Israel refuses to release hunger striker

Palestinians demonstrate in solidarity with Khalil Awawdeh, Gaza City on 25 July (Salam Yasser - APA Images)

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada  /  August 22, 2022

Israel is currently jailing more Palestinians without charge or trial than any time since 2008.

More than 700 Palestinians are currently in “administrative detention,” under orders that the Israeli military typically issues for periods of up to six months but can be renewed indefinitely.

Almost a dozen detainees are Israeli citizens but none of them is Jewish, newspaper Haaretz reported.

Israel claims it has “secret evidence” against these detainees, but neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see or challenge it.

This Israeli practice is a direct continuation of British colonial rule and may constitute a war crime, according to human rights groups.

Israel uses the tactic against almost any Palestinian engaged in political activity against its military occupation.

Long-term hunger strike

One Palestinian has been refusing food for months to resist his administrative detention.

Israel is refusing to release Khalil Awawdeh despite agreeing to discuss his release as part of its ceasefire with Islamic Jihad earlier this month.

A member of the resistance group, Awawdeh is seriously ill, having been on hunger strike for months.

On the night of the ceasefire, Islamic Jihad’s secretary general announced Awawdeh would be released from hospital and allowed to return home, but Israel never publicly confirmed this.

Awawdeh remains imprisoned and on hunger strike.

Israel tried to absolve itself of responsibility over Awawdeh’s health by “freezing” his detention on Friday.

But this is just a word game.

As long as Awawdeh is hospitalized, his detention is supposedly “suspended.” But this changes nothing for him. He may be allowed to receive visitors, but he’s not free to leave the hospital and go home, or even go to another hospital of his choice.

“Freezing” detentions in response to Palestinian hunger strikers is “one of the most dangerous inventions that the occupation’s high court has come up with since 2015,” the Palestinian Prisoners Club said.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem previously called it “an interpretive solution invented by the high court in order to avoid reaching a decision on – and taking responsibility for – administrative detainees on the verge of death.”

On Sunday, Israel’s high court rejected an appeal calling for Awawdeh to be released due to his deteriorating health.

Attacks on human rights workers

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch is calling on Israeli authorities to release Salah Hammouri from administrative detention, where he’s been held since March.

The group is also calling on Israel to reverse its decision in October to revoke his permanent residency over “breach of allegiance to the state of Israel.”

A Jerusalem native, Hammouri has spent most of his life in the city, but Israel has sought to expel him to France.

Hammouri has endured years of harassment by Israel, including arbitrary arrests, travel bans and phone snooping.

He is also a lawyer with prisoners’ rights group Addameer, one of six organizations Israel designated as “terrorist” in October.

Last week Israel dramatically escalated its assault on the groups by raiding them, sealing their offices and ordering them closed.

“Israeli authorities have detained Salah Hamouri without trial or charges for months, outlawed the human rights group he works for, and revoked his legal status in Jerusalem,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

“Hamouri’s plight embodies the struggle of Palestinian human rights defenders challenging Israel’s apartheid and persecution.”

On Sunday, human rights group Al-Haq, one of the six targeted groups, said its director Shawan Jabarin had received a call from Israeli intelligence threatening him with imprisonment.

The director of another one of the six, Khaled Quzmar of Defense for Children International-Palestine, was briefly detained by Israel’s domestic spying and torture agency Shin Bet on Sunday.

On Monday, the European Union declared the Israeli attack on the groups “not acceptable,” the strongest language the bloc has used to date.

After avoiding saying so for almost a year, the EU finally admitted on Monday that “no substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian civil society organizations on the basis of the Israeli decision to designate these NGOs as ‘terrorist organizations.’”

But Brussels has still failed to clearly condemn Israel’s targeting of the six groups, demand that the closures and designations be rescinded, or impose any sanctions on Tel Aviv to punish it and deter further such violations.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada