Palestinian in "critical condition" on day 203 of hunger strike

An Israeli soldier approaches the site of a protest in solidarity with jailed Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on 8 February 2013. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

By: Chloé Benoist

Published Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi is in "critical condition" after 203 days spent on a hunger strike, activists said, sparking fears on Monday that he might not survive his protest against Israel’s abusive prison system.

Issawi is one of thousands of Palestinian prisoners who have gone on hunger strikes in the past year to denounce Israel’s policy of administrative detention and poor life conditions in prisons.

The 33-year old has been refusing food since July 2012, making it one of the longest hunger strikes in the world.

Issawi stopped drinking water and taking vitamins earlier this month, and is refusing medical care. His weight dropped to less than 47 kilograms and he is confined to a wheelchair, suffering from loss of vision, fainting and vomiting blood.

“His heart could stop at any moment,” said Daleen Elshaer, a coordinator for the Free Samer Issawi Campaign.

Elshaer told Al-Akhbar that Issawi’s lawyer and human rights activists were denied accessed to Issawi until Saturday during his most recent hospitalization outside of the infamous Ramlah prison.

Issawi was first arrested in 2002 and sentenced to thirty years in prison over weapons possession and forming a military group. He was released in an October 2011 prisoner swap agreement between Israel and Hamas in which the Jewish state freed 1,027 mostly-Palestinians in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured in 2006.

He was rearrested on 7 July 2012 and accused of violating the terms of his release by leaving Jerusalem. Israeli prosecutors are seeking to cancel his amnesty and detain him for 20 years, the remainder of his previous sentence, despite there being no other charges against him.

Another Palestinian hunger striker, Jaafar Ezzedine, recently threatened to follow in Issawi’s footsteps and refuse water unless Israel meets his demands, according to the Palestine News Network.

According to prisoners rights group Addameer, 4,743 Palestinians were held in Israeli prisons as of January, including 178 in administrative detention.

While the campaign to free Issawi has tried to attract broader international attention, Elshaer said they are too often faced with a wall of silence.

“Samer is non-violently resisting a violent occupation, but nobody is willing to talk about him because he is Palestinian,” she said. “Would it take his death for people to cover his story?”

Elshaer added that Issawi’s family has been repeatedly harassed by Israeli forces. Water access was cut to his sister’s house, and his brother’s home was reportedly demolished by the Israeli army in early January.

But while Issawi’s health is a big cause for concern for his supporters, they keep faith in him and his cause.

“God is protecting him because he is innocent,” Elshaer asserted.

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