The following is an excerpt from an extensive article, posted on January 1, 2014, by the Electronic Intifada, detailing the thoughts of former Palestinian prisoner and hunger strike leader Samer Issawi and his family, on their recent experiences regarding Issawi’s imprisonment and release. Budour Youssef Hassan, 1 January 2014
There was a distinctly different ambience at the home of the Issawis this time around. It would be the first time that we were visiting, expecting to meet Samer Issawi himself.
This visit was not about offering solidarity and support, an act we undertook repeatedly when Samer was in prison. This time, the visit was not to participate in a demonstration calling for his release.
We did not hear the tediously familiar sound bombs that usually accompanied our visits to the village of Issawiyeh, in occupied East Jerusalem.
This visit was a celebratory and congratulatory one.
Finally, a week after her son’s release, it was possible to look Leila, Samer Issawi’s mother, in the eye and smile incessantly, free from the anxiety and agitated hope that saddled our hearts when we met her previously. In Palestine, moments of collective joy and triumph are so rare that we feel like we snatch them from the jaws of our occupiers.
The release of Samer Issawi on 23 December 2013 was one of those moments of joy that will linger in the memories of all who witnessed it.
On the morning of his release, journalists and supporters of Samer Issawi began gathering at the family’s home. Israeli occupation forces had already raided the Issawis’ home at dawn and the previous night, warning the family not to hold celebrations.
“They raided the house while I was praying at dawn and ordered us to refrain from celebrating,” Samer’s mother told The Electronic Intifada. “But this was out of our hands. We could not control people and stop them from celebrating and we did not want to.”
Neither the intimidation nor the presence of Israeli military forces at the entrance to Issawiyeh could prevent the massive celebrations that accompanied Samer’s arrival.
A group of women of all ages marched from Samer’s house into the streets as Samer, his mother and his sister Shireen were making their way home after Samer was released from Israel’s Shatta prison.
The women and girls created a wedding-like atmosphere, chanting revolutionary slogans, banging on darbuka drums and singing traditional Palestinian songs adapted for the occasion. As soon as the bus carrying Samer and his family made it into Issawiyeh, the crowd erupted euphorically.
Celebratory gunshots were fired in the air, youth climbed atop fences to catch a glimpse of their hero and children kept chanting Samer’s name and the word “freedom.” It was a popular and festive protest, bringing together Palestinians of all ages and political affiliations, something that occupied Jerusalem has not seen in a long time.
Samer’s 16-year-old niece, Leila, had taken part in numerous demonstrations and clashes demanding her uncle’s release. She noted that the arrest of Samer in July 2012 — not long after he had been released as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas — had politicized an entire generation in Issawiyeh.
The extent to which Samer’s arrest and hunger strike have influenced the village was visible. You would see children as young as five engaging in political discussions and leading chants in protests.
(Continue reading at Electronic Intifada, below.)