“I will not withdraw from the battle for freedom”: The Story of Samer Issawi by Malaka Mohammed
by Malaka Mohammed
Being on hunger strike; losing more than half of your weight; suffering uncountable kinds of diseases; living in a two-meters-square room; not knowing when you will be released: it could be 1 year or 10 years or less or even more, you just have to wait. This is not only Samer Issawi’s story but also that of many other administrative detainees and unjustly held Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Samer is a Palestinian from Jerusalem. He was detained only eight months after his previous 11-year arrest that ended with his freedom in the Oct 18th 2011 prisoner exchange deal. He is denied a fair trial in the Israeli military courts. Thus, he launched a hunger strike on Aug 1st, to protest his illegitimate detention and the medical neglect that he faces.
On Jan 1st, I contacted Samer’s family. I spoke directly with his mother, Um Ra’ afat, who said:
“For 157 days, my son is on hunger strike. The Israeli occupation court refused to release him on bail on Dec 14th. My son drinks water only, without any solvents or sugar. We call to intensify the efforts and to raise the voices high in international forums to expose the barbaric occupation and its practices.”
What is his medical situation?
“He has recently started suffering from severe pain especially in his muscles, abdomen and kidneys. He has an acute vitamin B-12 deficiency and his body has begun to eat his muscles and nerves. Also, his sight is weak, he is fainting around six times a day and his body is covered with bruises. Moreover, he is vomiting blood, his heart is weakening and he can barely breathe. He has begun to feel pains in his chest due to having been assaulted by Israeli police at his latest court hearing on December 13th. Until now, he has not had the necessary tests conducted on him after that attack against him and so far the hospital administration refused to test and X-rays his chest. His health continues to deteriorate and his body is eroding and he has lost sense of the extremities (the hands and feet) as well as in his lips and he has lost a great deal of hair,” said his mother, in evident distress.
She stopped for a while and I could hear her cry. “Isn’t there any force of freedom, to allow me to see my darling before his death? I want to kiss or even touch him before his inevitable death!” she said, bursting into tears. “Only once [Dec 13th] have I seen him, when he appeared in the Israeli Magistrate Court. He looked like skin and bones, and he can neither move nor walk.”
“Where is he now?” I asked with growing anxiety.
“He is now living in an isolated cell at Ramlah prison hospital; no one can see him, not even his loved ones. The only human contact he has is the guards. His legs are tied with shackles that look even bigger given to his tiny skeleton.” she answered with sorrow.
“Every moment, I received more sad news. The most difficult thing to hear was on December 9th when my son was given a medicine by the Israeli prison authorities and lost his consciousness as a result and did not wake up for 48 hours. Also, on Dec 13th, my son was attacked brutally three times inside the courtroom and in front of the judge where soldiers kick their feet on his chest. I was shocked and kept looking at my son’s face. I am a mother and can’t endure seeing my son dying in front of my eyes. I cannot see him losing more than everything of his health. I screamed at the judge’s face, ‘Your apartheid regime is unlawful and we do not recognize it. I want to see; speak; hear; touch; kiss; hug; and take my son home.’”
It is very difficult to describe this kind of torture. In a recent article, I wrote:
“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.”
An Assassination Attempt
Shireen Issawi, Samer’s sister, has been on hunger strike protesting his brother’s illegal detention for over a month, and she, as her mother told me, will not stop till her brother’s freedom. As I reported in the Electronic Intifada, she said:
“It is worth mentioning that there is no medical treatment for my brother’s condition as his health increasingly deteriorates and his condition becomes unbearable. My brother stopped drinking water around 20 days ago. On Sun Dec 9th, 3 pm, he 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 has documented 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.”
Samer Issawi is not the only hunger striker. Jafar Azzidine, Tarek Qa’adan, and Yousef Yassin have been striking for 37 days now, in protest of their administrative detention orders.
I met with Jafar Azzidine’s brother who lives in Gaza after his release in the last exchange – the same exchange of October 18 2011 in which Samer Issawi was released. He has been banned from entering Jenin, the city of his birth and his hometown.
“My brother had been on hunger strike for 54 days in March – May 2012, winning his freedom in June 2012 and had imposed his condition on the Israeli Prison Forces (IPS).” On Nov 22nd he was once again arrested and held under administrative detention. “Now, as his body can not endure another hunger strike; as he is once again an administrative detainee with neither charge nor trial, we call upon the world to end administrative detention, the sword pointed on the neck of the Palestinian detainees. I received a letter in Dec 19th from Jafar, Tarek, and Yousef who are striking to end their detentions. They emphasize that their open hunger strikes are to protest the Israeli intelligence and their policies and not just to gain individual freedom.
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 which ended 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.”
On Dec 30th, Samer forwarded a short message via his lawyer,
“My detention is unfair and my demands are nothing but just. Thus I will not withdraw from the battle for freedom. I am waiting for either victory and freedom – or martyrdom. I was able to achieve 90% of my objectives that were to deliver my voice to the Egyptians, to maintain the achievements of the deal by preventing the re-arrest of prisoners liberated in the exchange; I maintained the prestige of Egypt as a mediator in the deal and to preserve the blood of the martyrs in Gaza. So there only still remains 10% from my goals, which is very small: my freedom.”
At the end, I only want you to imagine yourself put alone in a small dirty dark cell for unlimited time and you cannot get your freedom but with a strike. What will you do? Think of Samer as if he was your brother or son. He needs every bit of your action.