The case of Samer Al-Issawi is only one, among hundreds of thousands...
All along the history of Palestinian people’s struggle against foreign occupation, the successive occupying forces used jailing people to punish resistance.
Long before 1948, British occupation jailed over 5.000 Palestinians, besides murdering or deporting or persecuting many others. Among them, Samer’s grandfather was sentenced to death, although he managed to escape a few hours before his execution.
In 1948, Zionists (after expelling almost 900.000 Palestinians, destroying over e 500 villages & cities, after perpetrating over 70 massacres and occupying a large part of Palestinian territory to found the State of Israel) installed at least 22 concentration and forced labour camps where they enslaved some 9.000 Palestinian civilians, among them elderly people and children abducted from their villages after being deprived of their goods. They kept those camps until they dismantled them in 1955 and deported to neighboring Arab countries the prisoners that had survived the ill treatment and tortures.
19 years afterwards, in 1967, when they occupied what was left of Palestine (Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), Zionists began to jail Palestinians in a systematic way, as a policy of repression and collective punishment and, in certain periods, especially during the Intifadas, on a wide scale.
Because of this policy, the Palestinian people have the largest amount of political prisoners at world level. About 1.000.000 of them passed through the jails of the occupation forces since 1967.
Not only combatants have been incarcerated ever since, but also civilians from every sector of Palestinian society: youth, adults, children and elderly people, men and women, healthy, sick or disabled people, peasants, workers, traders, artists and professionals, students and teachers, lawyers and Human Rights activists, parliamentarians and ministers, political and union leaders... Not one Palestinian family exists that has not had at least one of its members in captivity one or more times. Many of them have more than one, as is the case of the Al-Issawi family.
And it is not only Palestinians who live in occupied territories that are subject to captivity, also hundreds of Palestinian exiles were abducted by the Israeli army during its occupation of Lebanon (1978-2000). Many of them remain missing.
Now, there are over 7.000 Palestinian political prisoners, including women and children, distributed among 22 prisons and detention and interrogation centers, besides the secret 1391 prison, also called "Israel’s Guantánamo". In the last 5 years, the occupying forces abducted and incarcerated an average of 1.200 children per year.
Children, women, elderly and infirm people are also subjected to tortures. There have been women who have given birth in the jails of the occupying forces in inhuman conditions, and their babies have similarly received an ill treatment.
Over 200 Palestinians have been murdered within Israeli jails through torture, through the lack of medical attention or direct assassination in cold blood. Hundreds of them have been murdered after being liberated, by bombings or by attempts on their lives. And many have died shortly after being liberated, as a consequence of diseases caught during their captivity. Presently, 1.800 Palestinian prisoners endure diverse diseases caught in prison, due to the inhuman conditions and a long list of ill-treatments. None of them ever receives due medical attention at the precise moment. The sick are also subjected to tests of new drugs that systematically worsen their state of health, and are sometimes infected directly with viruses, generated in laboratories, to produce severe diseases in them.
Palestinians are generally abducted violently, quite frequently in the middle of the night, to be interrogated with violent methods, incarcerated in inhuman conditions, subjected to many brands of physical and psychic torture, judged in most cases in military courts and always lacking guarantees of a fair trial. In very many cases, their relatives are also harassed, abducted and tortured, and their homes are sacked and/or demolished.
And even after death, in hundreds of cases, the bodies of the prisoners are retained in the so-called “numbered cemeteries”, depriving the martyr of a dignified grave and the martyr’s family of a farewell ceremony. And in many cases, they go as far as to market the organs that they steal from the bodies of the martyrs.
Every Palestinian incarcerated and condemned for resisting occupation or under the suspicion of having displayed an act of resistance. This does not constitute an offence by virtue of international law, which consecrates the right of peoples under foreign oppression to resistance by every means at their disposal, including armed struggle.
Israeli jails are true concentration camps, as were those installed by the Nazis and by Latin American dictators (who were armed by Israel and trained in torture by Israeli military, among others).
