Deal Made for Sameer Issawi’s Release

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.

Sameer Issawi to be released back to Jerusalem in 8 months' time.
Sameer Issawi to be released back to Jerusalem in 8 months’ time. Photo credit: Active Stills http://www.activestlils.org

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.

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Palestine: the view from Korea (April 22, 2013)

Apologies for missing last week’s update. As Palestine Peace & Solidarity has been busier than usual, I was unable to offer an update last week. By way of making up for this, this week I want to focus on some achievements made by the solidarity movement after a quick review of PPS’ recent actions.

Palestine Peace & Solidarity Action Review

Hyundai Flash Mob (April 12): PPS activists and friends gathered in front of Hyundai Heavy Industries’ main building in Jongno and in locations in Gwanghwamun, downtown Seoul, on April 12 to call on the company to make a commitment to end all sales of its products for use by Israel to carry out illegal activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. We were met by a representative of the company who agreed to pass on our complaint and get back to us. We are still waiting on their reply and have promised to return in the future if no such commitment is made. You can read our statement on Hyundai here and see a video of our action below.

GDAMS (April 15): April 15 was the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS) and PPS teamed up with 23 other anti-war/peace groups and other civil society organizations to demand that both Koreas put down their arms for peace. A promotional video was made which won the Craziest GDAMS Video award which I hope you will take a few minutes to watch.

As the day coincided with the reopening of the National Assembly, a press conference was held in front of the assembly building with members from the different groups as well as 15 parliamentarians in attendance. The full press statement can be read here. In addition, a Korea-Japan Civil Society Joint Statement was endorsed by participating groups and published and activists donned Teletubby costumes and gathered messages of peace from the public throughout the day. It is interesting to see how these larger-than-life creatures can disarm even the most pro-war of pedestrians! The day ended with a talk titled ‘Sorrows of Empire: Confronting U.S. Military Imperialism’ by U.S. Veterans for Peace activist Dud Hendrick at which he discussed the impact of the U.S. empire of bases around the world.

We encourage you to join the photo petition by taking a photo of yourself calling for peace on the Korean peninsula and uploading it here onto the GDAMS Tumblr page.

 Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (April 17): PPS prepared a street action a day before the official day, on April 16, in front of the Israeli Embassy in downtown Seoul. Focusing on the practice administrative detention widely employed by Israel on Palestinians including many children, we handed out a bilingual information leaflet from Addameer and demanded an end to this cruel practice. You can read our short report on administrative detention here.

Palestine Peace and Solidarity activists In front of the Israeli Embassy, Seoul (April 16)
Palestine Peace and Solidarity activists In front of the Israeli Embassy, Seoul (April 16)

The human costs of occupation

The Palestine Center for Human Rights reports that during the week of April 11 – 17 the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) made a total of 71 incursions into the occupied West Bank in which four civilians (including two children) were wounded. A Palestinian shepherd was also shot and wounded by the IDF in the Gaza Strip and fisherman continued to be shot at by Israeli forces imposing the 3-nautical mile limit off Gaza’s western coast. 40 Palestinians were arrested in the West Bank, seven of whom were children.

Resistance and Hope

Palestinian Tent Villages: A new form of protest is gaining popularity in Palestine in which Palestinians are establishing what are referred to as ‘tent villages’ throughout the occupied West Bank in opposition to the development of new illegal, Jewish-only Israeli settlements. In a sense, the use of tents to form villages can be seen as an inversion of the illegal Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land. While not a completely new tactic, the recent use of tent villages as a protest space for Palestinians and international activists supporting their struggle began in January and gained momentum during President Obama’s recent visit. The aim is to build a national movement to occupy land from which Palestinians have been dispossessed.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: Momentum appears to be increasing in the U.S. for the BDS campaign. The Student Senate at the University of California – Berkeley debated through the night of April 17 and into the morning of April 18, finally passing a resolution to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza.

In addition, the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS) recently adopted a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions at its annual meeting. The US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel is stating that it is the first U.S. academic organization to boycott Israeli institutions.

In another success for the BDS movement possibly driven by the concerted effort of Palestine-based Addameer and other Palestinian prisoner support organizatons, G4S, the world’s largest security company in the world has signaled that it will end some of its contracts with Israel. The company currently operates in 125 countries hand has supplies security systems to all of the major Israeli prisons and detention centers where Palestinians are detained. The company claims it will end its contracts which provide security systems for Israeli military checkpoints, one prison and a police station in the occupied West Bank, but will continue to service prisons inside Israel where thousands of Palestinians are held.

Refuseniks: the courage to say No!: 19-year-old Israeli Natan Blanc is the latest brave Israeli to face jail time as a conscientious objector after refusing to serve in the Israeli military in opposition to its brutal occupation of Palestinian territory. He has already racked up 120 days in prison but refuses to abide by anything but his conscience. Other refuseniks, as they are known in Israel, include the nephew of current Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, Bibi Netanyahu who views Israel as an apartheid state. Below is a short interview with Natan which is quite inspiring.

