Popular protest and prisoners versus the Palestinian elite
In this posting, 1-3, picture caption and articles about hunger striker Samer Issawi, the elite and the prisoners’ intifada; 4, JfJfP public meeting, The Popular Struggle in Palestine
See also Violent Israeli reaction to dignified tent protesters and
Bab al-Shams: a new and important form of resistance
Drawing of Samer Issawi by Shahd Abusalama. After more than 110 days on hunger strike, Issawi is still shackled to a metal bed at hands and feet. He was first arrested in April 2002 during the Second Intifada and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He was released in the October 2011 Prisoner Exchange Deal. He was re-arrested on 7 July 2012 at a checkpoint on his way from the village of Ram to Jerusalem. Israel claims he defied the terms of his release that required him to remain in Jerusalem. His family contests that they had not been sufficiently informed of Samer’s restricted movement and that he had in any event been in the Jerusalem municipality when detained.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Intifada
It is the likes of Issawi that must define the new era of Palestinian resistance
By Ramzy Baroud, Palestine Chronicle
January 17, 2013
If Palestinian leaders only knew how extraneous their endless rounds of “unity” talks have become, they might cease their enthusiastic declarations to world media about yet another scheduled meeting or another. At this point, few Palestinians have hope that their “leadership” has their best interests in mind. Factional interests reign supreme and personal agendas continue to define Palestine’s political landscape.
Fatah and Hamas are the two major Palestinian political factions. Despite Hamas’s election victory in 2006, Fatah is the chief contender. Both parties continue to play the numbers game, flexing their muscles in frivolous rallies where Palestinian flags are overshadowed with green and yellow banners, symbols of Hamas and Fatah respectively.
Historically there has been a leadership deficit in Palestine and it is not because Palestinians are incapable of producing upright men and women capable of guiding the decades-long resistance towards astounding victory against military occupation and apartheid. It is because for a Palestinian leadership to be acknowledged as such by regional and international players, it has to excel in the art of “compromise”. These carefully molded leaders often cater to the interests of their Arab and Western benefactors, at the expense of their own people. Not one single popular faction has resolutely escaped this seeming generalization.
This reality has permeated Palestinian politics for decades. However, in the last two decades the distance between the Palestinian leadership and the people has grown by a once unimaginable distance, where the Palestinian has become a jailor and a peddling politician or a security coordinator working hand in hand with Israel. The perks of the Oslo culture have sprouted over the years creating the Palestinian elite, whose interest and that of the Israeli occupation overlap beyond recognition of where the first starts and the other ends.
While Hamas remained largely immune from the Oslo disease — while Mahmoud Abbas and his men enjoyed its numerous political and economic perks — it too is becoming enthralled by the prospects of regional acceptance and international validation. Its strictly factional agenda and closeness to some corrupt Arab countries raise more than question marks, and there is the prospect of heading in the same direction as Fatah leaders did over two decades ago.
The unity charade continues. After a period of ambiguity, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly held meetings in Cairo to “expedite” the dead reconciliation. Considering that adjournment of any real progress has in fact been the status quo between the two main factions, the word “expedite” is likely to mean and change very little on the ground. But if one is to judge by rhetoric and rival claims, the chasm continues to grow, despite the supposedly sober facts that Hamas allowed Fatah to celebrate the anniversary of its birth in Gaza, while the latter did the same in the West Bank.
Supporters of both parties brazenly used their parades — which took place under the watchful eyes of Israeli drones — to exhibit their strengths. This was not in relations to the Israeli military occupation, but to their own pitiful factional propaganda. Oddly enough, if the calculations of Palestinian factions are accurate regarding the attendees of their rallies, the population of Gaza may have suddenly morphed to exceed four million, a remarkable jump from the 1.6 million of few weeks ago — the actual number of the Gaza population per United Nations statistics.
This miserable legacy of Palestinian factionalism is taking place against the backdrop of a slowly brewing movement in Israeli jails. Palestinian political prisoners continue to place their faith in their own ability to endure hunger, gaining international solidarity with their cause. Samer Issawi, a Palestinian prisoner who as of 10 January completed 168 days of a hunger strike in protest at his unlawful detention by Israel, is hardly a unique phenomenon. He is an expression of the very much present, but snubbed Palestinian collective, whose fate doesn’t fall into the political agenda of any faction.
