Israeli court renews detention of senior resistance official and hunger striker

Bassam al-Saadi (Jaafar Ashtiyeh - AFP)

Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  August 23, 2022

Israel’s continued detention of Bassam al-Saadi and Khalil Awawdeh is part of its larger campaign to quell Palestinian resistance in recent months.

On Tuesday, Palestinian political detainees declared that they will collectively launch a non-violent protest against Israeli abuses starting on Wednesday, August 24. According to the Palestine Prisoner’s Society, detainees will be returning their meals and refusing to leave their prison cells for “security checks.” 

This comes in light of the escalation measures adopted by the Israeli Prison Services (IPS) as of February and March of this year. 

This protest follows an Israeli military court hearing in Ofer Detention Center on August 21, where the Israeli military prosecution petitioned for further extending the illegal detention of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Bassam al-Saadi until August 25, when the prosecution reportedly intends to present a list of charges against him. The court also issued a temporary freeze on the administrative detention of hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh.

Al-Saadi and Awawdeh’s arrests

During his hearing, al-Saadi was obstructed from speaking during his own hearing as Israeli prison guards held him in shackles in front of the Israeli judge.

Al-Saadi, 61, is from Jenin refugee camp, and is the most senior Palestinian leader of the PIJ in the West Bank. He has previously been detained as a political prisoner in Israeli jails for 15 years.

As Israel prepared its onslaught on Gaza, dubbed Operation Breaking Dawn, al-Saadi was detained by Israeli military forces on August 1, in collaboration with the Shin Bet (Israeli intelligence) during a raid on his home. Al-Saadi’s partner also sustained injuries during the raid. Israeli armed forces had set a dog on Al-Saadi, who was taken into custody after suffering injuries during the arrest.

Since December of last year, 40-year-old Khalil Awawdeh from Hebron was detained by Israeli forces with no charge or trial. The raid on his home by Israeli forces terrorized his four girls and his wife, Dalal Awawdeh, 37.

Awawdeh was not afforded a court hearing by Israeli authorities, and was put under administrative detention. During this period of incarceration, Palestinian detainees and their legal team are not informed of the evidence or the charges brought against them. Instead, under Article 285 of Military Order 1651, detainees may continue to be incarcerated while being kept in the dark about the reason for their imprisonment, having no formal charges against which they may defend themselves.

Protesting his unlawful detention, Awawdeh launched a hunger strike that has lasted for over six months. Awawdeh’s health severely deteriorated during this time, as he refused food in an attempt to draw attention to his case and to force an intervention to reverse his arbitrary arrest. As of the time of writing, Awawdeh is still on hunger strike.

Intensification of “Break the Wave”

The detention of Al-Saadi and Awawdeh takes place in light of Israel’s intensified military operations, in coordination with Israeli intelligence agencies and judicial institutions, against strongholds of Palestinian resistance across Palestine — dubbed Operation Break the Wave. Launched in late March of this year, the military strategy is designed to crush any vestiges of Palestinian resistance to Israeli criminal practices of ethnic cleansing, persecution, and apartheid.

The right to participate in political organization is a protected right under international law, yet Awawdeh continues to be illegally held in detention without charge or trial, under the pretext of belonging to a political group.

Al-Saadi’s detention has been extended following the Gaza ceasefire on August 7, despite the fact that one of the ceasefire’s conditions was Israel’s release of both Al-Saadi and Awawdeh — a claim that Israel’s Internal Security Minister, Omer Barlev, would later deny.

Commenting on the issue of the two detainees, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that “we don’t hold people in prison for nothing” in an interview with Channel 12

The right to participate in political organization is a protected right under international law, yet Awawdeh continues to be illegally held in detention without charge or trial, under the pretext of belonging to a political group.

Israel has criminalized Palestinian affiliation with most Palestinian political factions, while political mobilization — whether armed or unarmed — has been actively suppressed in the effort to quell Palestinian resistance to settler-colonial practices in Palestine. This judicial-military approach has also been employed in a discriminatory fashion against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

Authorities and medical personnel worldwide have a legal obligation and duty towards detainees on hunger strike, yet this obligation has been constantly breached by Israeli authorities and doctors when it comes to Palestinian hunger strikers. These detainees have not only faced the physical trials of fighting with nothing but their empty stomachs, but have also had to endure the emotional and mental hardship of keeping up a hunger strike while facing mistreatment.

The continued detention of Al-Saadi and Awawdeh may provoke further actions by Palestinian resistance fighters, especially as Israel continues its premeditated assault on Palestinian militants, including the extra-judicial assassination of Palestinians that dare to invoke the right to resist—by any means necessary—as an occupied and colonized population.

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss