Jerusalem lawyer Shireen Issawi jailed for doing her job

Lawyer Shireen Issawi, who has been sentenced to four years in prison, rose to prominence defending her brother Samer, who is seen in the picture she is holding.

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The well-known Palestinian lawyer and activist Shireen Issawi was sentenced to four years in prison by an Israeli court on Monday.

Her brother Medhat was sentenced to eight years at the same hearing in Jerusalem.

The two are accused of passing information and transferring funds between prisoners and political organizations banned by Israeli occupation authorities.

Israel considers most Palestinian political parties, including Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad, as “terrorist organizations.”

Shireen and Medhat run the Al-Quds Office for Legal and Commercial Affairs, a private legal firm based in Jerusalem, their home city.

It focuses on representing Palestinian prisoners whose families are not allowed to visit them, particularly those with families in Gaza.

The Issawis are themselves not strangers to imprisonment. Shireen and Medhat have already been jailed for two years each.

The Times of Israel reported that the Issawi siblings were allegedly paid to transmit instructions for hunger strikes and details of prisoner releases.

The Issawi family has maintained that Shireen and Medhat are being punished for carrying out necessary duties, including bringing the prisoners messages from their families and depositing money into their accounts at prison stores where detainees may buy essential items.

Many Palestinian families from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip are unable to visit their relatives imprisoned in present-day Israel, where most Israeli prisons are located, because they cannot get the necessary exit permits.

Israel’s detention practices breach international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention states that an occupying power may not transfer prisoners outside the territory it occupies.

Human rights attorneys Smadar Ben-Natan and Michal Pomerantz have represented Shireen.

In 2014, Ben-Natan told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that she was convinced that Shireen’s sympathies lie not with the positions of Hamas, but rather with the cause of the Palestinian prisoners.

When Shireen was arrested in March 2014, the Law Society of England and Wales sent a letter of concern to Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president.

Solitary confinement

The letter refers to a report issued by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which said that Shireen had been previously held for two months in solitary confinement at the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem.

Five other lawyers were arrested, including Amjad Safadi, around the same time as Shireen.

Safadi, 39, was interrogated for 50 days at the Russian Compound. Five days after his release he was found hanged.

It was believed that Safadi took his own life as a result of the harsh interrogation he endured at the hands of the Israelis.

Shireen rose to international prominence when she served as the spokesperson for her brother, Samer Issawi, during his lengthy hunger strikes in 2012 and 2013.

In 2014, Shireen won the Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders for her work for Palestinian prisoners.

However, Shireen was unable to travel to Geneva to receive the award due to her imprisonment.

Shireen was arrested on 6 March 2014 and Medhat was detained a week later.

Their brother Samer was re-arrested in June 2014.

He was one of many arrested during raids conducted while Israeli forces were supposedly searching for three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank.

Arrests surge

Shireen is being held at HaSharon prison, where Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar is currently serving her 15-month sentence.

To mark International Women’s Day, Jarrar delivered a message from prison: “Palestinian women mark this occasion in light of the crimes of the occupation against Palestinian women, children, elders and youth … We stand as part of a global struggle with all the world’s women freedom fighters: against injustice, exploitation and oppression.”

In 2015, Israel jailed 106 Palestinian women and girls, according to the prisoner rights group Addameer.

Addameer notes that the majority of detentions have occurred since a Palestinian uprising began last October. A total of 118 women were held in Israeli prisons during the first two months of this year.

Ongoing hunger strike

Last week, nearly 50 Palestinian prisoners in Etzion prison declared a hunger strike, demanding better living conditions.

The prisoners say they are are forced to live in filthy conditions, are provided inadequate food and medical treatment and are humiliated, assaulted and beaten during interrogations.

Some prisoners claimed they had not been able to bathe in 15 days.

On Monday, the Palestinian Prisoners Club announced that 18 prisoners remained on hunger strike.

They are protesting against being held without charge or trial, a practice known as administrative detention.

Palestinian Prisoners Club lawyer Jacqueline Fararjeh has been monitoring conditions at Etzion since last year, when prisoners attempted a hunger strike to demand improvements in living conditions.

Last November, Fararjeh reported the jail staff at Etzion pushed 19-year-old prisoner Hazem Ishaq Abu Hadwan down a flight of stairs.




A slight editing suggestion to this outstanding and timely report: the section headed "Arrests surge" gives figures for women and girls thrown into Israeli prisons. In that context, the numbers of women and girls who have been murdered in the streets, at checkpoints and in their homes by Israeli forces over the same period deserve mention as well. A shockingly high figure would obtain.


Many thanks for this important story. I saw the piece in the Times of Israel, I think, but couldn't figure out what this lawyer and her brother did to warrant prison sentences -- though everyone quoted in the article (prosecutors and Israeli officials, of course) seemed to think it was obvious. Your piece clarifies that Mr. Issawi was essentially working for her clients, like any lawyer. But since she's competent and principled, and is becoming prominent, Israel has to lock her up. I hope we can keep up some serious protests over the criminalizing of principled legal services.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.