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Hunger-striker Samer Issawi is another statistic in an unjust legal system

Unlike Prisoner X, there is no public outrage in Israel over the way the legal system is preventing Samer Issawi from receiving a fair trial. But then again, Issawi is Palestinian.

Samer Issawi, the Palestinian prisoner who has been on an intermittent hunger strike for over 200 days, had his day in court on Thursday. According to the sentence handed down by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, one might ostensibly believe that Issawi would be released on March 6, when his prison term is completed. But Samer Issawi is Palestinian, and therefore subject to a multi-layered legal system in which his fate is not determined by civilian judges, but rather by three IDF officers.

Before Israel agreed to release 1,027 Palestinians in exchange for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the army quietly modified Article 186 to Military Order 1651. Article 186 codifies special military tribunals that have the power to cancel early releases. The panels operate using secret evidence and do not even reveal to Palestinians what they are accused of.

So while according to Thursday’s sentencing hearing in the Magistrate’s Court Issawi is to be released within weeks, he will likely be re-sentenced by the military tribunal to the 20 years that remained when he was freed in exchange for Shalit. He will not know for what alleged crime he is being re-incarcerated.

Even Israel’s most secretive prisoner in recent years, Prisoner X, knew what he was charged with. But Prisoner X was Jewish. Samer Issawi is Palestinian.

One other Palestinian hunger striker is being held under identical circumstances. Two others are being held in administrative detention, the practice of holding suspects without charge or informing them of what they are accused.

The injustice suffered by Issawi and the others is not theirs alone, it is one that has and continues to unite Palestinian society. Solidarity hunger strikes are being held both in and out of Israeli prisons. Protests are taking place across the West Bank and judging by the number of injured protesters, the Israeli military response to those protests is becoming more violent.

On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians marched toward the Ofer Military Prison compound in solidarity with the hunger strikers and to protest the practice of administrative detention. At that protest alone, at least 29 protesters were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters.

Days earlier, nearly two-dozen Palestinian demonstrators were injured at another protest in Hebron. Similar protests have been taking place almost daily in Nablus and throughout the West Bank. Solidarity tents have been erected and protests launched in Palestinian cities and neighborhoods throughout Israel, in Jaffa, Acre and Nazareth, among others.

The situation could explode should the hunger strikers die in prison.

Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti warned as much on Thursday. “Should anything bad happen to Issawi, I predict that the entire West Bank will rise up and a new, non-violent intifada will break out,” he told Israeli news site Ynet.

It is a very real possibility.

Something could happen to Issawi at any time, without warning, explained Physicians for Human Rights executive director Ran Cohen.

“The main problem [with hunger strikers] is that there can be heart failure or something else you can’t predict,” he said in a telephone interview earlier this week.

But there is a much larger issue at stake than Issawi or any of the other current hunger strikers. It is not their individual cases that are necessarily unjust, although they are. Subjecting a civilian population to a military legal system is the larger injustice.

There is a word for when one regime rules different people under different sets of laws based on their nationality, religion or the color of their skin. At a conference in Jerusalem Thursday, former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general and previous Israeli ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel explained: “In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state — in the hope that the status quo is temporary — is an apartheid state.”

Much of Israel, particularly journalists and those concerned with civil and human rights, was up in arms in the past few weeks over the case of Prisoner X’s secret imprisonment, specifically that the charges against him were being kept secret from the public and media. Prisoner X, however, knew the charges against him and his lawyers were given access to the state’s evidence against him.

Unlike Prisoner X, Samer Issawi does not even know the charges against him nor will he have an opportunity to contest them in court, let alone a civilian court, adjudicating civilian law, with proper civilian oversight.

Samer Issawi is Palestinian.

Unlike Prisoner X, there is no public outrage in Israel over the way the legal system is preventing Samer Issawi from receiving a fair trial.

Samer Issawi is Palestinian.

Related:
As Palestinian hunger strikes come to a head, world begins to take notice
‘Prisoner X’ and the security elite’s unchecked power 

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Danny

      “Unlike Prisoner X, Samer Issawi does not even know the charges against him nor will he have an opportunity to contest them in court, let alone a civilian court, adjudicating civilian law, with proper civilian oversight.”

