Khalil Awawdeh ends hunger strike after 182 days under promise of October release

Khalil Awawdeh hugs his daugther (Quds News Network)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  September 1, 2022

“This is a resounding victory,” Awawdeh said, after ending his 182-day hunger strike. Awawdeh, who lost more than half his weight during his strike will remain in an Israeli hospital for treatment until his release on October 2. 

Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh ended his hunger strike on Wednesday after 182 days on strike, in protest of his open-ended detention in Israeli prison. 

Awawdeh announced that he was ending his strike from his hospital bed in the Shamir Medical Center in central Israel, sending his salutations to the Palestinian people before he sipped a cup of tea – his first non-water drink in 182 days. 

In a video that’s been widely shared on social media, an emaciated and breathless Awawdeh told the camera: “Thank you for your support, thank you everyone. You are a great people. And this is a just cause.”

In another video announcing the end of his strike, Awawdeh said: “This is a resounding victory, and it is a continuation of the great victories achieved by great and honorable people from this nation.”

“I am deeply thankful for people who supported me, stood with me, reinforced me, and prayed for me, thank you,” he said, adding that he will remain in hospital for treatment until his release on October 2. 

According to Haaretz, Egyptian authorities played a central role in arranging Awawdeh’s release, which was reportedly a condition of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended Israel’s deadly three-day offensive on Gaza in early August. 

Haaretz also quoted an Israeli security official, who said Awawdeh signed that he will not return to “terrorist activities” as a condition of his release, and that Israel “will release him as long as there is no reason to believe otherwise.”

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement hailed the news of Awawdeh’s release agreement, saying the “historic campaign he led will be recorded in the annals of Palestinian struggle.”

A video of Awawdeh’s mother celebrating the news of her son’s release spread widely on social media. In the video she can be seen talking to Awawdeh on Facetime and excitedly jumping up and down. 

“We are so happy, we can’t describe it,” Awawdeh’s father, Mohammed Awawdeh, told Mondoweiss. “For months we waited anxiously to receive terrible news. We thought that Khalil was going to die.”

“But now we can feel some relief to know that he will be with us again soon, alive.”

Administrative detention 

Awawdeh was arrested from his home in the middle of the night by armed Israeli soldiers on December 27th, 2021. Following his arrest he was given a six-month administrative detention order. 

Three months into his detention, on March 3rd, he announced that he was going on hunger strike in protest of his detention. When the first administrative detention order expired in June, more than three months into his hunger strike, the court renewed it for another four months. 

Administrative detention is a policy used by the Israeli government, almost exclusively against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, to imprison Palestinians deemed as “threats” by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, without charge or trial. 

The policy allows the Shin Bet and Israel’s military prosecutor to present secret evidence against Palestinian “suspects” to an Israeli military judge, who can then impose administrative detention orders that are renewable indefinitely. 

Under the policy, Palestinian administrative detainees are never formally charged with a crime, and are not privy to the alleged secret evidence being used against them. Some prisoners spend years in Israeli prisons under the policy, which has been widely condemned by rights groups and human rights experts. “It is a cruel, inhumane, and unjust policy,” Mohammed Awawdeh told Mondoweiss

“Whenever the Shabak (Shin Bet) agent decides that he wants to imprison my son, he can do so without any evidence or any reason. He does it just because he can,” Mohammed said. 

Awawdeh, who is 41 and a father of four young girls, has spent more than 13 years in Israeli prisons across several stints. According to his father, three of those stints, amounting to more than five years in prison, were spent under administrative detention. 

“It’s an oppressive policy, and it needs to end,” he said. “The world needs to fight against this oppression, and the apartheid system that is being used on us Palestinians.”

According to prisoner’s rights group Addameer, there are currently 670 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons under administrative detention. 

Hunger strike

Photos of a frail Awawdeh shocked the world earlier this week, as images of his bones protruding from his skinny frame spread across social media. 

Over the course of his strike, Awawdeh lost more than half his body weight, his family said, as he refused all forms of food and medically-administered vitamins and nutrients, surviving on only water. 

When he began his strike he weighed close to 190 pounds. Today, he weighs in at around 75 pounds, and suffers from severe pain, weakness, and cognitive and vision loss. 

“I can’t describe how I feel, seeing the state my son is in. He has become skin and bones,” Mohammed Awawdeh told Mondoweiss. “He has suffered tremendously, and it will take a long time for him to recover his health.”

Mohammed said that as much as it hurt him to see his son suffer, he was proud of him for his “strong willpower” and for “struggling for justice.”

Hunger strikes have been used as a form of peaceful protest by Palestinian political prisoners as early as the 1960s, in order to challenge the inhuman conditions and policies imposed on them inside Israeli jails. 

The practice became more common in its use to protest administrative detention in the 1990s, according to Addameer, and in 2012, a mass hunger strike by more than 200 prisoners successfully limited Israel’s use of the policy, though it was only temporary. Another mass hunger strike in protest of administrative detention was launched in 2014 and yielded similar results. 

On Thursday September 1st, just a hours after Awawdeh ended his strike, Palestinian prisoners launched a collective open hunger strike in protest of Israeli Prison Services’ (IPS) re-institution of a series of collective, punitive, and retaliatory measures against Palestinian prisoners.

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss