Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank town of Beitounia on Thursday morning for a mass protest march to Israel’s Ofer military prison, demanding the release of administrative detainees now on hunger strike.
The demonstrators clashed with large IDF forces deployed around the compound, with snipers positioned on the fences.
Clashes erupted earlier when Palestinian youths threw stones at the IDF and Border Police troops.
Some 20 Palestinians were injured, apparently by rubber-coated bullets fired by the soldiers, Palestinian sources reported. Channel 1 reporter Yoram Cohen and a Channel 10 reporter and photographer were also lightly injured by stone-throwers.
Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Eitan Kornhawser on Thursday sentenced Samer Issawi, who has been on a hunger strike since August of last year, to eight months in prison. The demand to free Issawi prompted Thursday’s demonstrations in the West Bank.
Issawi, of East Jerusalem’s Isawiyah village, was convicted in an incident involving shooting at cars and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He was released a year and a half ago as part of the deal to free IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas’ captivity.
One of the release conditions was that Issawi not return to the West Bank. But at the beginning of July he was caught in the A-Ram roadblock and arrested for violating his release terms.
Issawi has been hunger striking since August, demanding to be freed. In recent months he has been hospitalized in the Prison Service infirmary and fed intravenously.
Issawi was scheduled to be discharged on March 7, but defense authorities are in the process of revoking his pardon, claiming he has resumed terrorist activities and must be imprisoned for the remainder of his initial sentence, before his pardon.
“They caught me and warned me, but I was in Ma’aleh Adumim. I’m a citizen with a blue [Israeli] ID card. If I can’t enter Ma’aleh Adumim with that, where can I go?” Issawi said in court Thursday.
His attorney, Andre Rosenthal, asked the court to consider that Issawi was seized on his way back into Israel. “It’s not like he entered the [West Bank] and started activity. He entered, and there’s no reason not to believe him, to have his car fixed,” he said.
The judge denied the state’s request to sentence Issawi to 10-24 months in prison and sentenced him to eight months, plus six months’ conditional sentence.
Dozens of Isawiyah residents gathered outside the court on Thursday in support of Issawi. After his verdict was read, the protesters clashed with police. Three of them were arrested and detained for interrogation.
Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, said on Wednesday he would be joining the hunger strikers as a show of solidarity. Also on Wednesday, the High Court of Justice declined to hear a petition from Palestinian hunger striker Ayman Sharawna, one of the prisoners released in the exchange between Israel and Hamas that freed Shalit.
The petition sought to annul clauses in Israel’s military order that permit freed prisoners to be returned to prison to serve out the remainder of their full term, even if the evidence against them is secret and is not heard by a panel of military judges.
Chief Justice Asher Grunis and Justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Uzi Vogelman accepted the state’s position that the issue should not be decided by the High Court before being heard by various lower courts in the military justice system.
Sharawna’s attorneys, Ahlam Haddad and Nery Ramati, argued that the lower military courts, the Military Prosecutor’s Office and the Military Advocate General have all said they lack the authority to change the order.
While the negotiations for the Shalit deal were ongoing, the Military Prosecutor’s Office amended the military order related to freeing security prisoners. The changes were intended to make it easier to re-incarcerate prisoners freed in the Shalit deal for the remainder of their original sentences.
In Sharawna’s case, the military prosecutor used classified evidence to claim that he was involved with terror after his release and therefore had to serve the remainder of his sentence − 28 years. He had been convicted of a terror attack in Be’er Sheva and was originally sentenced to 38 years in jail; he served 10 before being freed in the Shalit swap.
Sharawna was arrested in late January 2012, after which Haddad appealed to the committee tasked with examining parole violations. Haddad and the state presented evidence to the committee four months ago, but it is only expected to issue its decision on Sharawna’s continued imprisonment next week. Even that date was only set after the petition to the High Court.
Justice Grunis criticized the committee’s foot-dragging, adding that he believed the High Court petition had expedited the matter. Sharawna’s lawyer argued that if the case made it to the military appeals committee, it would take years before the High Court makes time to discuss the legality of the practice.
Grunis responded that the appeals committee would have to reach a decision in a reasonable amount of time, and if not, Sharawna could re-file his petition to the High Court.
In a separate incident in the West Bank Thursday, six Palestinian vehicles were torched in the village of Kusra near the Shilo settlement. This is apparently the latest in a series of clashes between Shilo residents and their Palestinian neighbors that have erupted over the course of the week. In one incident, an 8-dunam vineyard belonging to Shilo residents was vandalized.
Gili Cohen contributed to this report.