Sameer Issawi, the most high profile Palestinian prisoner sitting behind bars in an Israeli prison, has finally struck a deal for his release that will take place in December of this year. His case is known to the world largely through his courageous hunger strike which lasted over 250 days. Issawi began his protest on August 1, 2012 following his most recent arrest after which he was placed in administrative detention.
Unlike former prisoner Ayman Sharawneh who brokered a deal which saw his was release days before Obama’s visit last month which will see him spend the next ten years exiled to the Gaza Strip, Issawi will not agree to being exiled upon his release and is also firm in his resolve not to give any legitimacy to the military courts. These court proceedings, which have been widely condemned by human rights groups like Amnesty International, are used to detain Palestinians without having to provide a reason for their detention or give them a fair chance to defend themselves.
His first arrest took place when he was just 17 years old. He was arrested again during the second intifada and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. After being released 10 years later in the 2011 prisoner swap negotiated between Israel and Hamas in which 1,027 Palestinians prisoners and detainees were exchanged for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, he found himself rearrested by the IDF on July 7 of 2012 for supposedly violating the terms of his release. He is one of the many prisoners released in the prisoner swap who have since been since rearrested under questionable circumstances.
Sadly, Issawi’s story may not be unique, but it is worth sharing as it illustrates how systematic the imprisonment of Palestinians has become under the Israeli military occupation. He lost one brother in 1994 who was shot dead by the IDF at the age of 16 while taking part in a demonstration against the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre in Hebron in which a Jewish settler had opened fire on over 100 Palestinians Muslims in prayer, killing 25 of them. Assawi’s remaining five siblings have all served prison terms including one brother who is currently serving out his nineteenth year in an Israeli prison. His family faces constant harassment which includes basic supplies being cut off to his mother’s home and the destruction of one brother’s home.
The pending release of Issawi should be considered a victory for his own personal struggle against the Israeli military authorities and will hopefully offer encouragement to others exercising their right to resist, but it is far from a concrete step towards real justice. There is no guarantee that he will not be re-arrested in the future and this is little relief for the more than 160 other Palestinians being kept under administrative detention.