Monday 17 December 2012 was the Electronic Day to Support Palestinian Prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. As news of the plight of the political prisoners was spread by social media users around the world (#PalHunger), demonstrations and radio programmes also brought the situation of the five prisoners who are starving to the eyes of the world.
Ayman Sharawna and Samer Issawi have been on hunger strike for 171 and 140 days respectively. Yousef Yassin, Jafar Azzidine and Tarek Qa’adan are 21 days into theirs.
Sharawna, who is 36 years old, and Issawi, 33, were amongst the first group of prisoners released in October 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange – one Israeli for 1,027 Palestinians.
Sharawna, who served 10 years of a 38-year sentence, tasted freedom for just three and a half months before being rearrested in January 2012. And Issawi, who served almost 10 years of his 28-year sentence, was rearrested eight months after his release.
None of the five prisoners, all administrative detainees, were given reasons for their arrests and imprisonment. According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, in spite of the lack of charges against Sharawna and Issawi, the prosecution is attempting to renew the remainder of their previous sentences.
What is it that would make Sharawna, a father of nine, and Issawi, unmarried but preparing to start a new life, go on a life-threatening hunger strike? This nonviolent form of protest has become the only means that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails – being held without charge or trial – feel they can use to raise awareness of the deterioration of the conditions and treatment that they endure. It is a striker’s last cry; a desperate, painful way of being heard.
Khader Adnan was the first hunger striker of 2012, and at that time, his strike, which lasted for 66 days, was the longest. As his strike was about to come to an end, Hana Shalabi started hers. It lasted for 42 days. Both ended with deals of release; Adnan’s administrative detention was not renewed, and Shalabi who is from the West Bank, was expelled to the Gaza Strip for three years. Shirin Issawi, Samer Issawi’s sister Photo: Addameer
Throughout the year, several Palestinian prisoners have embarked on hunger strikes, including a mass solidarity strike in which approximately 2,000 prisoners took part. Their demands included an end to solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, ill-treatment during interrogation, and administrative detention; improved detention conditions, and family visits for all detainees. Following negotiations with the Israel Prison Service (IPS), a deal was made and the strike came to an end.
Part of the agreement, according to Addameer, was that ‘new administrative detention orders or renewals of administrative detention orders for the Palestinians currently in administrative detention would be limited, unless the secret files, upon which administrative detention is based, contained “very serious” information.’
The IPS reneged on the deal made with the prisoners, and several who were released have since been rearrested. Amnesty International states that just three weeks following the agreement, 30 administrative detention orders were renewed, and three new orders were issued.
They describe administrative detention as ‘a form of detention without charge or trial. Its use may result in arbitrary detention and if prolonged or repeated can amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.’
In effect, since detention orders can last for six months and are renewable, an administrative detainee can be held for months or years without charge or trial, or even knowing why they have been imprisoned.
Since 1967, approximately 778,000 Palestinian men and 10,000 women have been jailed. Statistics from Addameer state that as of 1 December 2012, there are 4,656 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. Of these, 178 are administrative detainees whose futures are unknown.
When a hunger strike begins, changes in the body soon start to take place. Hunger pains disappear three days after one ceases to eat. Two weeks later, there is a loss of sensation of thirst and the person feels light-headed. Standing may be difficult or impossible. One month without food results in the loss of 18 per cent of one’s body weight. Uncontrollable eye movements and vomiting may take place after five weeks. After six weeks, concentration becomes difficult, and loss of hearing and blindness are possible. Death can occur anytime after 45 days without food.
Addameer said the hunger strikers are ‘in danger of imminent death if they are not provided with immediate independent medical care or release.’ Although Sharawna suffers from severe pain and has lost his vision, he refuses to be transferred to a hospital because he will be shackled during transportation and treatment.
Issawi, who suffers from muscle pain, very low blood pressure, and loss of eye sight, is regularly tested with a heart monitor, and is given B12 injections.
As Sharawna and Issawi continue their hunger strikes, over 350 Facebook pages and over 20 million people all over the world joined together to support them.
Time is running out for Ayman Sharawna and Samer Issawi. They have given up life’s most basic necessity – food – so that they and others will have the right to live. With dignity.