Israel: End Administrative Detention Now!

Every year April 17 marks Palestinian Prisoners’ Day in the hope of bringing attention to the plight of the thousands of Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails. This year’s focus is on ending the use of administrative detention which is widely regarded as a punitive measure employed by Israel to detain and silence Palestinians. It stands as a huge barrier to any sustainable solution to the question of Palestine and betrays the brutal nature of the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestinian land.

Palestine Peace & Solidarity activist in front of the Israeli Embassy, Seoul on April 16.
Palestine Peace & Solidarity activist in front of the Israeli Embassy, Seoul on April 16.

Since Israel’s occupation of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 an estimated 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under military order. This amounts to some 40 percent of the entire male population of the occupied territories being detained. There were some 4,600 Palestinians in Israeli prisons including 169 in administrative detention as of February this year. Most have been forcibly transferred from the occupied Palestinian territories to prisons located in Israel in violation of international law. It is estimated that 204 Palestinian prisoners have died while in Israeli custody since 1967 and human rights organizations have alleged that doctors have at times colluded in torture of those in custody.

The practice of administrative detention is routinely used by Israel to imprison Palestinians –who the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) refers to as “security prisoners” – without charge for up to six months at a time. As detention orders can and often are renewed, detainees can potentially be held indefinitely. The use of administrative detention has been widely condemned by human rights organizations around the world. Essentially, it is a process that denies judicial accountability by preventing access to detainees to proper legal recourse and therefore is an effective way to silence and punish Palestinians in the occupied territories determined to be a “threat” to “public security”.

Israel uses Military Order 1651, the Emergency Powers (Detention) Law and the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law to hold Palestinian administrative detainees in three prisons, two of which are located inside Israel.

Alleging to have been in a perpetual “state of emergency” since 1948, Israel uses administrative detention as a form of collective punishment to arrest and silence Palestinians exercising their basic civil and political rights to criticize the Israeli occupation. Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization Addameer points out that the simple act of holding a Palestinian flag or pouring a cup of coffee to a member of an organization deemed illegal by Israel is possible grounds for one’s arrest under the Israeli military occupation.

PPS activists in front of the Israeli Embassy, Seoul on April 16.
PPS activists in front of the Israeli Embassy, Seoul on April 16.

Detainees are routinely detained without knowledge of the reason for their arrest, which is rarely disclosed by military judges, and a number of their rights are violated once in detention such as having to endure poor prison conditions, inadequate medical care and denial of family visits.

Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that Israel’s use of administrative detention is likely more often than not accompanied by forms of torture or cruel and degrading practices for which Israel has exercised with “complete impunity” for more than a decade. The UN Committee Against Torture reported in 2001 and again in 2009 that the practice of administrative detention itself as used by Israel did not conform to the prohibition against torture which is absolute.

It has also long been well known that the ISA which oversees the prison system used to hold Palestinians routinely employs the practice of torture against detainees. Israeli human rights organization B’tselem lists the specific techniques used by the ISA in interrogations as including sleep deprivation, exposure to loud music and extreme temperatures, placing dirty sacks over interrogees’ heads, forcing interrogees into stress positions, violent shaking and food deprivation – usually used in combination.

Less well known is that Israel runs a secret prison facility known as ‘Camp 1391’ in an undisclosed location 100 kilometers from Jerusalem as revealed in 2002. Unlike Guantanamo Bay, which it is regularly compared to, the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been granted access to this facility to assess the treatment of its prisoners. While there is no way to confirm whether or not this facility remains in use, testimony from former prisoners indicates that torture and physical abuse were commonplace.

Looking at the case of administrative detainee Sameer Issawi throws a lot of this into relief. Having been arrested for the first time at age 17, 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.

With one brother already killed by the IDF in 1994 at the age of 16, Assawi’s remaining five siblings have served prison terms including one brother who is currently serving his nineteenth year. His family members including his elderly mother face constant harassment. To protest his arrest he has been on hunger strike since August of 2012 and is apparently very close to losing his life.

While the hunger strike has consistently proven to be a useful strategy for detainees to bring international attention to their case and in pressuring the Israeli authorities into making a deal for their release, it can also lead to further deprivation and punishment at the hands of the prison authorities who sometimes place them in solitary confinement, deny family visitation rights and slap fines on them.

But it is a powerful act of defiance for those with few options left like Assawi. It was recently reported that his whole village has joined a hunger strike in solidarity with him. Last year’s Prisoners’ Day was marked by some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners launching a hunger strike in Israeli jails.

This Prisoners’ Day it is time for the international community to call for an end to the practice of administrative detention by Israel and to demand the release all of those like Sameer Assawi who are not formally charged and given a fair trial. Putting an end to this reprehensible practice will constitute a small but important step towards achieving justice for those living under Israeli military occupation.