Palestinian Prisoner Samer Issawi In Critical Condition: Mint Press News interview

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    (MintPress) – Palestinian prisoner Samer Tariq Issawi’s health is rapidly deteriorating, and his supporters fear time may be running out for the 33-year-old activist.

    Issawi, who has been on hunger strike in Ramla Prison since July 29, 2012, nearly 190 days, was transferred to Assaf Harofeh Hospital on Jan. 19.

    Haithem El-Zabri of the Free Samer Issawi Campaign told Mint Press News in an e-mail over the
    weekend: “Samer is now suffering from multiple health problems, including vertigo, intense abdominal pains, blurred and double vision and joint pain. His organs are beginning to reach the stage where they will start to shut down. He is unable to stand unsupported.”

    Samer Issawi, born in Issawiya, northeast of Jerusalem, is a member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), founded in 1967, the second largest of the groups making up the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

    On April 15, 2002, Issawi was arrested in Ramallah by the Israeli army during the invasion of several cities in the West Bank, which it called Operation Defensive Shield. He was sentenced to 30 years in jail for possessing weapons and forming military groups in Jerusalem.

    On October 18, 2011, nearly a decade later, Issawi was released, along with 476 other jailed Palestinians, as part of a prisoner swap deal between Hamas and the Israeli government that also involved the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal.

    On July 7, 2012, however, he was re-arrested near the Palestinian village of Hizma, an area within the municipality of Jerusalem. Israel claimed he broke the terms of his release by leaving Jerusalem.

    Three days before Issawi was taken to the hospital, the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem declined to hear his case, postponing a ruling until Feb. 5, when he also has a hearing at the Ofer Military Court.

    In the meantime, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been denied access to visit Issawi, and Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel lost an appeal to allow an independent doctor to gain access to him.

    poster of Samer Al-Issawi

    A family’s plea

    El-Zabri told Mint Press News: “His family is trying their best to cope with the situation and doing everything they can to push for his release. Samer’s mother went to see Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but he declined to meet with her.”

    He continued: “His staff encouraged her to convince Samer to end his fast! Needless to say the Palestinian Authority’s passivity regarding the prisoner’s issue is disheartening, not just to Samer’s family, but to all those who believe in the struggle for freedom.”

    Late last month, Palestinian activist and blogger Malaka Mohammed spoke to Issawi’s mother on the phone and wrote about the conversation they had. “The day 152 is a time of a severe headache and pain in the spine, as well as a severe chest pain due to having been assaulted by Israeli police on Dec. 13,” she said. “My son also mentioned that the prison administration did not conduct the necessary tests to him after that attack against him.”

    “As the lawyer of the Prisoner Forum said, my son launched his strike for three main goals,” his mother continued. “Bring the prisoner’s voice to the free world that we have the right to live, tell the occupation that if he thinks of arresting more free prisoners, he will get more and more problems, and the last objective is to be free, which is the remaining demand.”

    After a brief pause, Issawi’s mother added: “He has been taken away from his home, tortured with no charge except his commitment to Palestine. Isn’t there any free body to let me see my darling before his death? Please help him to be free and alive. My eyes want to see him. My heart wants to touch him. My mind want him by me!”

    Israeli forces have also cut the water supply to the family’s house and called Issawi’s sister Shireen and brother Fares to interrogation centers on several occasions in a bid to get them to stop telling his story.

    Shireen did speak with Malaka, the blogger, who said of Samer: “No one has met or spoken to him since his current arrest. I have seen him on Thursday (Dec. 13) when he appeared in court. He is turning into some bones covered with a human wrap. In other words, he is a skeleton sitting in a wheelchair, and he can’t move or walk.”

    She continued: “He has an acute vitamin B12 deficiency. His body has begun to eat his muscles and nerves. It seems he has lost the control of his limbs as a result of malfunction of the nerves. His vision is frail as result of fainting four to five times a day and his body is covered with bruises. He is vomiting blood, his heart is weakening, and he can barely breathe.”

    Before his transfer to the hospital, Issawi was held in solitary confinement in a six-square-foot cell.


    Legal quagmire

    “According to the Israeli authorities, he violated the terms of his release by being outside of Jerusalem,” El-Zabri told Mint Press News. “In reality, however, he was within the municipality boundaries of what Israel defines as Jerusalem,”

    Issawi’s lawyer, Labib Habib, told Malaki, the blogger, “It is still disputed whether the location of the arrest was considered Jerusalem or the West Bank.”

    He added: “The Israeli Military Committee will put anyone on trial 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 for which the sentence is more than three months; or in response to a claim the person has violated conditions signed up his release.”

    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 it says he broke the conditions of the deal by entering the West Bank.

    In addition, the Israeli Magistrates Courts in Jerusalem are trying to charge him with disobeying the Israeli Military Command in the West Bank. If he is convicted, he will be sentenced to ever more time in prison.

    Issawi’s supporters around the world have staged 24-hour hunger strikes in a display of solidarity and organized hundreds of demonstrations calling for his release.

    “I send my greetings to all who are fighting with me in this battle and who go out for this cause,” he said in a message sent through his lawyer. “My determination will never weaken or shake.”

    Said El-Zabri, “Unfortunately, I don’t expect them to release him, and he may die in custody or be force-fed.”

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