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Saturday, December 7, 2013
- The release of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in late 2011 set off scenes of jubilation throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, as families joyously welcomed their loved ones homes after months and years apart. But for many of these same families, an Israeli military order – that allows Israel to re-arrest released Palestinian prisoners based on secret evidence – has now shattered those happy reunions.
“It was like a historic (moment),” said Shireen Issawi, about the day her brother, Samer Issawi, was released from an Israeli prison in 2011. “We started to laugh and to cry. When we really saw him in the street, walking towards us, we just started to cry and scream, ‘Samer! Samer!’ We couldn’t believe it.”
But in July of last year, Samer, a 33-year-old resident of Issawiya in East Jerusalem, was re-arrested after Israel said he broke the conditions of his release. On Feb. 21, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced Issawi to eight months in prison, which will be applied retroactively starting from the date of his arrest on Jul. 7, 2012.
Issawi is now waiting for a ruling from an Israeli military committee on his case, however, and still might be forced to serve the remainder of his original sentence, 20 more years, in prison.
Issawi has been on hunger strike for over 200 days now in protest of his imprisonment, subsisting intermittently on only water, salt, and vitamins. During a court hearing on Feb. 19, his mother, Layla, collapsed from the stress of the situation.
“We took her to the hospital in ambulance and she was in a very bad condition,” Shireen told IPS, adding that the pressure on her family began from the very moment her brother was re-arrested. “We couldn’t believe that he was arrested again with no charges. It was very, very difficult for us. We started to cry and pray to God that he will be released.”
Passed in 2009, Article 186 of Israeli military order 1651 allows a special Israeli military committee to put released Palestinian prisoners back behind bars for the remainder of their original sentences, based on undisclosed evidence that isn’t shared with the prisoners or their lawyers.
To date, over a dozen Palestinians have been re-arrested under this law. Many of these prisoners were released in the November 2011 agreement between Israel and Hamas that saw 1,027 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Mourad Jadallah, a legal researcher with Ramallah-based prisoners rights group Addameer, explained that Israel quietly passed the military order as negotiations towards a prisoners exchange were being held, and long before the agreement was finalised.
“Israel, before taking any action, prepared the ground to bypass the agreement,” Jadallah said. “They had to protect themselves, at least legally, and give themselves the authority to re-arrest the Palestinian prisoners, and this is what they did.”
On Feb. 20, a group of Palestinian lawyers petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court against the military order. The law’s application, Addameer stated in a press release, is “completely unjustified and undermines the protection of prisoners and ex-prisoners, and puts the lives of the hunger strikers in grave danger.”
“The Court said it understands the need for this petition, but it’s still early because until now, the military committee never used this Article,” Jadallah told IPS, about the hearing. “At the same time, the case of Samer Issawi, it was based on (Article) 186.”
Right now, four Palestinian prisoners – Samer Issawi, Ayman Sharawna, Jafar Ezzedine and Tarek Qa’adan – are conducting open-ended hunger strikes in protest of their detention in Israeli prisons.
A movement in solidarity with the hunger strikers has grown in recent weeks. Demonstrations are regularly held in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and inside Israel. Supporters have even begun hunger strikes of their own in solidarity with the prisoners.
On Feb. 11, former Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan – who was released from Israeli jail in 2012 after conducting a 66-day hunger strike – began a sit-in and hunger strike at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offices in Al Bireh, near Ramallah.
The ICRC closed its office shortly after Adnan’s hunger strike began. A spokesperson for the organisation told Israeli daily Ha’aretz that “as a humanitarian organisation we cannot agree that our offices be used for political purposes.”
According to Israeli human rights group Btselem, 4,517 Palestinian prisoners were held in Israeli jails at the end of 2012, including 178 Palestinians held without charge or trial under Israeli administrative detention orders.
Israel has detained an estimated 800,000 Palestinians – 20 percent of the overall Palestinian population, and 40 percent of the male population – since its military occupation of the Palestinian territories began in 1967. (END)