      Samer Issawi is guilty of being Palestinian. It’s that simple. Every single Palestinian – man, woman and child – is guilty also, and could be subject to punishment at any arbitrary time, either by incarceration or death (depending on IDF commander’s personal preference).

      Reply to Comment
      • Maryam

        Do tell me his actual crime. Not the bogus you just made up. Please, I’d love to know.

        Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      It looks like the charge Issawi is facing is the completion of the 20 year sentence he was serving, before being released early when Israel was under pressure to get Gillad Shalit back.
      If that is the case, just check what he was jailed for originally, and you will have your answer.
      If he has blood on his hands or not, is another matter.

      Reply to Comment
      • Under your own logic, this rearrest constitutes bad faith in the prior release. Since the IDF will not say this, they will be silent. This silence is lack of indictment let alone conviction.

        Reply to Comment
    3. “The injustice suffered by Issawi and the others is not theirs alone, it is one that has and continues to unite Palestinian society. Solidarity hunger strikes are being held both in and out of Israeli prisons. Protests are taking place across the West Bank and judging by the number of injured protesters, the Israeli military response to those protests is becoming more violent…Solidarity tents have been erected and protests launched in Palestinian cities and neighborhoods throughout Israel, in Jaffa, Acre and Nazareth, among others.”

      The racial seggregation of law is creating the very unified opposition which the State ever claims it faces. But if this opposition can stay largely focused on legal process (not so easy to do in anger), it transforms this part of the conflict from “racial opposition” to legal principle.

      Good to hear about Liel.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        What’s injust in keeping terrorist locked up?

        Reply to Comment
        • Rauna

          TT, one is innocent until proven guilty’ Haven’t you heard that before?

          Reply to Comment
    4. Shmuel

      Hey Greg

      Under what charge was Gilad Shalit held captive by Hamas for five and a half years?

      Also why didn’t they respect his human rights while he was captive?

      I didn’t hear a single one of you protesting on his behalf, here in +972 while you had a chance to show some even handedness. Thats why you guys have no credibility. You only care about the human rights of Palestinians. Israelis to you are not even human.

      Reply to Comment
      • No, Shmuel, I considered the capture of Shalit to be a terrible tearing of his young life. He lost years. I’m not interesting in hiding behind “prisoner of war.” You were wrong about me on this one. And if I cared nothing for Israel I would not adhere to its Declaration of Independence. In fact, I wouldn’t comment here at all.

        That does not, however, excuse the use of administrative detention, nor pretend away the symbolic ramification of the hunger strike.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Rachamim Ben Ami

      The author is either extremely ignorant or else is deceiving his readers. Prisoner X was held in complete incommunicado and his hearings were in the utmost secrecy so that not even the judge handling the case knew what the accused was being held for. Since X was incommunicado, and died in that state, how could the author ever claim that X knew why he was in jail, etc., etc.?

      Issawi is a bombmaking terrorist. On his slow days he sniped tour busses on the Route 1 Bypass Road just outside Issawiyyah. In addition, he controlled at least 2 cells that were responsible themselves for additional sniping incidents on the Bypass Road, as well as casing Hebrew University, where Issawi himself sniped two students as they made their way from class to their car.

      All this concern for Issawi and not even a single word about his crimes or his many victims.

      Issawi was given a second chance at life after serving 9 years. Did he apologise to his many victims and their families? Did he renounce violence? Did he finally become a productive member of society? No to all of the above. Instead, he blew off the conditions of his release on at least 3 seperate occasions.

      If he were to now serve the 16 remaining years of his sentence (another factual innacuracy in the article is the claim that he could serve 20 more years) it would merely be justice and he would STILL be given a gift.

      The author talks of “Apartheid,” but let us simply emulate Palestinians then. HAMAS, how would THEY deal with someone building bombs to kill HAMAS members? As we saw in Pillar of Defense, they simply give them a round at the base of the skull then drag the corpse by chains attached to motorcycles throughout Gaza City.

      Or what about the PA? They are after all, the “moderate” group, right? A month after Issawi got his 8 months a teenager from Nablus was given 12 months simply because he had put “Like” on a Facebook page satirising Abbas.

      Yet our intrepid author tells us how evil and oppressive Israel is torturing Issawi because they simply expect him to abide by the release agreement he signed. Got it, thanks.

      Reply to Comment

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