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His Hunger, Our Shame: A Human Chain for Samer Al Issawi

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The human chain stretched into the distance each way, representing the path of Samer Al Issaw's daily struggle and physical agony, a path of dignity and courage; and a path of our own helplessness and shame.  Every demonstrator held a placard for each day that passed since Al Issawi started his heroic hunger strike on August 1st, 2012.  Mine was 101; a three-digit number jotted down in bold black markers on white carton paper; was that the day his internal organs began to fail him? Was that the day his stomach started gnawing at its own entrails, muscle tissues and nerves, in search of energy? Was it the day his bone structure began to weaken so much that his legs wouldn't hold up his diminished weight any more?

It  wasn't  just a number; it was the day Al Issawi passed the one-hundred-day-mark of his ongoing hunger strike for freedom.  Now death is Samer's bedfellow, overshadowing every little, shivering movement that his frail muscles could muster, skin stretched paper-thin over skeleton.  He's well on his way into crossing the two-hundred-day mark with his stomach tying itself into aching knots of hunger and the world is tying its lips in deafening knots of silence.  

The turnout exceeded everyone's expectations considering our now infamous pathological tendency for utter callousness and inaction when it comes to the suffering of Palestinians.  The human chain was complete with 193 participants from all ages and walks of life, yet the crowd kept getting bigger; those without a sequential number in the chain settled with holding a sign or a poster of the Palestinian hero, others chanted his name, busting their lungs for a man now certainly much frailer than what he looked like in those pictures we held of him.

Of course the human chain wouldn't have been complete without the presence of the human terrain of security forces, which only added more verve to the largely peaceful proceedings.  The wind was so strong that each of us held unto his sign lest it fly away.  Passers-by quickened their pace as they walked past us and the traffic on one of the notoriously busiest streets in Amman (University Street) slowed down as drivers tried to catch a glimpse of our modest attempt at disturbing the contours of our collective anesthetized conscience for a cause that seems to be lost in the tall grass of our reshuffled priorities and the Arab World's bonfire of revolutions and counter-revolutions.

How can we not think of Samer Al Issawi while we're picking up exorbitant tabs at five-star hotels and fancy restaurants for a microscopic tiny portion of "exotic" food? How can we not curse our chronic passiveness and the fact that our moral abyss widens and grows ever darker with each passing day on Samer's imprisonment? How can we casually keep his cause on the periphery of our consciousness when Samer's life clock is hurriedly ticking away? How can I not think of Samer Al Issawi each time my stomach starts wailing that it hasn't been fed in a couple of hours; that I am somehow committing some kind of "massive injustice" against my own  well-being by not marching up to the kitchen and cramming whatever it is that I find in there into my mouth? I guess having an empty belly is a hundred times better than having a heart devoid of courage and dignity.

With an empty stomach and shackled to a wheel chair, Samer Al Issawi is now leading the rather "forgotten" battle of the "Empty Intestines" of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails against the Occupation's draconian policies of arbitrary arrest and "administrative detention"; a rather vindictive colonial procedure that has maneuvered over 200 Palestinian prisoners into a life-long struggle in which they had no choice but to literally self-starve their own way out, while Palestinian politicians--well beyond their expiry date--and bickering factions have clumsily steered an entire occupied people's fate into the gutter while wearing silk ties, walking on red carpets, and traveling in private jets.  Is there no depth of cynicism and moral depravity that we can't reach when we jubilantly cheer that finally two junior officials of Fatah and Hamas managed to meet in Cairo at a time when a true Palestinian freedom fighter is silently weathering away right before our eyes?

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Samer Al Issawi's life is in danger; the fact that we're not hammered with his story every day by the mainstream media doesn't make his struggle any less real, urgent, and frightening.

Another human chain is planned for next week; seven more people will be added to the chain; unless the iron will of Samer prevails or his heroic hunger strike ends with an obituary before we manage to pull a repeat of this week's demonstration.

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Ahmad Barqawi, a Palestinian freelance columnist & writer, he has done several studies, statistical analysis and researches on economic and social development.


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