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Media Silence Criticized as Palestinian Hunger Strikers Verge on Death

UN calls for end to indefinite detention in Israel amidst media blackout

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Shireen Issawi during a Jerusalem protest marking her hunger striking brother Samer’s birthday on 16 December (Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

A Palestinian prisoner in Israel, who has been on hunger strike for over 200 days, has sparked international outrage in support of his cause, despite a consistent lack in reporting from corporate media, most notably the Associated Press.

Now on his 204 day without food, prisoner Samer Issawi, 33, is reportedly refusing water and nearing death.

"He is chasing death," said Issawi's sister, Shireen. "My brother is in serious danger."

Issawi was released by Israeli authorities in an October 2011 prisoner swap, but was re-arrested in July 2012. He was sentenced to 20 years for allegedly violating conditions of his release, but his supporters says Issawi has never been charged with a crime and is being held under punitive and unjust 'administrative detention'.

The practice of 'administrative detention'—a process whereby Israel authorities routinely hold Palestinian prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial—sparked mass prisoner hunger strikes and subsequent protests last year.

"Rights groups said Issawi is one of several Palestinians to be re-arrested under dubious circumstances after they were released in the July 2011 prisoner swap, when 1,027 Palestinians were traded in phases of about 400 at a time for Israeli solider Gilad Shalit," Al Jazeera adds.

Daleen Elshaer, a Palestinian-American who organized the "Free Samer Issawi Campaign" told Al Jazeera that he "was not the only prisoner released in the swap who was re-arrested soon after".

"The wave of arrests reveals that the exchange deal has not deterred Israel's policy of detention," Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners' rights group stated.

Due to the growing concern over Issawi among several other hunger strikers in Israeli detention—including Tarek Qaadan and Jafar Azzidine who have both been on hunger strike for 78 days—Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Tuesday called for the immediate release or charge of all prisoners held in administrative detention.

Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, also called for the immediate release of the three men from their "inhumane" conditions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday called for immediate action from the international community in support of Palestinian prisoners' plight.

"Things may get out of control if the lives of the hunger strikers are not saved," Abbas said on Palestinian television.

"We ask the international community to respond effectively to ease the situation, otherwise it will be impossible to control and it will deteriorate across the Palestinian territories."

All three hunger strikers are reportedly near death.

Issawi’s supporters say he is being force fed through an intravenous tube by prison guards to keep him alive.

Despite the blatant abuses of human rights by the Israeli government, several commentators have noted that corporate media outlets have largely ignored the story.

Writing for CounterPunch Alison Weir writes:

U.S. news outlets are not covering Issawi’s hunger strike. It appears that the Associated Press has not run a single news story on Issawi’s strike and refuses to answer queries on the subject.

AP’s lack of reporting on the situation is even more inexplicable given that there has been an international campaign on Issawi’s behalf.

There 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. [...]

It is difficult to think that if an Israeli soldier were held by Palestinians that the Associated Press would not run a single story about it. (AP ran many dozens of stories on Israeli tank gunner Gilad Shalit when he was held in Gaza.) [...]

Moreover, Issawi is just one of a multitude of Palestinian hunger strikers, almost all ignored by U.S. media. Another, Ayman Sharawna, whose fast was interrupted for a short period, has been on a strike that, in total, is even longer that Issawi’s.

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