Intellectuals urge PM to free hunger-striking Palestinian

Samer Issawi, released in Shalit deal and since rearrested, has been refusing food for 8 months

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinians demonstrate in support of hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, April 9, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Palestinians demonstrate in support of hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, April 9, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

A group of Israeli writers, poets and public intellectuals signed a petition Sunday urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately release hunger striking Palestinian detainee Samer Issawi from prison.

Issawi has been on hunger strike for the past eight months. He was arrested in July 2012 for violating the terms of his parole by venturing outside Jerusalem’s city limits, less than a year after being freed as part of the swap deal that saw Hamas release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“Samer Issawi is on the verge of death after over 260 days of hunger strike, following his administrative detention,” the petitioners wrote, according to Haaretz.

“Issawi’s death under these circumstances may cause serious damage to Israel’s foreign relations, and may ignite the West Bank, which is on the verge of boiling over as it is. His release, on the other hand, may be a first step toward building trust between us and the Palestinian people,” they asserted.

The petitioners included, among others, Israel Prize laureates such as translators Shimon Sandbank and Nili Mirsky, playwright Joshua Sobol, poets Tal Nitzan and Aharon Shabtai, novelist Alona Kimhi, and artist Yair Garbuz.

The letter went on to praise Issawi’s dedication to his cause, describing him as the “beating heart of the Palestinian people.”

The group concluded with a demand that Netanyahu terminate all administrative detentions, which they deemed unlawful.

“There is no chance for peace without referring to the other as human,” the letter signed off.

Issawi was sentenced to 26 years prison for his role in a series of shooting attacks targeting Israeli police cars and students at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

Israel offered to deport Issawi to Europe or a UN-member country in an effort to reach a compromise, an Israeli official said Friday, but a lawyer for Issawi said 33-year-old hunger striker had refused to be deported, and a European Union official denied that Israel had officially made the offer to deport him.

On Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, castigated the Israeli government, saying, “The mere acceptance of the Israeli relevant authorities to deport Issawi to Gaza or anywhere outside his home in Jerusalem affirms that there is no justification for his arrest in the first place.”

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