Samer Issawi, who has caught the imagination of millions of Palestinian supporters through his hunger strike, is ending his eight-month fast on a triumphant note, shining the light on the salience of non-violent resistance.
Jawad Boulos, the lawyer for Mr. Issawi, announced on Tuesday that Israeli authorities had agreed to sign an agreement as proposed by his client overnight on Monday. Under the deal, Mr. Issawi would end his epic hunger strike that has lasted 266 days. In return, he would be allowed to return to his hometown of Issawiya in East Jerusalem, after serving eight months in Israeli detention.
The terms of the deal are a tribute to Mr. Issawi’s steadfastness. The Palestinian Maan news agency is reporting that Israeli authorities had previously offered several proposals to break the hunger strike, which had triggered mass protests inside Palestinian territories. Mr. Issawi was offered deportation to Gaza for 10 years, and a five-year sentence in an Israeli prison prior to deportation in Europe. But the Palestinian activist spurned all these proposals, remaining fixated on his goal of being released to his East Jerusalem home.
Israeli authorities first picked up Mr. Issawi in 2002 and sentenced him to 26 years for participating in military activities on behalf of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). He was granted amnesty in October 2011, as part of a prisoner swap that followed the release by the Palestinian Hamas of Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier. But Mr. Issawi’s freedom remained short-lived for he was re-arrested on July 7 last year for violating release terms by allegedly entering West Bank from neighbouring East Jerusalem.
The news of the deal has gone viral on social media. A supporter of the Palestinian activist wrote pithily on his Twitter account: “SAMER ISSAWI wins the empty stomach battle. He will be sent home in Issawia to his family not going to be exiled.” The website +972 is revealing that support from Mr. Issawi has also become palpable among a section of the Israeli citizenry — evident from a relay hunger strike that a group of Israeli activists had started outside the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv.
Sections of the Arab media are reporting that high drama preceded the agreement for Mr. Issawi’s release. On Monday, Mr. Issawi told a hearing at the Kaplan Medical Centre where he has been lodged that he would boycott all future court hearings and refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Israeli courts. “I was sentenced by a Jerusalem court to eight months which ended in March, so I don’t see any reason to be detained. Your detention is malicious and I don’t recognise your committee, nor the procedures you take against me,” Mr. Issawi was quoted as saying by his lawyer, Mr. Boulos. Analysts point out that fear of social unrest that Mr. Issawi’s deteriorating health could have triggered was also a major factor that resulted in the deal.
The Palestinian activist is now awaiting release from Israeli detention on December 23.