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An Open Letter to Benjamin Netanyahu That America Needs to See

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As usual, it seems, public discourse about the Palestinian situation tends to be much more vivid and vigorous in Israel itself than it ever seems allowed to become in the United States. Thus, for instance, the following public letter to Benjamin Netanyahu from many of Israel's most distinguished academics and cultural figures, including, for starters, two winners of the prestigious Israel Prize (handed out by the State of Israel and generally regarded as the state's highest honor), regarding the urgent situation of the Palestinian prisoner Samer-al-Issawy, now on the verge of death 260 days into a hunger strike protesting the Israeli policy of indefinite administrative detention of prisoners like him, without charge.

He is only one of many, many such prisoners increasingly resorting to such classically Gandhian tactics. Everyone in Israel knows about this: how many in the United States do? Attention needs be paid. Wasn't it John F. Kennedy who pointed out, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable," a line that Martin Luther King went on to quote on frequent occasions? This letter speaks for itself. Is anybody listening?

Mr. Benjamin Netaniahu, Prime Minister of Israel,

We, the undersigned, hereby call for an end to the policy of administrative detentions and for the release of long-time administrative detainees and first all, without delay, the hunger-striking prisoner Samer Al-Issawy.

For over a year now we have been following with growing concern the struggle of Palestinian prisoners against the unworthy procedure of administrative detention and we have been demanding justice and fair trials. Some of the prisoners, in their despair, have resorted to hunger strikes, the typical weapon in Gandhian-style non-violent resistance.

As Israelis who see in the ongoing occupation an existential threat to the state of Israel and its population - Palestinians and Jews alike - we believe that the hunger-strike signifies a new and legitimate means in the unarmed Palestinian struggle. We believe that the partner with whom we can resolve the conflict and reach a solution in the future will grow out of such a struggle.

Israel has already released, by agreement, quite a number of hunger-striking prisoners. Now it is Samer Al-Issawy who is on the verge of death, having refrained from food for over 260 days following his administrative detention. Let us remember that Al-Issawy was released from jail in the Shalit prisoners exchange and that his present imprisonment is due to a formal and unwitting violation of a minor stipulation in the release deal.

The death of Samer Al-Issawy in these circumstances might severely damage the state of Israel's foreign relations and ignite the West Bank, which is seeing growing unrest over this and other issues. However, releasing him could well serve as the first step towards the building of trust between us and the Palestinian people.

Samer Al-Issawy and the other administrative detainees and political prisoners are the heartbeat of the Palestinian people, the people with whom we should build a relationship in the present and in the future. We must not turn our attention away in disregard while the children of that nation are willing to die of hunger in order to receive a fair trial. We must not harden our hearts like Pharaoh at the time when we were slaves in Egypt.

We call upon you to put an end to this torture, to immediately release Samer Al-Issawy and to cancel at once the policy of administrative detentions. There is no chance for peace unless the other is treated as a human being.

1. Prof. Shimeon Zandbank, Israel Prize winner

2. Prof. Nilly Mirsky, Israel Prize winner

3. Prof. Nissim Kalderon

4. Prof. Yair Garbuz

5. Prof. Moshe Ron

6. Prof. Yehoshua Sobol, playwright

7. Tal Nitzan, poet

8. Aharon Shabtai, poet

9. Lea Aini, writer

10. Tsibi Geva, Artist

11. Esty G. Haim, writer

12. Eli Hirsh, poet

13. Alona Kimhi, writer

14. Nir Baram, writer

15. Maya Arad, writer

16. Akiva Eldar, journalist

17. Dr. Dana Amir, poet

18. Meir Goldberg, songwriter

19. Sefi Rachlevsky, writer

20. Einat Weitzman, actress

21. Shimeon Adaf, writer

22. Dror Burstein, writer

23. Tsepel Yeshurun, film-maker

24. Shira Stav, poet

25. Tali Latovicky, poet

26. Dr. Michal Ben-Naftaly, writer

27. Yossi Sucary, writer

28. Sarai Gutman, publisher

29. Yehonatan Nadav, publisher

30. Liat Kaplan, poet

31. Ana Herman, poet

32. Dr. Oded wolkstein, lecturer

33. Ruth Gwily, artist

34. Dory Manor, poet

35. Dr. Dana Olmert, editor

36. Nir Rachkovsky, translator