Samer Issawi, whose 266-day hunger strike drew attention to the plight of Palestinian prisoners and Israel’s policies of jailing people without charge, has been freed to his home in East Jerusalem.
His release has sparked celebrations at his house in the neighborhood of Issawiya, though Israeli authorities reportedly told his family that any public celebrations in the area would be “banned.” Israeli forces also twice raided his home in the days before his release.
“I wanted to protect the rights of Palestinian prisoners and deter Israel from re-arresting more Palestinians who had been freed in the Shalit deal,” the thirty-three year-old told Palestinian reporters today, according to Reuters.
His release marks the latest high-profile Palestinian prisoner to win freedom after waging a hunger strike in protest of his re-arrest and administrative detention, the term that refers to the Israeli practice of jailing people with charge or trial. Issawi faced 20 years in prison–the remainder of his original 30-year sentence when he was first arrested by Israel–on charges and evidence the Israeli military did not disclose, though Israel also charged him with violating the terms of his release. He was sentenced to 17 months on that charge. He was held for over 20 days without access to a lawyer, according to the prisoner rights’ group Addameer.
Issawi was freed from a prison in northern Israel, in violation of the international legal prohibition against transferring prisoners from the occupied territory where they are arrested.
Issawi, who is affiliated with the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was first arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempted murder and possession of explosives. While he was freed as part of the deal to get back Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit in 2011, Issawi was re-arrested in July 2012. Israeli forces claimed that Issawi violated the terms of his release because he entered the West Bank, a claim challenged by his family, who said he stayed in Jerusalem. On August 1, he began to refuse food and only took in water and vitamins until April. He lost half his body weight while on strike and came close to death. Issawi was beaten in court in December 2012.
Issawi’s hunger strike electrified Palestinian society, who held numerous protests in his support. Israel, fearing that his death could spark unrest in the occupied territories, ultimately struck a deal with Issawi after the prisoner refused to capitulate to Israeli demands that he be deported to Europe or Gaza after his release. In April, Issawi agreed to a deal where he would be released in eight months.