The Israeli prison service released prominent Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi on the evening of Dec. 23, freeing him to return to his East Jerusalem home. Local sources told Ma'an News Agency that Issawi was set free from Shatta prison in northern Israel, and subsequently headed to East Jerusalem. His release comes after Israeli forces raided his family home twice in the last days. On the morning Dec. 22, Israeli forces handed notices to his brother and father demanding they meet with Israeli intelligence forces. The next morning, Israeli forces raided his home again and threatened his family that they would not allow any celebration of his release to take place in the neighborhood.
Issawi was released as part of an agreement in which he ended a 266-day hunger strike in April, during which time he became an international cause célèbre who focused attention on the plight of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Issawi's hunger strike was one of the longest in history, and brought him close to death.
Issawi was originally arrested by Israeli forces during the Second Intifada, but was among hundreds of prisoners released in 2011 as part of a deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The release agreement confined him to Jerusalem, but he was re-arrested in July 2012 after traveling to a village that is mostly in Jerusalem but also partially in the West Bank. He subsequently launched a hunger strike against the renewed detention, and only concluded the strike after Israel agreed to release him.
Approximately 5,200 Palestinians were being held in Israeli jails as of October 2013, according to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs. Another 1,280 are in Israeli prisons for being inside Israel without permits. Since 1967, more than 650,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, representing 20 percent of the total population and 40 percent of all males in the occupied territories.
Under international law, it is illegal to transfer prisoners outside of the occupied territory in which they are detained, and the families of Palestinian prisoners' face many obstacles in obtaining permits to see their imprisoned relatives. The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
From Ma'an News Agency, Dec. 23