Hunger striker Essawi: Protests give me strength

MK Zahalka tells 'Post' that Palestinian prisoner suffering from irregular heartbeat, low blood sugar amid 212-day hunger strike.

Palestinians protest in support of hunger striker 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians protest in support of hunger striker 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Shireen Essawi, the sister of Samer Essawi, one of four hunger-striking security prisoners, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that her brother was due in court the next day and that there might be a decision by Friday.
On Tuesday, he had appeared before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and was refused bail.
Palestinians were planning a large rally in front of Ofer Prison, near Ramallah, for 11 a.m. on Thursday.
Essawi’s sister told the Post, “A lawyer visited him in prison and said he is in a very difficult situation and he is getting worse because of his hunger strike. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow [in court].”
Essawi’s hunger strike entered its 212th day on Wednesday.
Essawi was convicted in October 2001 of shooting at a civilian vehicle, shooting at civilian buses, and making and distributing pipe bombs used in attacks on civilians. He was released in the trade for IDF tank gunner Gilad Schalit in October 2011.
Shireen Essawi went on to say that her family sent Samer a letter through his lawyer, and that her brother “knows what is going on outside and about the protests in his support. He said that the protests give him strength to continue his strike and he thanks everyone who goes out in solidarity for him.”
Also on Wednesday, the Israeli website Al-Arab reported that there would be activities in solidarity with the four hunger strikers in Nazareth from Thursday through Saturday. They will include a special sermon on Friday and a demonstration on Saturday.
In addition to Essawi, Ayman Sharawna, Jafar Ezzidin and Tareq Qaa’dan have been on a long-term hunger strike.
Anat Litvin, director of the department of prisoners and detainees for Physicians for Human Rights Israel, told the Post that Sharawna was rearrested by the IDF after Israel said he had violated the terms of his release, and began his hunger strike last July. He briefly stopped his strike but resumed on January 17 and since then has only been drinking water. He is being held in Ela Prison in Beersheba.
Litvin added that Ezzidin and Qaa’dan had been striking for 86 days after they were arrested and put in administrative detention.
Their lawyer visited them on February 12 and reported that they were not taking supplements, she said. All four hunger strikers were only drinking water, though authorities tried to give them infusions of vitamins and medicines to keep them alive, she said.
Balad MK Jamal Zahalka told the Post on Tuesday that Essawi was suffering from an irregular heartbeat and low blood sugar.
Regarding the risks of death, Litvin said, “After you pass 70- 90 days the situation is critical and various bodily functions can fail and doctors cannot predict when that will happen. If the conditions worsen, the deterioration will be very fast.”
She added, “We are afraid that the prison hospital will not be able to give them the right treatment and if they want to evacuate them [to a civilian hospital], it will take extra time.
“The prison system continues to violate their rights by refusing to let them be followed up by an independent doctor,” Litvin said. “In addition, they don’t allow family visits and this is a violation of international conventions.”
There are many ways of solving security issues, she said. The prison punishes prisoners on strike to get them to stop. It is outrageous that they can’t say goodbye to their families before they die, she added.
Earlier this week, Israel denied a report in Ma’ariv that it would be releasing 550 Palestinian prisoners ahead of US President Obama’s visit next month, among them Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Barghouti was sentenced to five life terms in 2004 for five murders. Saadat is serving a 30-year sentence for the murder of tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001.
Yuval Arnon-Ohana, a senior lecturer and researcher at the Middle East Research Center at Ariel University, told the Post, “The upcoming visit of President Barack Obama to Israel should create the possibility for a prisoner exchange that would release Marwan Barghouti from Israeli prison and accordingly Obama would release Jonathan Pollard. This would be a fresh start to open the political process.”
On Tuesday, some 500 Palestinian prisoners refused to eat in a one-day fast in solidarity with the four hunger-striking terrorists.
Palestinian representatives, international organizations and other countries are expressing concern over the situation and the health of the prisoners.