Tuesday, April 17 marked a global day of action for Palestinian prisoners and some 1,600 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons began an open-ended hunger strike. This past year, two prisoners in particular risked their lives in protest of their mistreatment by Israeli authorities and brought international attention to Israel's illegal practice of administrative detention.
Administrative detention is imprisonment without charge or trial, and is authorized by an administrative order rather than a judicial one. Under international law, its use is reserved for emergency situations, as a last means for preventing danger. It still requires that basic rules are followed, such as a fair hearing where the detainee can argue the basis of their detention.
Israel's practice of administrative detention is in clear violation of international law. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been held as administrative detainees. They are not informed of the charges against them, let alone prosecuted for their alleged crimes. In many cases they are held not necessarily for an offence that they have committed, but out of suspicion that they will commit a crime in the future. The evidence against them is regarded as “secret information” and is thus not available to the accused or their attorneys.
Administrative detention sentences can be up to six months long, and can be renewed an indefinite number of times, without a trial or evidence shown. The detainee sits in prison not knowing if they will be held for another month, or for several years more.
Israel's practice of administrative detention disregards the right to liberty and due process, the right of defendants to make a case, and the presumption of innocence.
Khader Adnan and Hana Al-Shalabi: Hunger strikers gain world attention
Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old father of two, began a hunger strike in mid-December after he was arrested from his home in the terrorizing style of a night raid, while his wife and young daughters looked on. He received no charge, and was not informed of the reason for his arrest. Rather than confusion, Adnan was facing a process that Palestinians have grown to be familiar with: administrative detention.
According to Addameer, a prisoners support and human rights association, Adnan was insulted and humiliated by interrogators, especially with their use of abusive language about his family. He was interrogated for six hours a day, and tied to a crooked chair during the sessions, causing him extreme pain.
Adnan was on hunger strike for 67 continuous days. Among his reasons were: his detention being a violation of his rights and identity; the ill-treatment he suffered from Israeli authorities; and the unjust system of administrative detention.
His case only became known internationally after the fiftieth day of his strike when it exploded on social networks such as Twitter, and supporters followed with fear as his health rapidly deteriorated.
After 67 days of refusing food, and on the brink of death, a deal was reached with Israel that Adnan would be released at the end of a four-month term, unless new “secret evidence” surfaced. Although Adnan was highly successful in drawing international attention to the case of administrative detainees in particular, and the Israeli occupation in general, it would be wrong to believe that with the end of his hunger strike came the end of the conditions he was protesting.
Hana Al-Shalabi then took the stage to continue the demands that Khader had nearly perished fighting for.
Al-Shalabi was an administrative detainee held for two years without a charge before she was released in October 2011 in the prisoner swap. In mid-February 2012, fifty soldiers arrived at her home in the night and she was re-arrested, again without a charge or trial, and immediately began to refuse meals.
On the nineteenth day of Hana's hunger strike, an Israeli military court ruled to shorten her administrative detention sentence from six months to four months. Hana did not accept this deal as a valid response to her demands and she continued her hunger strike.
After 43 days of hunger striking, and in considerably bad health, Hana accepted a deal that can hardly be seen as a victory. She was released, but not to her waiting and grief-stricken family and friends. Hana was internally exiled to the Gaza Strip. For the next three years, she will live in what has commonly been described as an open-air prison due to the years of blockade and closure imposed on it, and unable to access her family living in the Northern West Bank.
Palestinian prisoners affairs minister, Issa Qaraqaa reportedly said, "she had to accept because Israel put pressure on her. But we are totally opposed to all deportation measures."
The price of a Palestinian prisoner
In the prisoner swap last October the sole Israeli prisoner detained by Palestinians, Gilad Shalit, was released in exchange for over one thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. While most Palestinians were glad to be reunited with family or friends, they were also reminded of an ugly reality of Israeli apartheid: one Jewish Israeli life is exchangeable with over a thousand Palestinian lives.
For the five years that Shalit was imprisoned, his face and name were repeated in international media. Yet of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons, little was heard. Seven hundred thousand Palestinians have been detained since 1967 (that is approximately 20 per cent of all Palestinians in the occupied territory, and 40% of the male population). Yet it is Shalit, an adult military soldier, arrested while serving in the Israeli Occupation Forces – an army repeatedly accused of committing war crimes against Palestinians – who was worthy of global news and sympathy while the 7,000 Palestinian children arrested since the year 2000 have largely been ignored.
In violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, all but one of the prisons holding Palestinians are inside Israel. International law states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons within their territory, the result being that often the family and/or lawyers of the prisoners are denied permits to Israel and cannot visit the prisons.
There is also repeated complaints of prisoner abuse in the hands of Israeli officials. These go largely unmentioned by the international community. Over two hundred Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 while detained by Israel, due to inadequate medical care and food, torture, or other abuse. Hundreds more have suffered serious illnesses.
Prisoners set to unite with mass hunger strikes
On Tuesday, April 17 one third of all Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli facilities, about 1,600 prisoners, began an open-ended hunger strike. Another 2,300 prisoners refused food for the whole of Tuesday. Among the demands presented are:
1. Ending administrative detention
2. Ending solitary confinement
3. Reinstating the right to education
4. Halting all invasions targeting detainees' rooms and sections
5. Allowing family visitations, especially to detainees from the Gaza Strip
6. Improving medical care to ailing detainees
7. Halting the humiliation, and body-search of the families of the detainees
8. Allowing the entry of books and newspapers
9. Halting all sorts of penalties against the detainees
Internationally and within Palestine, actions took place in solidarity with the 4,600 some Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons, including a demonstration at the BBC Scotland headquarters demanding mainstream media coverage of the Palestinian hunger strikers. Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations also issued a call for action against G4S, the world's largest international security corporation, which helps to maintain and profit from Israel's prison system.
Rana Nazzal Hamadeh is a Canadian-Palestinian and one of the North American delegates who took part in the Global March to Jerusalem.