August 29, 2022
The images of Khalil Awawdeh released last week were jarring. After 178 days of abstaining from food, the body of this protesting Palestinian prisoner was nothing more than bones and skin. On seeing those photos, no one with any humanity in them could fail to empathize with a prisoner protesting a system that detains people without charge or trial.
Rescinding the use of administrative detention as a punishment is just one of the demands of the nearly 5,000 Palestinian prisoners of Israel. They have started preliminary actions, which are due to escalate on Sept. 1 to a nationwide open hunger strike.
In perspective, the demands of the prisoners are not that hard to accomplish. They comply with international humanitarian law and many of them are demands that the Israeli prison authorities have previously granted but then rescinded. Some were used on all prisoners last year because of the jailbreak by six Palestinians from Gilboa Prison. All escapees were caught and reimprisoned.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, which is the leading supporter of inmates in Israeli jails, put out the demands of the prisoners. They include: Stopping the harassment of prisoners, especially older inmates; returning all the food elements that were withdrawn from the canteen; returning electrical equipment to kitchens and rooms; canceling the punitive punishments placed on all after the Gilboa escape; allowing regular family visits, especially for Gazan prisoners; ending the use of administrative detention as a punishment; ending solitary confinement; ending the constant storming of prisoners’ cells; providing proper health treatment and transferring prisoners who need medical treatment to hospitals; and ending the practice of rearresting prisoners who have been released.
Hunger striking is not new. In fact, it is one of the most powerful nonviolent tools that prisoners have long used to gain simple basic rights and, most importantly, to demand dignity and to be treated in a humane way. This means family visits, the availability of basic food items, ending the constant use of solitary confinement, and ending detention without trial or charge as a means of punishment.
Administrative detention was introduced to the legal system in Palestine during the British mandate and was part of the 1945 emergency regulations. It was supposed to be used temporarily and was aimed at detaining individuals for a short time in order to prevent violence. Israel has not only adopted this draconian and undemocratic practice, but has also used it as a punishment rather than as a deterrent, prompting the prisoners’ protests.
What danger can a frail Palestinian like Awawdeh pose to the security of one of the region’s most powerful countries? Can anyone with a sane mind believe that simply shifting the status of a hospital-laden prisoner from detainee to free man will endanger the national security of the state of Israel?
They will abstain from taking food for days, weeks and months until they reach an agreement with prison authorities.
Palestinian prisoners are known to be disciplined and committed. When they say they will declare an open hunger strike, they mean it. They will abstain from taking food for days, weeks and months until they reach an agreement with prison authorities. It is noteworthy that their demands include a request for freedom only for those who have not been charged or tried — this is hardly a dangerous demand for a country that claims day and night to be the only democracy in the region and, even more ridiculously, to operate the most moral army in the world.
A democratic country does not hold individuals without charge or trial. Palestinians have asked their lawyers to no longer represent them during the Israeli attempts to secure a military court review of the claims of secret documents, which supposedly lay behind the decisions to detain individuals, usually for six months, which can be and are renewed numerous times.
Awawdeh follows the example of others before him, who have made huge sacrifices with their own bodies to make sure that the world understands the injustices they have suffered. Israel may not have any direct reason to charge or try Awawdeh or the 700 other administrative detainees, but make no mistake they are guilty of something honorable: Of standing up to the occupier and oppressor; something powerful countries and leaders seem to be afraid of doing. They are also guilty of insisting on demanding an end to a foreign military occupation that rules their country and oppresses their people. If that is a crime, then we are all guilty of the crime of wanting to live in dignity and freedom.
- Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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