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The fate of Samer Issawi

Hunger Speech by Samer Issawi

First published on the Youth Against Settlements website on 9 April 2013

Also in this posting:
Israelis attempting to visit hospitalized Palestinian hunger-striker detained
Israeli Writers Ask Palestinian Hunger Striker to End Fast to Death
Israeli Intellectuals Call for End to Administrative Detention, Freedom for Samer Issawi

Hunger Speech by Samer Issawi


I am Samer Issawi on hunger strike for eight consecutive months, laying in one of your hospitals called Kaplan. On my body is a medical devise connected to a surveillance room operating 24 hours a day. My heartbeats are slow and quiet and may stop at any minute, and everybody, doctors, officials and intelligence officers are waiting for my setback and my loss of life.

I chose to write to you: intellectuals, writers, lawyers and journalists, associations, and civil society activists. I invite you to visit me, to see a skeleton tied to his hospital bed, and around him three exhausted jailers. Sometimes they have their appetizing food and drinks around me.

The jailers watch my suffering, my loss of weight and my gradual melting. They often look at their watches, asking themselves in surprise: how does this damaged body have an excess of time to live after its time?


I’m looking for an intellectual who is through    shadowboxing, or talking to his face in mirrors. I want him to stare into my face and observe my coma, to wipe the gunpowder off his pen, and from his mind the sound of bullets, he will then see my features carved deep in his eyes, I’ll see him and he’ll sees me, I’ll see him nervous about the questions of the future, and he’ll see me, a ghost that stays with him and doesn’t leave.

You may receive instructions to write a romantic story about me, and you could do that easily after removing my humanity from me, you will watch a creature with nothing but a ribcage, breathing and choking with hunger, loosing consciousness once in a while.

And, after your cold silence, Mine will be a literary or media story that you add to your curricula, and when your students grow up they will believe that the Palestinian dies of hunger in front of Gilad’s Israeli sword, and you would then rejoice in this funerary ritual and in your cultural and moral superiority.


I am Samer Issawi the young “Arboush” man according to your military terms, the Jerusalemite, whom you arrested without charge, except for leaving Jerusalem to the suburbs of Jerusalem. I, whom will be tried twice for a charge without charge, because it is the military that rules in your country, and the intelligence apparatus that decides, and all other components of Israeli society ever have to do is sit in a trench and hide in the fort that keeps what is called a purity of identity – to avoid the explosion of my suspicious bones.

I have not heard one of you interfere to stop the loud wail of death, it’s as if everyone of you has turned into gravediggers, and everyone wears his military suit: the judge, the writer, the intellectual, the journalist, the merchant, the academic, and the poet. And I cannot believe that a whole society was turned into guards over my death and my life, or guardians over settlers who chase after my dreams and my trees.


I will die satisfied and having satisfied. I do not accept to be deported out of my homeland. I do not accept your courts and your arbitrary rule. If you had Passed over in Easter to my country and destroyed it in the name of a God of an ancient time, you will not Passover to my elegant soul which has declared disobedience. It has healed and flew and celebrated all the time that you lack. Maybe then you will understand that awareness of freedom is stronger than awareness of death.

Do not listen to those generals and those dusty myths, for the defeated will not remain defeated, and the victor will not remain a victor. History isn’t only measured by battles, massacres and prisons, but by peace with the Other and the self.


Listen to my voice, the voice of our time and yours! Liberate yourselves of the excess of greedy power! Do not remain prisoners of military camps and the iron doors that have shut your minds! I am not waiting for a jailer to release me, I’m waiting for you to be released from my memory.

Israelis attempting to visit hospitalized Palestinian hunger-striker detained

Activists trying to visit Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi are ejected from hospital and stopped by Israeli police.

Chaim Levinson | Haaretz, 13 April 2013

Police detained two left-wing activists who tried to enter Kaplan Hospital with the intent to visit Samer Issawi, the Palestinian prisoner who has been on hunger strike for the past eight months.

On Saturday morning, twelve activists attempted to visit the hospitalized Issawi, who is receiving intravenous nourishment and is under constant watch by Israeli Prison Service guards.

Two women succeeded in making their way to the room where he is being held before they were blocked by hospital security. A commotion subsequently arose, after which security stopped the other activists from entering the building. Police who were summoned to the place demanded the group leave the place, and eventually detained two activists: the author and translator Ilana Hammerman, and Chava Lerman. The two were put into a police vehicle, which later deposited them on the side of a highway.

