Hunger-striker Essawi sentenced to eight months

Following clashes during march in solidarity with hunger-striking detainees, J'lem court sentences prisoner Essawi to term in prison.

Samer Isssawi, hunger-striker 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
Samer Isssawi, hunger-striker 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post)
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced Samer Essawi, one of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, to eight months in prison on Thursday.
However, since he has already been in prison for over half a year awaiting his trial, the court set his release date as March 6 – eight months from his arrest in July 2012.
Despite this verdict, activists quoted his lawyer as saying that he would continue his hunger strike – particularly since he still faces a separate trial by a military court, which will most likely result in a much longer sentence.
“This decision [by the civilian court] does not change [Essawi’s] situation and doesn’t mean that he will be released in March,” Qadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Reuters.
According to the court ruling, Essawi – who was originally arrested in 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield and then released as part of the October 2011 prisoner exchange deal for Gilad Schalit – was rearrested last July for entering Judea and Samaria, a move that violated the conditions of his release. Afterward he was accused of coaching a witness to hide the fact that he had entered Judea and Samaria.
Essawi confessed to both of the charges.
According to a security source, he comes from a family with known connections to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
One of his brothers was killed during riots, and two others were arrested a few times for activity in the DFLP. His sister Shireen was convicted of transferring money from prisoners to terror contacts outside.
The source also stated that since his 2011 release, he had been involved in terror activity.
On Tuesday, he appeared before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and was refused bail. He has been on hunger strike for 213 days.
Shireen Essawi said her brother “was not surprised by the decision in court today, but he will continue his strike because the upcoming military court hearing still will not allow him to go free.”
She added, “We don’t know what will happen in the military court, but maybe the international community or a political decision will change the situation.”
There is still no date for the military court hearing or an official statement of the charges against him.
She declared that her brother “will never stop the hunger strike until he is released.”
She rejected the charges of his involvement in terrorist activity, saying the hearing had made no mention of terrorrelated issues. And regarding the charge that he entered the West Bank, she said, “I don’t see it as a crime even.”
“These are lies and he wasn’t involved in any [terror] activity since he was released, and he just started to work and a have a normal life,” she claimed.
She also said the charges against her were false.
“I am a lawyer and have the ability to transfer money and other things, and everything I did was under the watch of Israel’s security forces and the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency],” she said. “It wasn’t something illegal that I did.”
The family is awaiting news of when the military court hearing will take place – information that may be released next week.
Khaled An-Naftawi, a Palestinian political activist involved in the prisoner issue, told the Post, “We want all five prisoners on a hunger strike released immediately because they have health risks and according to all international norms, need to be released without pre-conditions.”
He said that a female prisoner started to fast on Thursday - Muna Qaa'dan, the sister of one of the hunger-striking prisoners, Tareq Qaa'dan.
"If Israel continues with this policy and doesn’t release these prisoners the situation will get worse, not only in the jail but also outside, in the West Bank. All the time there is demonstrations everywhere. Today [Thursday] there was a demonstration in Ofer and there were injuries. The protests will continue and will get bigger."
He added, “I don’t believe that Obama will get the prisoners released because the US is the biggest defender of Israel."
Some 1,000 Palestinians gathered in Beitunya to march to the military prison. Activists said some 40 people were hurt in the protest, including Channel 1 reporter Yoram Cohen, who was struck in the head by a rock that a Palestinian protester threw. Paramedics evacuated the journalist to Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, Israel Radio reported. Another journalist, a photographer, was hit in the chest and evacuated for treatment.
According to Israel Radio, the IDF used riot dispersal methods to quell the clashes, including tear gas. A tear gas canister reportedly hit Palestinian activist Abir Kopty in the head.
According to activist tweets, she was evacuated to the hospital in Ramallah.
Israeli-Arab newspaper Kul 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 sermon on Friday and a demonstration on Saturday.
Protests have been widespread throughout the West Bank since the beginning of the week, as Palestinian representatives, international organizations and other countries have expressed concern over the health of the prisoners.
Reuters contributed to this report.