Date of Birth: 21 May 1968
Place of residence: Anata
Occupation: Former manager of the Jerusalem office of the newspaper “Voice of the Truth and Freedom”, published in Umm al-Fahm in Haifa
Education: Diploma in Medical Laboratories
Date of arrest: 3 June 1993
Dates of isolation: 24 October 2002 - 11 May 2012
Place of detention: Hadarim
Sentence: 3 life sentences and 49 years
Following Palestinian prisoners’ launch of a mass hunger strike on 17 April 2012, during which one of their core demands was the removal from isolation of the 19 prisoners in long-term isolation, Mahmoud Issa was transferred to the general prison population in Hadarim prison after nearly 10 years in consecutive isolation.
ARREST AND DETENTION
Mahmoud was arrested at his house on 3 June 1993, along with three of his brothers, by a large force of Israeli military personnel, police and members of the intelligence service. They were transferred to Al Moskobiyeh interrogation center in Jerusalem, but while his brothers were released the next day, Mahmoud was kept in interrogation for 2 months before being transferred to Ramleh prison, where the prison authorities immediately placed him in isolation “for security reasons.” His isolation continued throughout his trial, which ended in September 1993 when he was sentenced to 3 life terms and 49 years, which, according to Israeli Military Law, entails that he will remain in prison until his death.
CONDITIONS UNDER ISOLATION
In 2002, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) decided to place Mahmoud in long-term isolation at Ashkelon prison, to be renewed annually through the military courts. However, since then Mahmoud has been isolated in Hasharon, Beersheva and Ramleh prisons. Mahmoud is currently held at Gilboa prison, in isolation with another prisoner called Jehad Ya’amor. He was transferred there from Ramon prison on 5 October 2011. The duration of his isolation varies according to prison and after it expires Mahmoud is often transferred to isolation in another prison. This has ensured that his incarceration continues to be a particularly unstable and disorientating experience.
Isolation at Ramleh prison with Jamal Abu Heija
At Ramleh, Mahmoud was held with Jamal Abu El-Heija, another prisoner in long-term isolation, in a cell measuring 3.5 x 3 meters, with very little ventilation and only one window measuring 80 x30 centimeters above the door and overlooking the corridor. The iron door had only one opening through which meals were delivered and again closed immediately afterwards. Mahmoud stayed isolated under these conditions 23 hours a day, and was allowed to leave his cell only for one hour to go to the 4.30 x 3.30 meter prison yard, half of which was covered by iron and four layers of barbed wired, steel bars, and iron rods. In the prison yard there were no recreation facilities for the inmates, and they remained handcuffed until they returned to their cell. Mahmoud did not meet other detainees there apart from Abu el-Heija. Communication between cells was forbidden, and Mahmoud was held in a section with Israeli criminal convicts and drug addicts.
Most of the newspapers allowed at Ramleh prison were in Hebrew. Arabic newspapers were not regular (sometimes their delivery was delayed by as much as 4 months), there were no English newspapers, and magazines of any kind were prohibited. Any other items required coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who would deliver them on their visits to the prisons, although certain items such as clothes were often forbidden. According to Mahmoud’s parents, every time they sent clothes to him to the prison, he would not receive them for a long time. This meant, for example, that summer clothing was only delivered to him during the winter when he no longer had need for it.
Isolation at Ramon prison
At Ramon, the conditions of Mahmoud’s isolation were slightly improved, as he was allowed to receive some books every three months when the ICRC would visit, but only as part of a book exchange, meaning he would have to give up two of his books to receive two more. The books were also limited to arts, culture and religion, and any educational or political books were banned. His family would try to send him clothes but this was also very hard as this required permission from the IPS, which usually denied it, and instead clothes would be sent via the ICRC. Mahmoud was transferred to Gilboa prison following the announcement on 27 September 2011 by several political prisoners, including those in isolation, that they would take part in a hunger strike and other acts of civil disobedience in protest at worsening detention conditions. At the beginning of January 2012, Mahmoud was taken to a court in Nazareth, where his isolation was extended for another 6 months. In order to make it difficult for him and to prevent him from mixing with any other prisoners, he was put in a tiny individual car during his transfer to and from the court.
Mahmoud had undergone periods of isolation before being ordered into long-term isolation in 2002. In 1995, Mahmoud was isolated for several months and in 1996 he was given a year and a half in isolation as a punitive measure for attempting to escape from the prison. Most of his time in isolation has, however, been justified by the prison authorities as a “security measure.” In addition to being isolated, Mahmoud has also been interrogated on two occasions at Al Moskobiyeh after his trial. He was interrogated for 3 months in 1998, during which time the Israeli army broke into his mother’s house and detained her in order to put pressure on Mahmoud, threatening him with her prolonged detention unless he confessed. He was also subjected to repeated and forceful shaking, a method that in the past has led to the death of a detainee. In 2002, Mahmoud spent another 2 months under interrogation at Al Moskobiyeh before being transferred into isolation.
Mahmoud began studying Political Science at the Hebrew University in 2000 while he was in Ashkelon prison, but after one semester, the prison authorities prevented him from continuing his studies. Mahmoud submitted several requests to the IPS to pursue his studies, but the IPS responded only by imposing further punitive measures, including banning any books from being delivered to him.
Since the beginning of his isolation in 2002, Mahmoud has barely been able to see his family as visits have usually been denied for “security reasons,” and further requests have at times resulted in an extension of Mahmoud’s isolation to exacerbate the growing separation from his family. Because of this, his family has only managed to visit him twice, in 2002 and 2005. In 2005, his mother was able to visit him following a successful petition by Mahmoud’s lawyer challenging the ongoing denial of family visits. However, Mahmoud was brought into the visiting room with his hands and feet shackled, and his hands were only released in order to speak to his elderly mother on the phone through a glass divider. The visit lasted only half an hour. In 2009, the family again petitioned the military court to allow them visits to Mahmoud, but this was rejected on the grounds that as long as Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by militant groups in Gaza in 2006, is unable to receive family visits then neither should Palestinian prisoners such as Mahmoud. Since then, Mahmoud’s lawyer has continued to petition the military courts, requesting that Mahmoud be able to visit his mother, who is currently very sick. These petitions have so far been unsuccessful.
Now Mahmoud’s family communicates with him through the lawyers who visit him every two weeks and less regularly through messages sent through the ICRC. He also sometimes receives messages through the prison radio. However, he has been prevented from meeting with his lawyer more than once during the months of April, May and June 2010 without any reasons given. The ICRC delegate was supposed to visit him on 6 November, but was postponed three times until he saw him on 22 December. On his previous visit, Mahmoud asked that his family send him clothes for the winter, so he was waiting all the way until 22 Dececember without his warm clothes. In the visit on 22 December, the delegate gave him the clothes but also tried to give him books from his family, and the IPS refused to allow the books through.
Mahmoud’s family consists of 5 sisters and 3 brothers, and his mother, who is 75 years old. His father died a year after Mahmoud’s arrest, but he was not allowed to attend the funeral or call his family during this time.
Writing is the most important activity for Mahmoud. He has written many books, including a book titled Resistance between Theory and Practice, published in 2000 by the Palestinian Information Center. He is also the author of a novel entitled Saber, not yet published, which discusses the history of the Palestinian people embodied in the character Saber. He has also a collection of short stories. Other hobbies include calligraphy, handicrafts, decoration and painting.