“Do not worry if my heart stops. I am still alive now and even after death, because Jerusalem runs through my veins. If I die, it is a victory; if we are liberated, it is a victory, because either way I have refused to surrender to the Israeli occupation, its tyranny and arrogance.” Samer Issawi (Palestinian hunger striker “hanging between life and death”, The Guardian, February 27)
As of January 2013, according to Palestinian human rights groups, Israel held 4,812 Palestinian prisoners in its jails. Of these political prisoners 1,031 are being held until the conclusion of legal proceedings, 178 are in administrative detention, held indefinitely without trial or charge, (in February at least a further 382 Palestinians were detained adding to this number), 166 are under the age of 18 years, 23 are children (under 16) and six are women.
The remainder have been sentenced, in a harsh and unfair military system, with torture commonplace, almost complete lack of due process, vague charges, very low standards of evidence (or no evidence) presented and proceedings in Hebrew. These political prisoners include 25 members of the Palestine National Council and the Speaker of the Parliament. Various writers, scholars, students and artists are also political prisoners.
Holding members of parliament is in itself a violation of international law, one of many laws Israel regularly breaks with impunity in its treatment of Palestinian political prisoners and the Palestinian people generally. The conditions of their imprisonment are outrageous, with detainees often held in solitary confinement for long periods, abused, tortured and denied proper health care.
No charge and no trial
“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Israeli military has subjected Palestinians to administrative detention since the beginning of the Israeli occupation. Since 2000, Israel has issued 20,000 detention orders on Palestinians. This is a system under which a military court can order suspects to be detained indefinitely, subject to renewal every six months by a court, without trial or charge.
Israeli military law is sham justice, with Palestinians detained on the slightest excuse and held on false charges, secret evidence unseen by lawyers or the accused, or on imprecise charges and no evidence.
Those re-arrested are often made to serve the remainder of their sentences or be sentenced on new charges. Detained prisoners can’t dispute charges, can’t see alleged evidence against them and can be held for an indefinite period. This phoney justice system depends on the whim of the Israeli military; denied due process because that is the way the Israeli system operates, as Israel abuses prisoners’ human rights and violates numerous international laws. The Israeli military uses administrative detention to suppress any acts of resistance and dissent by Palestinians against the brutal Israeli occupation.
Fighting for their basic human rights
“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.” Message from Samer Issawi, December 24, 2012.
Last year several Palestinian political prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their unfair detentions and mistreatment in Israeli jails. Samer Issawi started his prolonged hunger strike in August and was joined by three other hunger strikers to protest the injustice of their administrative detention and that of other Palestinian political prisoners. All the men were taking vitamins initially, but are only drinking water and refusing medical treatment and any food supplements now.
Samer, 33, is a political activist and member of the resistance organisation, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was active in organising numerous protests against the Israeli occupation. Samer was arrested by Israeli forces on April 15, 2002 in Ramallah. He was erroneously charged with planning military attacks on Israel. These alleged charges were without evidence, but he was still sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Samer Issawi was released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. But, Samer was re-arrested by the Israeli military authorities for allegedly violating the terms of his release. For Samer, this alleged violation by him was leaving Jerusalem, but the village of Hizma, where Samer was arrested is within the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality. The Israeli claims are false and just an excuse to re-arrest Samer. He has since been detained without charge. It is Israel that has broken the release agreement by re-arresting Samer and other former political prisoners.
Samer has been on hunger strike for over 200 days and was transferred to hospital on February 27 and is now reported to be suffering various health problems and is in a critical condition. He recently escalated his hunger strike and has stopped drinking water. Samer and the other hunger strikers have been under continuous pressure from the Israeli military to end their hunger strikes.
Ayman Sharawna, 36, was also released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal. But, Ayman was re-arrested by the Israeli military authorities for allegedly violating the terms of his release. He has since been held in jail without charge or trial, on the basis of a “secret administrative file” that neither he nor his lawyer have been given access to, or told the nature of the alleged breach. The Israeli military have also threatened to cancel his early release; this means he can be sent to serve the remaining 28 years of his original sentence.
Ayman has been on hunger strike since July, 2012, except for a brief break in December, when he was told he would be released soon. He resumed his hunger strike in January after learning that the Israeli Prison Service had deceived him in their promise. Ayman’s health has seriously deteriorated.
Tareq Qaadan and Jafar Ezzedine have been held in administrative detention on secret charges against them that even their lawyers haven’t seen. Tareq and Jafar, have been on hunger strike since last November, to protest their detention without charge and demanding their release. They were both transferred to hospital after their health seriously deteriorated when they refused to drink water.
In February, eight more Palestinian hunger strikers joined the protests.
Speak up and act
“Israel must adhere to international human rights obligations regarding hunger striking Palestinian prisoners.” EU spokesperson Catherine Ashton, February 18.
Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination urged Israel to end the practice of administrative detention, stating it was discriminatory and constituted arbitrary detention, which is illegal under international law. And in February, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again called on Israel to either charge administrative detainees and allow them a fair trial or release them immediately.
The hunger strikers have brought to the world’s attention the plight of the Palestinian prisoners held in administrative detention. Israel has for over 50 years used administrative detention to arrest and imprison Palestinians without cause, charges or trial and hold them indefinitely, many facing months or even years in prison. The international community has a responsibility to condemn the continued practice of arbitrary administrative detention against Palestinians and compel Israel to comply with international humanitarian law and human rights laws in this regard and in other improper and illegal procedures used against Palestinian prisoners.
For far too long the USA, Australia, Britain and other governments have turned a blind eye to the rogue state behaviour of Israel. It is well overdue that the world community say they have enough and pressure their governments to make Israel respect the human and civil rights of the Palestinian people.
The just cause of the Palestinian political prisoners requires immediate international exposure and support to improve their dire conditions. Many of these Palestinian political prisoners have been imprisoned illegally and deprived of their basic rights and liberties that are guaranteed by human rights and Geneva conventions and international law.
The Israeli military occupation authorities continually violate international law and conventions in their mistreatment of the Palestinian people. The international community must exert real pressure on Israel to end its blatant violations of human rights laws and stop the brutal abuses inflicted on Palestinian political prisoners.
The people of the world must let their respective governments know they have had enough of Israeli brutality and the demand the UN, the EU and other world bodies stop their negligence and complicity in Israeli crimes and take measures to force Israel to comply with international and human rights laws. The world’s peoples and governments cannot allow Israel to continue to commit crimes with impunity, but have moral responsibility to act.
“My health has deteriorated greatly, but I will continue my hunger strike until victory or martyrdom. This is my last remaining stone to throw at the tyrants and jailers in the face of the racist occupation that humiliates our people.” Samer Issawi.