to breach international conventions and to exert pressure on detainees to frustrate them.
Israeli authorities ‘want prisoners to feel they are fighting their battle alone and that their own people have forgotten them’, he added.
‘Solidarity activities shouldn’t be restricted to April 17, but rather there must be activities and pressures on the occupation everyday in order to release all Palestinian prisoners.’
The hunger striker said no negotiations should be held with Israel until all Palestinian political prisoners were released.
‘All prisoners must be released before conducting any negotiations with the occupation regardless of how fruitful these negotiations could be.’
Addressing his fellow prisoners, Issawi called for unity saying all detainees share the same suffering in custody and so must end all disputes.
Issawi was granted amnesty in the October 2011 prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas but was then rearrested on July 7 and accused of violating his release terms by leaving East Jerusalem and entering the West Bank.
In a letter to EU chief Catherine Ashton, PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said the accusation showed ‘the absurdity and injustice of Israel’s obsession with controlling Palestinian lives’.
‘Since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal and not recognised by the international community, including the European Union, the term in question effectively denied him the right to move a few kilometres from one part of his country to another part of it,’ Erekat noted.
Israeli authorities had raised several proposals to try and end Issawi’s hunger strike, including deporting him to Gaza for 10 years, sentencing him to five years in Israeli prison and deporting him to Europe, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society Qadura Fares says.
Issawi rejects all options except returning to his home in Jerusalem’s Isawiya.
PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat on Tuesday warned that any harm to Samer Issawi will lead to an eruption of violence that will hinder political progress.
In his letter to EU chief Catherine Ashton, Erekat wrote that Issawi’s life ‘hangs in the balance’ after nearly nine months on hunger strike in Israeli detention.
‘The fate of Mr Issawi is being followed very closely by millions of Palestinians, Arabs and supporters of justice worldwide. The situation is potentially explosive and any harm that comes to him will undoubtedly lead to a serious eruption in violence that will make any sort of political progress unlikely’, Erekat warned.
Erekat said the PLO holds Israel ‘fully accountable’ for Issawi’s critical condition, but that should Issawi die, the PLO would also hold the international community partly responsible for tolerating Israel’s actions. The EU has committed to upgrade its relations to Israel if certain conditions are met.
‘We feel very strongly that such conditions cannot possibly be met while Israel’s numerous and repeated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law continue unabated, not just in relation to Mr Issawi but in relation to its treatment of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are held without charge or trial in inhumane conditions.’
Erekat also expressed concern over Israeli efforts to deport Issawi, which would be in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society Qadura Fares said Israeli authorities had raised several proposals to try and end Issawi’s hunger strike, including deporting him to Gaza for 10 years, sentencing him to five years in Israeli prison and deporting him to Europe.
Fares said none of the proposals were ever made official as Issawi rejected all options except returning home to his home in Jerusalem’s Isawiya.
l Meanwhile in Bethleham, former hunger striker Ayman Sharawna said on Wednesday that he would have died on hunger strike if he had not accepted a deal from Israel to be exiled.
A father of nine, Sharawna told the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that the decision to accept a deal from Israeli authorities was extremely difficult.
‘I thought a lot about it. I felt sure that if I did not go, I would die. I was suffering, physically and psychologically. I decided I would go to Gaza’, he said.
‘Many criticised me for my decision, but my family supported me. The people of Gaza welcomed me, though they live under terrible conditions.’
Released in the October 2011 prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas, Sharawna was rearrested in January 2012 and accused of violating the terms of his release.
Israeli prosecutors sought to cancel Sharawna’s amnesty and jail him for 28 years, the remainder of his previous sentence. He went on hunger strike to demand his release.
‘There was no investigation, and I had no idea when I might be released. The Israeli intelligence held a secret file about me. Not even my lawyers were allowed to see the file.
‘Being held under administrative detention is worse than being charged with any crime, because you don’t know what you are accused of. I felt that the Israeli authorities were trying to implement my previous sentence, even though I had been released under the deal. I had no hope.’
Separated from his family and due to celebrate his 47th birthday next week, Sharawna says he deeply misses his family and hometown.
His nine children are all in the West Bank and since his release he has only managed to see his mother, who visited him in Gaza.
‘I feel sad when I think of my children and my mother who is ill. I call my family on the phone but, of course, there is no substitute for being able to see them face to face, to hold them in my arms’, he says.
Sharawna’s eight-month hunger strike has had a long-term impact on his health. He requires the use of a zimmer-frame to walk and has already had surgery on his left eye.
According to Addameer, there are 4,938 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, including 170 held under administrative detention.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross told PCHR that ‘choosing between staying in detention or being released to a place other than the detainee’s habitual place of residence cannot be considered as a genuine expression of free will’, adding that forcible transfer is prohibited under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
‘I miss my village. I miss the mosques, the schools, the hills of Dura,’ Sharawna says.
‘I am against exile, but it was my only option. Otherwise, I surely would have died.’