Rearrested Palestinian prisoner begins hunger strike

Zena al-Tahhan

Al-Jazeera  /  October 5, 2021

Mohammad al-Ardah, one of six prisoners who broke out of an Israeli jail last month, is protesting against punitive prison measures.

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Rearrested Palestinian prisoner Mohammad al-Ardah, one of six prisoners who broke out of an Israeli jail last month, has begun an open-ended hunger strike against what his lawyers described as “harsh isolation conditions”.

Al-Ardah’s lawyer visited him at the southern prison of Asqalan (Ashkelon) on Monday, where he has been held in solitary confinement since Wednesday.

“He announced a hunger strike to demand better living and detention conditions, and for prison authorities to drop the punitive measures that were taken against him,” lawyer Kareem Ajwa, from the Palestinian Authority’s Commission of Detainees’ Affairs, told Al-Jazeera.

According to Ajwa, an internal hearing was held at the prison, where authorities imposed two weeks’ solitary confinement on Al-Adrah, a two-month ban on family visits and canteen access, as well as financial fines.

While the 14-day solitary confinement is an internal prison punishment, Israeli courts are likely to issue a formal isolation order against al-Ardah and several of the other rearrested prisoners, which can be renewed every six months, said Ajwa. “They may face years in isolation,” he added.

The Commission said in a statement that Al-Ardah (39) is being held in “harsh isolation conditions”, in an “unventilated cell that lacks basic human needs”, without personal belongings or extra clothes, a pillow or blanket.

Ajwa said the Commission will soon be submitting a petition to improve al-Ardah’s detention conditions, which he said they hope will include moving him to a better cell and allowing him to bring in clothes.

Al-Ardah was among six Palestinian prisoners who broke out of Israel’s northern Gilboa prison at dawn on September 6. Israeli authorities announced his re-arrest along with Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, early on September 11, while Mahmoud Abdullah al-Ardah, 46, and Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, 49, had been rearrested a day earlier. They were taken into custody after being found near Nazareth.

The last two escapees, Ayham al-Kamamji and Munadel Infaat, were rearrested on September 19 in Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank, following a two-week manhunt.

On Sunday, the Commission said Israeli prison authorities held an internal hearing for Qadri and decided to impose punitive measures on him, including two weeks in solitary confinement and a ban on family visits and canteen access for six months, as well as financial fines.

Qadri is being held in isolation at the criminal prisoners’ section of Rimonim prison in the north. Meanwhile, Mahmoud al-Ardah and Infaat are being held in solitary confinement at Ayalon prison in Ramla, Zubaidi in Eshel prison and Kamamji in Ohalei Kedar prison.

Prior to being placed in solitary confinement, the six prisoners underwent what lawyers described as harsh interrogations by Israeli police and intelligence forces, with several of them reporting physical and mental abuse.

Mohammad al-Ardah reported being tortured during his interrogation, including being deprived of food, sleep and medical treatment.

Four of the six prisoners had been serving life sentences prior to breaking out, while two were being held in detention awaiting military trial. Those sentenced were arrested between 1996 and 2006 and had been convicted of carrying out attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. Five of them are affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while one is a senior member of the armed wing of Fatah, a Palestinian group that dominates the Palestinian Authority.

Most Palestinians, who view all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails as political prisoners in the struggle for liberation, widely celebrated the prison break.

Hunger strikes against administrative detention

Separately, on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement it was “seriously concerned” about the health of two other Palestinian prisoners undergoing an open-ended hunger strike against being held in Israeli prisons in administrative detention – without trial or charge.

“The ICRC doctor has been visiting both detainees, Kayed Nammoura (Fasfous) who has been on hunger strike for 82 days and Miqdad Qawasmeh who has been on hunger strike for 75 days, and closely monitoring their situation,” said Robert Paterson, ICRC health delegate.

“We are concerned about potentially irreversible consequences of such prolonged hunger strike to their health and life.”

Fasfous and Qawasmi are being held at Kaplan hospital, and are among six Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike against their months-long imprisonment in administrative detention.

Alaa al-Araj has reached 59 days; Shadi Abu Akar 43 days; Rayeq Bsharat 44 days; and Hisham Hawwash 49 days, according to the Commission. The four are being held at Ramle prison clinic.

Israel is currently holding 520 Palestinian prisoners under administrative detention – a policy that allows the Israeli police and military to imprison Palestinians indefinitely based on “secret information” – without pressing formal charges or putting them on trial, a practice that dates to the British occupation of Palestine.

According to Amany Sarahneh, spokeswoman for the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS), in addition to the two prisoners mentioned by the ICRC, Hawwash and Al-Araj are also facing serious complications to their health.

“In general, at this stage, all the vital organs in the body enter into a dangerous phase,” Sarahneh told Al-Jazeera, adding that the six prisoners are “all in danger”.

“They are experiencing extreme weakness in the body, some of them are having issues with vision, others with awareness,” she continued, adding that they are all on wheelchairs, but that specifics on the health issues the prisoners are currently facing are not yet available.

Several of the four being held at Ramle prison clinic, said Sarahneh, are in “very difficult isolation”, in solitary cells, as punitive measures for undergoing hunger strikes. She said the prisoners are being held in small, unsanitary rooms, some of which have cockroaches in them.

According to Sarahneh, there will be an Israeli military court hearing for Qawasmi and Al-Araj at 11am on Wednesday to rule on a petition submitted by the PPS calling for their release.

Other prisoners in administrative detention have chosen to stop taking their medications, including for chronic illnesses, to pressure authorities to release them.

Zena Al-Tahhan is Al-Jazeera English’s digital correspondent in Jerusalem