Palestine: Inside Samer al-Issawi’s Home

Young Palestinian protesters hold portraits of Samer Issawi, a Palestinian prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for more than 200 days, during a solidarity sit-in outside the Red Cross offices in Jerusalem on 14 March 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Ghatabli)

By: Anhar Hijazi

Published Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Samer al-Issawi, a Palestinian in Israeli prison, has been on a hunger strike for 260 days and counting. Al-Akhbar visited his family in the village of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – The walls of Issawiyeh are covered with slogans. Some are in support of the resistance, others praise Palestinian political factions, but the majority are tributes to the village’s martyrs and prisoners.

The cab driver points to a house with a white gate opposite a small field where the neighborhood kids play. Samer al-Issawi’s father, Tareq, sits on the balcony beneath an orange tree.

His family has not tasted a moment of normality since the arrest of Samer – for a second time – at a checkpoint in July 2012. Since the first intifada, the family has been repeatedly harassed by the security forces. One of his brothers was killed, another spent many years in prison, while his sister Shireen was arrested and detained for a year.

Shireen, who is a lawyer, explains that she was imprisoned after getting court permission to relay money from prisoners’ families in Gaza to the prison canteen, given that the postal service from the Strip had been cut off. The authorities did not like what was happening and took her to court, resulting in her spending a year in prison.

Asked if the family has gotten used to the repeated arrests, she replies that with every bout, we worry to the same extent. “We would be together and suddenly someone lands in jail and we know nothing about them. And prison is not easy. If they were to get sick, would they take them to the clinic – if you can even call it that – in order to receive treatment?”

She recalls the last conversation between her and Samer only moments before he was arrested. He was out buying clothes for their brother Midhat, who they were planning to visit in prison the next day. “He told me he had gotten the items and was on his way home. That night someone came to the house and told us that he saw them take Samer away.”

“From all the worry, there is little time for rest,” she continues, “particularly when news about Samer is cut off, for no one can visit him on any given day except one lawyer, in addition to a doctor, and of course the guard who accompanies him around the clock.”

She says that she does her best to keep bad news away from her parents, so that they can absorb it. “As for me,” she complains, “the information reaches me like a shock and I must remain strong.”

What about the role of the human rights and legal defense organizations? “They’ve only just begun working on Samer’s case,” she replies. Why just now? “Because we Arabs have gotten used to death and we give up too easily, resigning to the fact that he will become a martyr.”

“But Samer did not go on a hunger strike to die,” she declares angrily, “he did it so he can return home.”

Shireen then draws a picture of Samer outside of his politicized media image. “He was an extremely jovial person. If you sit with him, he will make you laugh so hard, tears will stream out.” She says that he was social and liked to camp out and bike, often taking the neighborhood kids with him on trips.

On the days when there would be confrontations with the occupation forces, she remembers that Samer would organize the village kids to clean up the streets, with one campaign lasting three days. It’s as if Samer wanted Issawiyeh to be a model neighborhood, even in the worst of times.

She cannot pinpoint the exact date that Samer began his hunger strike, but is quite certain “it was before August 2012, for he started sometime after his arrest on July 7, but because he was not allowed to see a lawyer during his interrogation period, we cannot determine the date exactly.”

She remembers the last time she took her mother to see Samer. He saw them, but was not able to speak. Her mother returned home crying, describing her son as “pile of bones and skin.” When he tried to push aside a tussle of hair from his face so they can see him better, it fell out, prompting his mother to break down.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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