Probably the most heart-wrenching form of nonviolent expression that can be taken by any human being is a hunger strike.
Two months ago, with a sense of urgency, I wrote about Palestinian hunger strikers held in Israeli jails under administrative detention, a form of imprisonment without charge or trial, and renewable every six months for an indefinite period.
Statistics from Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association show that as of 1 January 2013, there were 4,743 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails. Of these, 178 are administrative detainees, and four are on extended hunger strikes.
But we are not just talking about numbers: the prisoners are not numbers. They are husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, students, workers. They are people with names.
The number of days they have gone without food is inconceivable, and the urgency to retell their story has deepened.
According to Addameer, as of 22 February, this is the length of time the following prisoners have been on hunger strike:
Samer Issawi – 206 days
Ayman Sharawana – over 200 days
Jafar Azzidine – 87 days
Tarek Qa’adan – 87 days
The four men are not striking for their own personal gain. They are fighting for the freedom of all Palestinians who are living under occupation. Issawi writes:
My battle is not only for individual freedom. The battle waged by me and by my heroic colleagues, Tariq, Ayman and Ja’affar, is everyone’s battle, the battle of the Palestinian people against the occupation and its prisons. Our goal is to be free and sovereign in our liberated state and in our blessed Jerusalem.
Their struggle is also against administrative detention, and Article 186 of Military Order 1651, which allows a military committee to sentence released prisoners to serve the remainder of their previous sentence based on secret evidence without disclosing the evidence to the prisoner or his lawyer.
I’m one of your sons, among thousands of your sons who are prisoners, still languishing steadfastly in the prisons, waiting for an end to be brought to their plight, their pains and the suffering of their families.
The four men are determined not to give up the struggle, in spite of failing health.
My health has deteriorated dramatically and I’m hanging between life and death. My weak body is collapsing but still able to be patient and continue the confrontation. My message is that I will continue until the end, until the last drop of water in my body, until martyrdom. Martyrdom is an honour for me in this battle. My martyrdom is my remaining bomb in the confrontation with the tyrants and the jailers, in the face of the racist policy of the occupation that humiliates our people and exercises against us all means of oppression and repression.
While the politicians and citizens of the world have been shamefully slow to react to their silent cries, four young men are facing a slow, cruel death.
However, as word of their plight spreads, they have gained thousands of supporters around the world.
Angry demonstrations have taken place in cities worldwide, including in Israel. Daily protests in Palestine have turned into violent clashes with Israeli soldiers.
The weak and strained beats of my heart derive their steadfastness from you, the great people. My eyes, which started to lose their sight, draw light from your solidarity and your support of me. My weak voice takes its strength from your voice that is louder than the warden’s voice and higher than the walls.
The doctors told me I became exposed to stroke because of the disorder of my heartbeats, the shortage of sugar and the drop in blood pressure. My body is full of cold and I can’t sleep because of the continued pain. But despite the extreme fatigue and chronic headaches, as I move on my chair, I’m trying to summon all my resources to continue on the road till its end.
The Issawi family home and the solidarity tent have been raided by Israeli soldiers, and another son has been arrested. Sharawana’s mother, a diabetic, has started her own hunger strike.
Issawi’s 19 February appeal for release was refused, as was Sharawana’s the following day.
On 21 February, Issawi had another court appearance. It ruled that he be sentenced to eight months beginning from the date of his 7 July 2012 arrest.
This sentence is in addition to the possible sentencing under Article 186 in the Military Order 1651.
Should Issawi be convicted, he will serve the remaining 20 years of his previous sentence.
Issawi is not giving up.
I say to my people: I’m stronger than the occupation army and its racist laws. I, Samer al-Issawi, son of Jerusalem, send you my last will that, in case I fell as a martyr, you will carry my soul as a cry for all the prisoners, man and women, cry for freedom, emancipation and salvation from the nightmare of prisons and their harsh darkness.
There is no going back, only in my victory, because I’m the owner of Right and my detention is invalid and illegal.
Do not be afraid for my heart if it will stop, don’t be afraid for my hands if they will be paralyzed. I am still alive now and tomorrow and after death, because Jerusalem is moving in my blood, in my devotion and my faith.
Issawi, Sharawana, Qa’adan and Azzidine are symbols of patience, determination and the strength of the Palestinian people. They are the newest Palestinian heroes.
Visit Sameer Issawi’s Facebook page.