The activists plan to undertake additional actions to protest the holding of Issawi.

Hammerman told Haaretz “I have decided on a path of civil disobedience. I have been doing it for some time. I think one can’t hold a dying man in prison, that’s illegal. I refuse to obey these laws. I entirely identify with his struggle.”

Issawi, who was one of the 1,027 prisoners released from Israeli prison in the deal for the freedom of Gilad Shalit, was re-arrested last August for violating the terms of his release. Shortly after his return to prison, he began a hunger strike, and now receives only liquids fortified with vitamins, which are keeping him alive. The doctors treating him say his condition has deteriorated drastically and there is a real threat to his life.

Samer Issawi is a Palestinian hunger striker who is on a fast to the death. He is currently being treated at Kaplan Hospital and floats in and out of consciousness. Yesterday, Israeli peace activists smuggled from his hospital room, where he is chained like a dog, a letter from his death bed. It is a deeply moving document that must be read. Thank you to Gideon Levy for translating it from Arabic and publishing it.

Among the profound observations he makes is:

Israelis, I’ll die satisfied. I won’t be driven off my land and homeland … you won’t enter my spirit that refuses to give in … maybe now you’ll understand that a sense of freedom is stronger than a sense of death. Don’t listen to your generals and to the dusty myths. The defeated will not remain defeated and the victor will not remain victorious. History is not measured only in battles, massacres and prisons, but in stretching out a hand in peace, to yourselves and to the other.

These are words lost on Israel, I’m afraid, which seems prepared to let him die and absorb the repercussions that will result from yet another Palestinian prisoner death due to Israeli callousness.

But even more callous and inexcusable is a letter published by a bunch of Israeli literary cowardly lions, the liberal Zionist Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua. They don’t call for Issawi’s release. They don’t note the injustice of Israel releasing him as part of the Shalit exchange only to rearrest him for some unspecified violation of the terms of his release. They don’t address at all any of the issues of the conflict.

Instead, these moral pygmies and hypocrites beg Issawi to give up because there is very real progress (of some unspecified character) that would be spoiled by his death:

…There are “new encouraging signs that the negotiations between the sides will resume,” adding that these measures may secure Issawi’s release alongside other Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

“We urge you to stop your hunger strike and choose life, because we are committed to tirelessly striving toward peace between the two peoples, who will live side by side forever in this country,” the authors concluded.

How heartless of Issawi to go and die when these doyens of Tel Aviv cafe high society have the whole conflict figured out and are on the cusp of settling it. Or at least they trust their visionary leaders to do so on their behalf. How can Issawi or any cynic among us doubt their sincerity!!

How dare they infer that negotiations resuming between the PA and Israel’s settler government will offer hope for the Palestinian prisoner’s release? This is less than hope they offer. It’s a cruel hoax of hope. They say nothing about the overall conflict. They merely mean to say that there is some rumor that Israel may be willing to exile him to a foreign country.

That is supposed to satisfy a man who’s given his life for the Palestinian cause. A man mistreated by an Israel, which released him from years in prison only to take him back for another indeterminate sentence in violation of the Shalit deal.

This man, who is ready to face death, should be happy with the scraps offered to him by the Israeli liberal Zionist elite, who offer him the crumbs of exile. One of the signatories of the letter had the chutzpah to deny that the effort was patronizing! Of course it is the height of noblesse oblige. Why didn’t they merely go to his hotel room with a piece of cake as Marie Antoinette would’ve done?

If Samer Issawi dies, then these moral charlatans will have played their role in making Israel’s tender-hearted elite look fine and reasonable when they are merely part of the Occupation machinery of death

Last night, I had the misfortune of telling you that some of Israel’s self-styled liberal intellectual elite had published a letter to Samer Issawi on his death bed, calling for him to end his hunger strike because he should be happy for Israel to send him into exile. It also suggested that his death would cause an unseemly amount of mess for Israel and ruin their (the signatories) efforts at forging a just solution to the conflict.

Tonight, I hear from Israeli that an entirely different group of Israeli public intellectuals have published an entirely different sort of letter (English translation, Tal Nitzan, is posted at the end of  this article). Instead of presumptuously writing to Issawi as if he somehow is the cause of his own predicament, they wrote to the Chief Jailer himself, Bibi Netanyahu. They called for an end to the oppressive policy of administrative detention under which Issawi is held, along with thousands of others.

