Samer Al-Issawi has been on hunger strike for almost 220 days, and he is still determined to continue, making his protest the longest in history. As much as he embodies the determination of the Palestinians to defend their dignity and freedom, he also exposes the ruthlessness of the Israeli occupation and its tyranny. Due to his miraculous perseverance this man has become a national symbol to whom young Palestinians can look up and whose picture graces t-shirts, streets and public squares, as well as websites in the occupied Palestinian territories. His stand against oppression has led to calls for public and private celebrations, even weddings, to be cancelled in solidarity with the man whose slogan is “freedom or martyrdom”.
Although he is the most popular symbol due to the length of his hunger strike, Samer is not alone; there are 3 other fighters who are still just as determined. Al-Issawi was arrested on May 25th last year, a few months after he was released in the prisoner exchange agreement between Hamas and Israel. The justification for this was that he violated his release terms, which prohibited him from leaving his residence in Jerusalem; he went to Ramallah. Although he was travelling within his own country, the Israeli authorities used this short journey to demand that he serves the remaining 20 years of his original sentence. It should be noted that the charge against him was based on secret evidence that neither the prisoner nor his lawyers were allowed to see.
One of his fellow hunger strikers is Tarik Qa’adan, who was arrested on November 22nd last year; he is serving a renewed administrative detention term without trial. He started his hunger strike 90 days ago. Another protester is Ja’afar Ezzidine, who was arrested on the same day as Qa’adan, and today also marks his 90th day on hunger strike. The fourth man is Ayman Al-Sharawneh, who was arrested on January 31, 2012. He was on hunger strike for 140 days, suspended his strike then resumed it on January 16th this year. Al-Sharawneh, like Al-Issawi, was one of 9 fighters who were released in the “Shalit” exchange.
Last Tuesday, 800 Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons without charges went on hunger strike in solidarity with these four men. On the same day, Palestinians in the occupied territories set up dozens of solidarity centres to stand with the men the Israelis would like to bury in Eshel, Ramon and Nafha Prisons. Social media outlets and local radio stations are reporting Al-Issawi’s messages full of pride and defiance. They send out strong national and emotional vibes to the Palestinian youth, who have not stopped their protests demanding the end of Israel’s occupation and the release of Al-Issawi and his fellow prisoners. “I tell my people that I am stronger than the occupation army and its racist laws,” said Samer in one message. “I entrust you, if I fall in martyrdom, to carry my soul as a cry for every prisoner, a cry for freedom and liberation, and salvation from the nightmares of prisons and its hardships.”
In his latest message, Al-Issawi proclaimed, “Do not fear that my heart will stop; do not fear for my hands to be paralyzed. I am still alive now, tomorrow, even after death, because Jerusalem runs through my veins, in my faith and my belief.” He described his condition after over 200 days of total abstinence from food: “Doctors have told me that I am at risk of a stroke due to Tachycardia, low blood sugar and low blood pressure. My body is so cold and I am unable to sleep because I am in continuous pain. Despite my fatigue, exhaustion and chronic headaches, I move in my chair and I am trying to summon all my energy to continue my journey until the end. There is no turning back until I am victorious, because I am right, and my arrest is wrong and illegal.”
The Israeli magistrates refuse to release Samer Al-Issawi, who is from a family considered to be a model for struggling Palestinian prisoners. His brother Fadi died in 1994 in the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre in Hebron, and his other brother, Medhat, has spent 19 years in prison. His sister, Shireen, meanwhile, was arrested and imprisoned for a year in 2010.
Egypt was the sponsor of the deal to release the Israeli soldier Shalit. In accordance with the terms of that deal, two of the hunger strikers were released by Israel along with many other Palestinian prisoners before being rearrested by Israel in a blatant violation of the agreement. This raises the question of Egypt’s position on this violation. I think we should be told where it stands.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.