Issawi is one of seven brothers, six of whom spent time in Israeli prisons for their political beliefs. One of the brothers, Fadi, was killed by Israeli soldiers in 1994, a few days after celebrating his 16th birthday. Even their sister, Sherine, was arrested by Israeli soldiers during a hearing concerning her brother Samer on 18 December. On that day, “Samer was publicly beaten in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court after he tried to greet his family,” reported The Palestine Monitor. “He was dragged from his wheelchair and carried away, repeatedly crying out as he was hit on his chest by the guards around him.”
In fact, the Issawi family and the entire neighborhood of Issawiya in East Jerusalem is now a target for the Israeli army and police. The hope is to break the will of a single man that presently is incapable of standing on his own feet. Maybe it is legendary, but Samer Issawi’s will of steel is not an alien notion for Palestinians. According to the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Adameer, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by the Israeli military and police since its occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. “Considering the fact that the majority of those detained are male, the number of Palestinians detained forms approximately 40 per cent of the total male Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territories.” Yet, Palestinian resistance is yet to be quelled.
Moreover, “it is estimated that around 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested by Israel since 1967. They include young girls and the elderly; some… were the mothers of male long-term prisoners,” wrote Nabil Sahli in the Middle East Monitor, who also called for the internationalization of the prisoners issue. In a special session on 6 January held to discuss the plight of Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, the Arab League echoed similar demands. In a statement, it called for the treatment of detainees as “prisoners of war” and called for active international efforts to secure their release.
However, serious efforts are seriously lacking despite the repeated cries for attention by Palestinian prisoners. On 17 April 2012, at least 1,200 prisoners participated in a hunger strike to alert the world to their plight and maltreatment in Israeli jails. Despite the fact that the collective strike ended 14 May, Palestinian prisoners continue to stage hunger strikes of their own, breaking records of steadfastness unprecedented not just in Palestine, but the world over.
While calls for a change of tactics are warranted, if not urgent, there is another pressing change that must also be realized. There ought to be a change of Palestinian political culture away from repellent factional manipulation and coupled with a simultaneous return to the basic values of the Palestinian struggle. It is the likes of Issawi and not Abbas that must define the new era of Palestinian resistance.
An Intifada has already been joined by thousands of Palestinian prisoners some of whom are shackled to their hospital beds. It offers little perks aside from a chance at dignity and a leap of faith towards freedom. This is the dichotomy with which Palestinians must now wrangle. The path they will finally seek will define this generation and demarcate the nature of the Palestinian struggle for generations to follow.
The Story of Samer Issawi
By Malaka Mohammed, Samidoun
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, [with evident distress]:
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.”
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.
A Note: 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.
Malaka Mohammed, 22, is a recent graduate of the Islamic University and a Palestinian freelance writer living in Gaza. Follow her on Twitter @MalakaMohammed and on her blog, malaka383.wordpress.com.
JfJfP public meeting: The Popular Struggle in Palestine
The Popular Struggle in Palestine: Talk by Saeed Amireh from Nil’in
When: Monday February 25th, 2013 at 7pm
Where: The Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, London W1T 6AQ
Tubes: Warren Street and Great Portland Street
The setting up of the tent village of Bab al-Shams in the EI area has brought to the world’s attention the non-violent resistance that has been practised for years in West Bank villages such as Bil’in and Nil’in.
Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) presents Saeed Amireh, a Palestinian from Nil’in, who will be speaking about the popular struggle in Palestine.
21-year-old Saeed is one of the foremost youth organisers of the non-violent popular resistance in the West Bank and has been instrumental in organising the weekly demonstrations and other non-violent action against the apartheid wall in Nil’in. He is also the creator of the Ni’lin website (http://www.nilin-village.org.)
Saeed wants to give people in Britain a real idea of what life is like growing up under Israeli occupation, in a village that has struggled for so long against the wall, the destruction of livelihood and land, and the everyday repression of civilian resistance.