On the other hand, Palestinian prisoners have been developing forms of organization and resistance, turning the jails of the occupying forces into true schools of revolution. And they have historically used the hunger strike as a means to demand their rights. There were many collective hunger strikes. One of the historical leaders of the first collective strikes was Omar Al-Qassem (DFLP leader and martyr of the Prisoners’ Movement, subjected by his jailors to intentional medical negligence), who succeeded in mobilizing, between 1968 and 1989 not only prisoners, but also all the population, and to coordinate the struggle inside and outside prisons.
In 2011, Khader Adnan, Leader of Islamic Jihad, initiated the modality of individual hunger strike. Ever since, the hunger strikes of Palestinian prisoners have come to be known by international public opinion. Particularly Samer’s strike, the longest in history.
Samer, also son of the DFLP as are some of his brothers, has the virtue not only of a steel will of resistance, but also of a very solid political discourse. His struggling attitude and his struggling discourse, clearly substantiated, mobilized all the Palestinian society inside and outside the fatherland, and even activists from everywhere took his speech around the planet in various languages.
Samer endured not only the terrible pains of hunger that eroded his body, but he also endured the tortures to which he was subjected because of the hunger strike that they declared. His family was also cruelly tormented. But no one backed down. And the people went ahead with them.
During his very long strike of 280 days, Samer sent, whenever he could, through his lawyer, messages to his people and to the world. Palestinians, mobilized every day within the fatherland and in exile, awaited anxiously the messages of their national hero. Newspaper headlines wrote: “What did Samer say today?".
He said, for example:
"Concerning the offer made by Israeli occupation of being deported to Gaza, I affirm that Gaza is an inseparable part of my fatherland and its people are my people. Nevertheless, I will go visit Gaza when I might, or whenever I wish, or whenever it would be my whim, because it is located inside my fatherland, Palestine, and thus I have the right to traverse it whenever I wish, from the extreme north to the extreme south. I firmly reject my deportation to Gaza, since this practice will do no more than bring bitter memories of the process of expulsion to which our Palestinian people was subjected to in 1948 and 1967.
“We are struggling for the freedom of our land and for the return of our refugees, in Palestine and in exile, not for adding any more deportees. The systematic practice, with which Israel intends to vacate Palestine of Palestinians and to bring in foreigners to take their place, is a crime in itself. I refuse being deported anywhere and will only comply to be liberated in order to go to Jerusalem, because Israeli occupation is working to vacate Jerusalem of its people and to turn Arabs into a minority group of its population. The matter of deportation is no longer a personal decision; it is rather a national principle. If every prisoner accepts, under pressure, to be deported outside of Jerusalem, Jerusalem will, in the end, vacated of its people.
“I would prefer to die in my hospital bed to being deported out of Jerusalem. [...] I recommend every Palestinian to embrace their land and their peoples and never to succumb to the desires of the occupying forces. I no longer consider this matter to be a personal cause. It is a national matter, a conviction and a principle that every Palestinian who loves the holy soil of his/her fatherland should defend”. (March 18, 2013)
"In prison, my comrades on hunger strike and me, we are struggling in a battle against occupation, which humiliates our people… we are struggling in a battle for every Palestinian against Israeli occupation and its prisons.
“I draw my force from all the free people of the world who wish to put an end to Israeli occupation. The feeble beats of my heart persist thanks to the fact of this solidarity and support; my feeble voice draws its force from voices that are stronger and can penetrate the walls of the prison.
“Do not despair if my heart stops beating. I will still remain alive, even after death, because Jerusalem runs through my veins. If I die, it is a victory; if we are liberated, it is a victory, because in any case I refuse to surrender to Israeli occupation, to its tyranny and arrogance”. (March 3, 2013)
[In the video we share with you ut supra, we offer a summary of the struggle waged by Samer and his family and of the legendary hunger strike that turned him into a national hero and into an international personality.]