Palestinian inmate and record-breaking hunger-striker Samer al-Issawi was released from prison Monday, after serving eight months in an Israeli prison for violating his parole conditions.
He was freed on Monday evening from Shatta prison, and was making his way home to the East Jerusalem village of Issawiya, where he would be greeted by hundreds of well-wishers, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
Issawi garnered international support and publicity after he launched a 266-day hunger strike — from August 2012 to April 2013 — protesting his incarceration. During that time, Issawi consumed only water and intravenous vitamins. In April, under pressure from solidarity groups, fierce Palestinian protests, and international petitions and in light of Issawi’s rapidly deteriorating health, the Israeli government reached a compromise with Issawi and shortened his sentence to eight months, on the condition that he end his hunger strike.
Pictures from Issawiya posted by Activestills.org showed Issawi being carried on shoulders in a large parade.
— Activestills (@activestills) December 23, 2013
Palestinian news sources, citing a Facebook post by Issawi’s sister, reported that Israeli forces raided Issawi’s East Jerusalem home Sunday, arresting his father Tariq, and his brother, Midhat. Midhat had previously served in Israeli prison for 19 years.
Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison in 2002 for his involvement in a series of shooting attacks at Israeli police cars and students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However, in 2011, Issawi was released from prison prematurely as part of the prisoner swap in exchange for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Under his parole terms, Issawi was barred from leaving the Jerusalem area. After traveling to the West Bank in 2012, Israeli security forces rearrested Issawi and sentenced him to the remainder of his term through 2029.
Under Israeli law, political prisoners that commit an offense punishable by more than three months imprisonment can be sentenced to complete their original sentence. While Issawi claimed he had entered the West Bank to get his car repaired, an Israeli official told Reuters that Issawi’s excursion was part of his “continued involvement in attempting to establish terror cells.”
His hunger strike, following the model of other Palestinian prisoners who gained release by refusing to eat, made him a cause celebre among Palestinians and international activists.
Israeli officials were reportedly concerned that Issawi’s death in prison would spark riots in the West Bank, and were therefore willing to concede to his demands.