Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi, 33, embarked on a hunger strike over 203 days ago to protest Israel’s inhumane treatment of detainees, making it one of the longest hunger strikes in human history.
If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of Samer Issawi, it’s probably because western media outlets are ignoring his plight as if to say his life doesn’t matter.
Alison Weir, executive director of If Americans Knew, says the Associated Press has run exactly zero stories on Issawi’s hunger strike and “refuses to answer queries on the subject”. But it’s not just the AP.
A Google News search of “Samer Issawi” brings up a handful of articles from western media all of which are independent and alternative outlets. If not for the pleas on social media from the Free Samer Issawi Campaign and other supporters of Palestinian human rights the world would be left in the dark about Issawi’s looming death.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a person doesn’t eat for 200 days, Weir reports that “Issawi’s internal organs are starting to shut down, he can no longer walk, he is reportedly suffering loss of vision and vomiting blood, it is difficult for him talk, and he is increasingly near death. He has lost over half his body weight.”
And it’s highly unlikely that major US media outlets are unaware of Issawi’s condition given that “[t]here have been banner drops in Washington, D.C, Chicago, Cleveland, Austin, and other parts of the world; demonstrations and vigils in numerous cities; and Issawi’s plight has made it onto Twitter’s world-trending list at least four times this month.”
I can’t imagine such deafening silence from the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, and the Washington Post if the hunger striker were an Israeli citizen rotting away in Palestinian detention. Of course for that to even enter the realm of possibility, there would need to be an Israeli citizen in Palestinian detention. The last time that happened was when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured and imprisoned by Hamas for five years.
Unlike Issawi, Shalit was the focus of magazine features and television programs around the world and he never had to starve himself for it. Meanwhile, 10,000 Palestinians, including children, languished in Israeli prisons during the same time period, many without ever receiving a trial. The fact that they never warranted even a fraction of the media coverage reserved for Shalit implies that that one Israeli life is worth thousands of Palestinian lives. As if to solidify this mentality, Shalit was released in a prisoner swap in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, one of whom was Samer Issawi.
The right-wing in Israel has of course written Issawi off as a terrorist undeserving of life, which is to be expected. But is he actually a terrorist?
The alleged “crime” for which Issawi is being imprisoned and may die – there has been no trial – is for having allegedly traveled outside Jerusalem. Issawi is one of the Palestinian prisoners released in a prisoner exchange in 2011, and such movement, Israel says, violated the terms of that release. (It is unclear whether Israel has formally charged Issawi.)
However, Issawi supporters point out that Issawi’s “travel” was to an area near Hizma, and Israel does not appear to dispute this, bringing into question Israel’s claimed reason for incarcerating him: Hizma iswithin Jerusalem’s municipal borders.
Israeli is holding Issawi under “administrative detention,” a system by which Israel holds Palestinian men, women, and even children for as long as the Israeli government wishes without trials or charges; sometimes for decades. Since 2000 Israel has reportedly issued 20,000 such detention orders.
In response to Issawi’s hunger strike, Israel has begun punishing his family. Israel arrested his sister for a period and reportedly cut off water to her house. In early July the Israeli army demolished his brother’s home.
If the media is not going to cover this, what about human rights organizations? Sadly, it wasn’t until Issawi’s supporters hounded Amnesty International that they bothered to post a plea for his life on their website earlier this week.
Have you ever gone just a day without eating? Missing even one meal turns me into a cranky monster. Hunger is painful in a way that most of us are fortunate enough to never have to know. This man is facing such a high level of inhumane conditions in Israeli prison that he has resorted to the most desperate of measures, willingly starving himself for seven months to get the world’s attention. He is literally killing himself to send us a message. By not reporting on it, the US news media is telling Samer Issawi that they don’t give a shit if he dies.