I was sitting at the Gaza Beach with some of my friends including Mahmoud Sarsak and some of the Samouni kids who had had such a tragic experience during the last Israeli attack on Gaza in January 2009. That time, 100 or more of the same family were forced to stay in a small house for a day and a half until the Israeli Army eventually dropped missiles on them. Thus 29 of their beloved were dead and the rest were injured either psychologically or physically.
Our trip’s star, Palestinian national team footballer Sarsak, shared his experience of being imprisoned in “Israel” without any charge and his 95 day hunger strike.
“As it approached three months, many things tempted me to end my hunger strike. Before striking, we used to throw the food given to us by the Israeli Prison Services; food that shouldn’t be given to animals let alone us. I, as well as all other detainees, bought food from the prison cafeteria using our limited money that is transferred to our account by our families. But after commencing my strike, they started offering me delicious healthy meals like fresh meat.”
In a boat, enjoying our trip with Sarsak, captured by Taj Saleem.
Sarsak also reminisced his moments of freedom, ”I am so happy to be released, but at the same time my satisfaction is partial since there is a wave of hunger strikers continuing their revolution inside Israeli jails.” Sarsak went on, “I went on hunger strike as it is unfair to be kept as an administrative detainee with neither charge nor trial for more than 3 years.” instilled
While enjoying sitting at the beach, I received a message that delighted and enlivened me and our gathering even more:
“Two Palestinian long-term hunger strikers have broken months of fasting once a deal expected to secure their release has been issued.”
Safadi is set to be released on October 29th at the end of his detention period and Barq is waiting to be deported to Egypt. In Gaza, we had actually already heard about a possible deal at the end of last week. We knew that an appeal had been accepted, but “Israel” may appeal against it in one way or another though hardly have I heard the Israeli Courts re appeal! We can never trust this fake state! Nevertheless, we have to expect the worst and hope for the best. Now, it is a reality. How happiness hovered over Gaza just after this great news is indescribable!
It is ironic how unplanned actions so frequently impact my life far more than those that are planned. Personally, I could not even expect the appeal to be accepted in such a hurry. Nonetheless, it seems that international campaigns have put much pressure on “Israel” to make this decision take place as quick as possible.
Usually, when such a triumph is brought to the scene, I strike while the iron is hot and congratulate one or more of the joyous families’ members. This time however, I made up my mind to phone Samir Issawi’s family.
Aymen Sharawna and Samer Issawi remain on hunger strike. Both were ex-detainees sentenced to 38 and 30 years respectively. They were both liberated under Wafa Al-Ahrar swap-deal, and then were re-arrested in the recent year!
“Up till now, nine of the free detainees of the deal were re-arrested.” stated by Issawi’s father. Sharawna is now in a critical condition. He lost the sight of his right eye as well as the ability to move and one of his kidneys has failed.
Samir Issawi and Aymen Sharawna respectively.
Who is Samir Issawi?
Thirty-two-year-old Issawi is from the Issawiyeh to the north east of Jerusalem. On April 15th, 2002 while being in a tower near Al-Ram, to the north of Jerusalem, he was captured during the attacks on several places there executed by Israeli “Operation Defensive Shield.” At that time, he was sentenced to thirty years on charges of owning weapons and forming military groups in Jerusalem. Nearly 10 years after his captivity, an Egypt-brokered deal between Hamas and “Israel” about the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, had been brought to the spotlight after years of staying under the shadow of hot arguments and meetings lingering for more than five years. Consequently, 476 Palestinian prisoners were released including Issawi and Sharawna.
Wondering why he has been detained only after eight months of his last release, I planned to phone Samir’s family to delve more in their son’s case. I could not make a call at first; I had a shaking voice and trembling hands and did not even know how to commence! It was too hard for me to utter a word since I knew he might be too sad seeing Safadi and Barq achieving triumph while his love is dying. I endeavored to pull my strength together and convinced myself to stop being hesitant. Bearing in mind that a call can make a difference as it is a kind of support, I phoned the family. Samir’s father responded. I wish I could have talked to Samir’s mother but regretfully “She fainted and was taken to a hospital after his son’s arrest and hardly can she move or speak then!”
After hearing his gloomy voice, I could sense how sad he is! I asked about his feelings after an appeal was set to release Safadi and Barq. “My son and I are very contented to see them smelling freedom” he uttered, after which his voice became gradually gloomier. I did not want him to cry so I swiftly changed the subject over to Samir and his current hunger strike;
”My son is obsessed with peace and life, not hunger or thirst. It is left to his own dignity that should lead all of us to do everything to return to him his rights and freedom. We have been told that my son’s health is now deteriorating and he is unable to sleep and instead falls unconscious so many times a day. He has also complained of severe pains in his kidney and back.”
Two days after the call, I contacted Shireen, a former detainee and Samir’s sister. I inquired about her mom’s health at first, “My mom’s physical and psychological condition is now more at risk than ever. She cannot endure seeing her own son dying. She spends more than 12 hours a day in hospitals and every single moment, she repeats the same question and demand “can’t I see my sweetheart only once?”