They also call for the immediate release of Issawi himself (unlike the letter from the “gentle souls” yesterday).

I note several commenters who flailed in their attempt to justify Issawi’s rearrest by noting the alleged violent acts in which he’d participated–all the while forgetting that Israel’s release of Issawi in the Shalit exchange gave Israel no right to rearrest him.

Further, the letter notes that the hunger strike is a return to the tradition of non-violent resistance represented by Gandhi. Therefore, any Israeli like Gershon Gorenberg and others who’ve written swill, wondering where’s the “Palestinian Gandhi” should be welcoming this effort and joining their voices to this letter. I note that Gorenberg isn’t among the signatories.

Among the signers of today’s letter are novelists, poets, actors, filmmakers, journalists and other artists, including Israel Prize winners Shimon Zandbank and Nili Mirsky, Yehoshua Sobol, Nisim Calderon, Tal Nitzan, Aharon Shabtai, Alona Kimchi, Nir Baram, Akiva Eldar, Sefi Rachlevski, Einat Weizman and Dana Olmert.

Letter to Netanyahu to Release Samer Issawi (published in Haaretz, in Hebrew, 14 April 2013):

Dear Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel,

We, the undersigned, hereby call for an end to the policy of administrative detentions and for the release of long-time administrative detainees and first all, without delay, the hunger-striking prisoner Samer Al-Issawy.
For over a year now we have been following with growing concern the struggle of Palestinian prisoners against the unworthy procedure of administrative detention and we have been demanding justice and fair trials. Some of the prisoners, in their despair, have resorted to hunger strikes, the typical weapon in Gandhian-style non-violent resistance.
As Israelis who see in the ongoing occupation an existential threat to the state of Israel and its population – Palestinians and Jews alike – we believe that the hunger-strike signifies a new and legitimate means in the unarmed Palestinian struggle. We believe that the partner with whom we can resolve the conflict and reach a solution in the future will grow out of such a struggle.
Israel has already released, by agreement, quite a number of hunger-striking prisoners. Now it is Samer Al-Issawy who is on the verge of death, having refrained from food for over 260 days following his administrative detention. Let us remember that Al-Issawy was released from jail in the Shalit prisoners exchange and that his present imprisonment is due to a formal and unwitting violation of a minor stipulation in the release deal.
The death of Samer Al-Issawy in these circumstances might severely damage the state of Israel’s foreign relations and ignite the West Bank, which is seeing growing unrest over this and other issues. However, releasing him could well serve as the first step towards the building of trust between us and the Palestinian people.
Samer Al-Issawy and the other administrative detainees and political prisoners are the heartbeat of the Palestinian people, the people with whom we should build a relationship in the present and in the future. We must not turn our attention away in disregard while the children of that nation are willing to die of hunger in order to receive a fair trial. We must not harden our hearts like Pharaoh at the time when we were slaves in Egypt.
We call upon you to put an end to this torture, to immediately release Samer Al-Issawy and to cancel at once the policy of administrative detentions. There is no chance for peace unless the other is treated as a human being.

1) Prof Shimon Sandbank, Israel Prize laureate
2) Prof Nili Mirsky, Israel Prize laureate
3) Prof Nissim Calderon
4) Prof Yair Garbuz
5) Prof Moshe Ron
6) Yehoshua Sobol, playwright
7) Tal Nitzan, a poet and editor
8 ) Aharon Shabtai, poet
9) Lea Aini, author
10) Tsibi Geva, artist
11) Esty G Haim, author
12) Eli Hirsch, poet and editor
13) Alona Kimhi, author
14) Nir Baram, author
15) Maya Arad, author
16) Akiva Eldar, journalist
17) Dr Dana Amir, poet and lecturer
18) Meir Goldberg, songauthor
19) Sefi Rachlevsky, author
20) Einat Weizman, actress
21) Shimon Adaf, author
22) Dror Burstein, author and editor
23) Zepel Yeshurun, filmmaker
24) Shira Stav, poet and lecturer
25) Tali Latowicki, poet and lecturer
26) Dr Michal Ben-Naftali, Author
27) Yossi Sukari, Author
28) Saray Gutman, editor and publisher
29) Jonathan Nadav, editor and publisher
30) Liat Kaplan, poet
31) Anna Herman, poet
32) Dr Oded Wolkstein, lecturer and translator
33) Ruth Gwily, Artist
34) Dori Manor, poet and translator
35) Dr Dana Olmert, editor and lecturer


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