Starved for Justice

Uzma Ahmed

Languishing in a prison, on the brink of death, yet eager to reach the other end of the tunnel, be it by death or freedom; another Palestinian, unlawfully detained, fights for justice.

Samer Issawi, a 33 year old Palestinian, is being held under administrative detention in Israel. Israel has used the arbituary practice of administrative detention against thousands of Palestinians since 1967. A practise based on regulations initially passed under the British Mandate in 1949, whereby it can detain people without charge or trial indefinately.

The orders to detain are based on secret information which is not disclosed to the prisoners or their lawyers, denying them their right to mount a legal challenge.

Detainees are subject to gross human right violations which include physical and mental intimidation, torture and assaults, denying them urgent medical care, preventing access to independent doctors and lawyers and banning family visits.

Samer is no stranger to the secretive and subjective nature of treament for the detainees. Having previously served ten years out of twenty in 2011, he was eventually set free as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel. Samer Issawi was rearrested and has since been held by the Israeli authorities on 7 July 2012, on unproven allegations that he broke the conditions on which he was released, as part of the prisoner exchange.

Samer has resulted to risking his life by staging a hunger strike since 1 August 2012, protesting against the Israeli military committee’s refusal to explain to him the reasons for being detained, and to either release or charge him accordingly, with a recognisable criminal offence in compliance with international fair trial standards.

Shackled by chains to his bed, barely able to stand, losing consciousness several times during the day, and locked away in a dark cell where nobody could hear or see him, he was bravely enduring the pain of hunger, the humiliation of captivity against the backdrop of the silent international community.
Yet Israel continues to deny Samer his right to be tried. This does not deter Samer. It challenges him to go further. “My detention is unjust and illegal, just like the occupation is. My demands are legitimate and just. Thus I will not withdraw from the battle for freedom.”

For many years, international condemnation has called for an end the practice and to release administrative detainees unless they are charged with a criminal offence and promptly tried according to international standards. Israel is breaking international rights under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which says that no person should be “subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention”.

Israel’s refusal of proper access to medical treatment for someone as close to death as Samer and their shackling of him, amounts to inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of Israel’s international human rights obligations.

“I have reached the end of the tunnel, it’s either freedom or death.” says Samer. His fight for freedom, his un breaking resolve is gradually resonating through the walls and reaching out to the rest of the world. Slowly, the awakening is now gathering pace and thousands stand by him.

270 days into his hunger strike, risking blindness, brain damage and heart failure, most of his organs having completely collapsed already, his condition is deteriorating by the minute. As Samer stands on the very verge of death one cannot help speculate whether the world response is now too late. Will he survive or will go down in history as another number?

Either way, for the Palestinians, he will live forever, as a true hero who stands for justice and freedom. There is light at the end of every tunnel. Legends live. Standing for justice and freedom, Samer’s struggle is at the core of every Palestinians existence. Samer has proven that survival is resistance. A true Palestinian in every sense of the word.

Uzma Ahmed is an international humanitarian and an outspoken activist for human rights issues, world peace and justice. She currently resides in London, United Kingdom.

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August 2021