Palestinian prisoners overshadowed by war

by Orouba Othman, Al-Akhbar English

The situation in Palestine is never monotonous or quiet. The intensity of the events in Palestine leads most news to be forgotten the next day. As such, the recent war on Gaza and its repercussions have pushed the question of prisoners out of the limelight from the media and political circles.

Gaza – Samer al-Issawi and Sheikh Khader Adnan – the two men who symbolize the “battle of the empty stomachs,” with their hunger strikes – are currently held in Israeli prisons far away from the cameras or any active mobilization on the ground.

Issawi, from Jerusalem, has broken all hunger strike records with his 9-month strike. However, his cause only attracts the attentions of a narrow circle of people, mostly human rights activists. The same goes for Sheikh Adnan, one of the most prominent leaders of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, who is renowned for his inflexibility and solid positions while being interrogated.

The malaise of the Palestinian street concerning the issue of prisoners could be explained by the fact that the besieged Gaza Strip is still recovering and considering issues beyond those of daily life. This is in addition to the Palestinian media’s neglect of this important cause. This led to the lack of popular focus on the issue.

“I almost forgot my children when I saw all that blood spilled in Gaza,” Issawi said. “The war is over, but the question of reconstruction took over the streets and the media.”
In the occupied West Bank, it seems the disturbance caused by the seasonal processions and sit-ins supporting the prisoners is too much for the Palestinian Authority security forces, who compete with the Zionist state in arresting members of the Resistance. This has created a climate that prevents any popular mobilization.

This marginalization took place in parallel with the wide campaign of arrests conducted by the occupational forces, targeting the top leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including members of the legislative council after three Zionist settlers went missing this past June in Hebron. The incident shook the Israeli military establishment and was enough to make the Israeli forces re-arrest prisoners freed in the Gilad Shalit exchange in 2011, in violation of the understanding and terms of the deal sponsored by Cairo.

The Zionist state grabbed this valuable opportunity and found the legal basis in decree 1651, which allows “re-arresting freed prisoners until the end of their original sentence date, in case they commit a violation.” Since June, the decree gave Israeli forces a solid legal ground to arrest 63 freed prisoners. Then the war came and went and they remained under detention, including three women: Mona Qadan, Bushra al-Tawil, and Shireen Issawi (Samer’s sister).

Issawi’s mother described her ordeal to Al-Akhbar. “My heart is burning for my two imprisoned sons, Samer and Medhat, and my daughter Shireen, who is a lawyer and is currently in solitary confinement since last May, without a real trial or any mobilization in the media or the street for their release.”

With deep sorrow, she explains that her son Samer, who is in Gilboa prison, suffers from chronic pain in the head, back, and kidneys. He barely survived a sickness that struck him repeatedly due to his on-going hunger strike. “Medical care in the prisons is deteriorating. Even the amount of food is becoming too meager following the war on Gaza, which forces prisoners to buy their needs from the canteen,” she explained.

As for the setback in the prisoners’ cause, Issawi believed it was due to the carelessness of human rights organizations in general, their reduced influence on the ground and with the public, and delays in providing prisoners with lawyers, like what happened with her son Samer. This is in addition to the fear of persecution and arrest.

The catastrophe that befell Gaza also played a pivotal role in reducing media attention to the cause of the detainees. “I almost forgot my children when I saw all that blood spilled in Gaza,” Issawi said. “The war is over, but the question of reconstruction took over the streets and the media.”

The father of imprisoned Sheikh Khader echoed her thoughts. “The Palestinian street of all components and political colors is currently focusing on the Strip, which led many to ignore the prisoners’ cause,” he told Al-Akhbar. He added that the enemy did not allow the family – except his two daughters Maali and Bissan – to visit Adnan since his arrest, so they filed a complaint at the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Randa Moussa, Adnan’s wife, told Al-Akhbar will join the battle of empty stomachs once again, in the event his administrative detention is renewed next January. However, she refused to blame the Palestinian National Authority for the neglect and public apathy. “The authority was never behind this deadly indolence,” she said with high enthusiasm. “Those who believe in this cause should face the authorities and take to the streets, even if it meant arrest. Freedom is not without a price.”

During the ceasefire talks in Cairo, the Palestinian negotiating team failed to obtain any real guarantees for the release of the “Shalit deal” prisoners or prevent their re-arrest. However, Hamas seems to be hiding its most important cards related to a prisoner exchange, to be revealed in the next few days.

On the other side, and amid Hamas reassurances leaked to the media from time to time, the enemy exploits the current idleness in dealing with the prisoners’ issues and focuses attention on Jerusalem. Repression inside the prisons has reached a climax. The head of Israeli prison services recently decided to lift the ban on the use of firearms during prison cell searches.

According to media spokesperson for the Palestinian Center for Prisoners Studies, Riad al-Ashqar, restrictions against those freed in Wafa al-Ahrar [prisoner exchange operation], especially those who joined the hunger strike, were not merely the result of the killing of the three settlers. It became apparent two months following the deal, claiming they did not present themselves at civil administration headquarters or that they left their areas of residence. Ashqar went back to the beginning of the unending series of detentions, when the enemy detained freed prisoner Ayman al-Sharawneh at the end of January 2012, three months into the deal.

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