“Haven’t any of your family members visited Samir or even talked to him!” hesitantly, I wondered. “No one has met or spoken to him since his current arrest. Only once have I seen him while put in a court.” she answered with a sorrowful tone. “That time, he could not move due to the shackles all around his feet and hands. They were bigger and heavier given how weak and frail his body had become”
“My brother used to be put in the slaughterhouse of Ramleh Prison Hospital where there was no media coverage about his situation. Now, in order to force him to end his strike, he was transferred to solitary confinement.” Said the evidently distressed Shireen
May 2011, Shireen Issawi after a month of being tortured in the Russian Compound!
Think about what a permanent state of solitary confinement means. You are forced to stay in a two-meter-square room with neither dark nor light – just a silent void filled with your own fears and pain, a deafening silence. A long wait only for nobody to arrive, nobody, not even your loved ones. The only human contact is with the guards who are the lords and masters over every minute of your day. A sort of grave for living people where fears are unfolded. Having nightmares about being where there is no place to be. And yet no reason is given for your detention, and no process is outlined for your release.Just consider going without food yourself, but not just for the evening, for days and days, a feeling that does not get near to the reality of what they are feeling. The link between them and you will give them power and strength over their misery to overcome some of what they are facing now. They need every bit of our support.
Egypt and “Israel”
Nowadays, Samir is the only Palestinian detainee who is awaiting hearings in “two Israeli courts”; Ofer Military Court in the occupied West Bank and Israeli Magistrates Court in Jerusalem. “The Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv paid a visit to these prisoners who were supposed to be released in accordance with the prisoner swap. He told them that there will be no restrictions on their movement. However, on July 7th, my brother was captured from a place named Kufr Aqab between the Palestinian village of Hizma and the Jewish-only settlement, Adam, a region within the boundaries of the municipality of Jerusalem.” Shireen also recounted that this area belongs to the Israeli authority but since Israeli courts do not have any charge to keep my brother detained, they claim that “Samir broke the deal as he was captured from a place that is not a part of Jerusalem but the West Bank!”
Samir’s father speculated “we do not know what Jerusalem is for us? Whenever “Israel” wants to change its boundaries, it does it by deceit and under the false cover of security”
When asking Shireen about the Egyptian Representative response in regard to her brother’s issue, she muttered sadly, “they always tell us that they have spoken many times with the Israeli government but that is all, we get nothing that makes us believe that attempts to free my brother are bearing fruit”
“It is still disputed whether the location of the arrest was considered Jerusalem or the West Bank;” Labib Habib, Samer’s lawyer from Nazareth stated.
Habib added “the Israeli Military Committee will put on trial any person in Ofer Military Court for three main reasons; if they claim that they have covert proof of a security threat; if the person has committed an offense the sentence for which is more than three months; or in response to a claim the person has violated conditions signed upon release.” Habib added that the Military Committee has requested the Israeli Military Court to have Samer continue his remaining term of 20 years in jail from the original 30 years of his previous sentence as he broke the conditions of the deal by entering into the West Bank. Apart from this, the Israeli Magistrates Courts in Jerusalem are trying to charge him with disobeying the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank. If convicted, he will be sentenced to more time in prison in addition to the ruling of the Military Committee in Ofer Military Court.
Samir Was Released
Shireen told me the story of her brother’s freedom in October 2011, “It was such a relief for all of us and especially for Samir. That time, we made a nice family gathering around a dining table for the first time since 1987 but alas, again in 2012, the Israeli Army has arrested all the brothers and sisters of my family and put them in jail. My family has spent many years in the jails; I spent 1 year; Medhat 19 years; Ra’fat 8 years and Firas 5 years. My brother Fadi was sentenced for a year when he was just 15 and after 3 months of his release, he was shot dead (martyred) in Hebron by the Israeli Army.”
October 2011, Samir hugged her mom for the first time since 2002.
Samer is obsessed by Nature and Children
Involved in community-based volunteer work, cherishing nature and children, Samir lived a full life. For Samir, Jerusalem offers the promise of happiness but “Israel” has forced him through the path of sadness. He was arrested many times since his childhood. For instance, in 2002, he was captured then sentenced for a year and a half when he was about to apply for the General Secondary Exam. He had submitted an application to study in prison, but the Israeli Prison Service refused. Later in 2007, he was allowed to sit for the exams and he passed with flying colors. He was however, banned from further applying for a university degree.
A Palestinian Mother Is Calling
At the end, I could hear Samir’s mother utter some words, “they had taken him and let me suffered alone! Isn’t there anybody to help him to be free and alive?”
Shireen Issawi concluded with some touching words in a message to the free world, “Put yourself in my brother’s position going without food for many days. Think of him as if he is your brother. At any moment his grave condition could deteriorate such that no help could save him. I don’t want to lose him! All your actions are so important to help him.”
“Samir remains a beloved member of the free world; they love him and will never give up their fruitful solidarity as well as real actions. Samir and Aymen will both be released” I replied with my sound having grown harsh and depressed. No one can hear this story without feeling the hurt of this family.
I hung up the call. I cried!