Hunger Strikers Strike Back in Administrative Detention

Last week, 40-year-old father of five Hisham Abu Hawash from Dura, Hebron ended his hunger strike which lasted 141 days, protesting his illegal administrative detention by Israel. Palestinian Hawash has been in Israeli custody since October 27, 2020, when he was put under a six-month administrative detention order, which has been renewed twice since then, with no reason for its initial issuance or renewal ever being given.  

In October 2021, a statement by UN experts condemned the imprisonment of approximately 500 Palestinians by these means, including six children and two women. These people, the UN stated, should be ‘released or charged,’ and Israel should desist with this illegal method of detention.  

Hawash is just one of thousands have been held in this way, although in recent years the Israeli Prison Service has refused to provide information on the numbers detained. Israeli detention conditions, even for children, have been described as ‘inhumane,’ by aid organisations.  

Hawash started his hunger strike in early August 2021. The strike came to an end on January 4, 2022, as Israel finally agreed not to renew his current six-month detention order, which will come to an end on February 26, 2022.    

Hawash has previously spent eight years in Israeli prisons, with more than half of that period spent in administrative detention. 

Hawash’s strike of over four months in duration, is the longest since the record breaking 266-day (eight months) long hunger strike by former Palestinian detainee Samer Issawi in 2013. The voluntary starvation has left Abu Hawash’s health in a critical condition. He reportedly faced the imminent threat of death after refusing any medical intervention, monitoring, or the provision of any intravenous fluids or supplements

Abu Hawash’s case brings into sharp focus Israel’s widespread and unlawful policy of incarcerating Palestinians under administrative detention provisions. This practice, of detention without charge, like many other castigatory Israeli laws in force originate from the British Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 introduced by the Palestine Government under the British Mandate (c.1919-1948) when the army ruled the country under a civil administration.  

The Israeli State in 1948 incorporated the Defence (Emergency) Regulations and has relied upon these draconian colonial laws ever since. Their provisions include the establishment of military tribunals, house demolitions, closure of press outlets, curfews, house sealings as well as administrative detention. In May 1951, Members of the Israeli Knesset sought their repeal. It is reported that ‘Herut leader Menachem Begin decried the lawfulness of the Defence (Emergency) Regulations in the following words

‘These are tyrannical laws, these are immoral laws, and these are Nazi laws. An immoral law is also an illegal law. … If these laws, the terrorist laws of an oppressive regime, remain in place in the state of Israel – one day there will not be left a single part of society unhurt by them…’ 

The Emergency Regulations remained in force and their reach has extended over the years as has the hurt they have caused. Inside Israel, between 1948-1966, 20 percent of the population, the Palestinian citizens of Israel, were placed under military curfew using these provisions, but today their oppressive colonial legacy is seen most clearly in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  

There, since the illegal occupation in 1967, these ‘emergency’ laws have provided the basis to address ‘security’ concerns under the pretext of a ‘permanent state of war’. Since the first human rights organisations were established in Palestine, they have called upon their abolition. A report published by Al Haq in 1989, concluded that they ‘do not constitute a part of the local law in the West Bank and that the Israeli Government’s continued use of these Regulations violates international law.’ 

It is in these Regulations that the Kafkaesque nature of administrative detention is mapped out. Palestinians are held without charge or trial on the basis of ‘secret evidence’ that he or she ‘intends to break the law in the future.’ Detention orders can be renewed indefinitely also without reason. The power to issue and prolong such detentions, lies with both the Israeli Military Commander, responsible for issuing these orders in the OPT while the Israeli Minister of Defence is authorised to issue detention orders in Israel.  

In recent years, the number of administrative detention orders has increased. In December 2021, the human rights organisations Al Haq and Addameer submitted an urgent appeal to the UN in December 2021 documenting this alarming trend. The Israeli government, who had declared these two well respected organisations, ‘terrorist’  two months previously, paid no heed.  

The pattern of the detention policy that is revealed by reports is a punitive one. Administrative detention mainly targets Palestinian political activists, human rights defenders, students, family members, and those engaging in solidarity movements across the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Notable examples of Palestinians who have been targeted by Israel’s policy include Hasan Al Safadi, a journalist and the media coordinator for Addameer; Khitam Sa’afin, a social worker and teacher; and Mohammad El Halabi, aid worker and director of humanitarian operations for World Vision Chairty office in Gaza .

The practice of arbitrarily placing Palestinians on administrative detention is in violation of the foundational principles of human rights law, specifically the right to liberty and security of persons, prohibiting arbitrary detention, and the right to a fair and public hearing both codified in Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966). 

Palestinians, as the occupied population, are conferred status of ‘protected persons’ in international law. According to article 78 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949, (Fourth Geneva Convention) internment of ‘protected people’ should only be carried out for ‘imperative reasons of security’ and in very ‘limited circumstances’. Confinement and wilful deprivation of the rights to a fair and regular trial of these protected persons amount to grave breaches of Articles 174 and 42. Additionally, Article 8 of the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court, 1989, states that ‘unlawful confinement’ falls within the scope of war crimes, subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.   

Israel’s use of administrative detention has long been characterised as unlawful with repeated calls upon Israel to bring to an end the practice. In 2021, Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, stated in his report, that the practice is considered: 

An anathema in any democratic society that follows the rule of law… When the democratic state arrests and detains someone, it is required to charge the person, present its evidence in an open trial, allow for a full defence and try to persuade an impartial judiciary of its allegations beyond a reasonable doubt… Administrative detention, in contrast, allows a state to arrest and detain a person without charges, without a trial, without knowing the evidence against her or him, and without a fair judicial review…It is a penal system that is ripe for abuse and maltreatment.” 

Since the beginning of 2021, 40 individual hunger strikes have been carried out in protest of administrative detention. Hunger strikes are considered a drastic measure. They either result in detainees being released or facing the imminent threat of death.  

When Palestinians are left with no means by which they can challenge undisclosed allegations their sole means of resistance to confinement becomes the only thing left that they have control over: their bodies.