Palestinian prisoner's hunger strike leads to release deal

BEER YAAKOV, Israel – In the five-bed intensive care unit of a central Israel hospital, ventilators and machines beeped and buzzed. But...


BEER YAAKOV, Israel – In the five-bed intensive care unit of a central Israel hospital, ventilators and machines beeped and buzzed. But there was a hushed calm around Hisham Abu Hawash’s bed and the vital signs monitor above him was silent.

He had refused any medical intervention, including machines that can monitor his declining health, and rejected food, intravenous fluids or supplements.

Mr. Abu Hawash, 40, was on his 141st day of hunger strike, the last Palestinian prisoner to take drastic measures to protest his indefinite detention by the Israeli military authorities without charge or trial, a practice known as administrative detention .

On Tuesday evening, his protest ended with sips from a cup of tea after Israeli and Palestinian officials reached a deal to release him next month. After days of protests calling for his release and growing fears in Israel of widespread unrest if he would die in custody, the government has capitulated.

According to the agreement, Mr. Abu Hawash will remain in the hospital until February 26 and start receiving medical treatment. The Palestinian Authority has agreed “to guarantee that it does not return to terrorism.”

Under the rules of administrative detention, Mr. Abu Hawash had never been charged with terrorism, let alone convicted. His lawyers insist on his innocence.

A West Bank construction worker and father of five, Mr. Abu Hawash had grown thin and frail by the time his hunger strike ended.

He lost consciousness and his family, lawyers and medical aid groups warned that his death was imminent. Every few hours his wife, Aisha Hirbat, 31, would wake him up to try and give him a few sips of water. Sometimes he was unable to swallow and water would flow from his open mouth.

Israel has used administrative detention to imprison thousands of Palestinians in the occupied territories since 1967, detaining them under military law for indefinite periods based on secret evidence. Without charges or means of defending themselves against them, lawyers can only ask the courts for the release of their clients.

Hunger strikes are not an uncommon response, although Mr. Abu Hawash’s was one of the longest in recent years.

Israel does not regularly publish official figures, but prisoners’ rights group Addameer estimates that there are currently 500 Palestinians in administrative detention, including four minors.

Israeli officials did not respond to questions about the use of administrative detention, but previously said it was being used as a preventive tool to save lives, not as a punitive measure for actions already taken. They say the information is being kept secret to protect the sources.

Israel is not alone in this practice. Authoritarian countries like Egypt and China use it regularly, as does the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

According to a defense official familiar with Mr. Abu Hawash’s case, he has been accused of being a West Bank member for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group based in Gaza.

Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, said it was involved in plans to attack Israeli civilians and soldiers, the official said. The official did not provide any evidence to support the charge, nor did he indicate whether any of the attacks had been carried out.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is considered a terrorist organization by many countries, including Israel and the United States, and has carried out numerous deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.

Mr Hawash’s family and lawyers have denied that he was a member of the group and have asked the military court to present his evidence to support the allegations against him.

“Of course, they have not provided us with any evidence to prove their allegations, because this is all secret,” said one of his lawyers, Ahmed Safiya.

International humanitarian law allows occupying powers to use administrative detention as a temporary measure when a detainee presents a clear and serious threat to society, according to Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch. But he says Israel’s use of the practice goes beyond the accepted legal basis.

“Israel’s overly broad use, 54 years after the start of an occupation, of locking up hundreds of people with secret evidence clearly goes beyond what international law allows,” he said. “It makes fun of basic due process. “

There have been international calls for Israel to end this practice. Michael Lynk, the UN rights expert who monitors the occupied territories, called it “anathema to any democratic society that respects the rule of law.”

When he began his hunger strike, Mr. Abu Hawash weighed around 175 pounds, his family said. For months he consumed only water and 3 grams each of salt and sugar per day, but stopped taking sugar and salt about six weeks ago, his wife Ms Hirbat said. .

He now weighs less than 85 pounds. His ribs and pelvic bones protrude from a sunken stomach.

Mr Abu Hawash, from the town of Dura, near Hebron, has spent more than seven years behind bars over the past two decades, more than half of them without charge, according to a prisoners’ rights group, the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

After his first arrest in 2004, he spent three years in prison after pleading guilty to charges including attempted intentional death, trafficking in military equipment and assisting fugitives by reporting on the Israeli military movements, according to the IDF.

In prison, he shared a wing with members of the Islamic Jihad, his brother Imad Abu Hawash said. Mr. Abu Hawash befriended them but did not join the group, his brother said.

After his release, the Israeli official said, he “continued with serious terrorist activities” and was detained again in 2008 for about nine months.

During this detention, he asked Ms. Hirbat, a neighbor of Dura, to marry him.

“He was afraid that I would marry someone else and that he would miss his opportunity,” she said on Sunday in the intensive care waiting room at Shamir Medical Center in Beer Yaakov, near Tel. -Aviv. “I haven’t even thought twice about it. I said yes.”

They married soon after his release.

Ms Hirbat said she didn’t know much about his previous involvement with Palestinian resistance groups, but that once they got married he focused on working long hours in construction to support his growing family.

In 2012, he was again placed in administrative detention, this time for 26 months. The Israeli official said he had been “involved in the construction and strengthening of the terrorist infrastructure” and “encouraged the purchase of weapons”.

He was arrested again in October 2020, because “he was involved in significant terrorist activity, endangering the security of the region and public safety,” the Israeli official said.

When he began his hunger strike on August 17, Ms. Hirbat said she tried to persuade him not to do so.

“He refused,” she said, explaining, “‘If I don’t do this, I won’t go out for two or three years.'”

A major motivation for resorting to drastic measures to end his detention was his 6-year-old son, Izzedine, who suffers from kidney atrophy. Before his imprisonment, Mr. Abu Hawash’s brother said he worked long hours to pay for his son’s operations.

Izzedine has had two operations in an Israeli hospital since the start of her father’s hunger strike. A third operation is pending as her father clings to life.

As his condition deteriorated, his case became a rallying point for Palestinians angered by the Israeli occupation.

During a protest in Gaza on Monday night, Khaled al-Batsh, a top Islamic Jihad leader, said if Mr. Abu Hawash died his group would consider it an Israeli assassination and retaliate.

Israeli officials feared his death could spark civil unrest.

If Mr. Abu Hawash died in custody, said Aida Touma-Sliman, a Palestinian MP from the Hadash party, “they know the West Bank will catch fire and there will be pressure from the international community.”

Mr. Abu Hawash’s detention was suspended on December 26 by a military court, which determined that due to his failing health he no longer posed a danger to the state, according to the Israeli prison service. That night he was transferred from the prison infirmary to the civilian hospital.

But he was still not free and was not allowed to leave the hospital. His family was also not allowed to transfer him to a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank, as they said they wanted to.

A guard is posted in front of his room.

Ms. Hirbat remained in the hospital for over a week, sleeping next to her husband’s bed. When occasionally led out of the room while hospital staff are treating other critical patients, she dons fuzzy blue slippers and waits nervously outside.

She said her husband had vowed to continue his hunger strike until he was free, and he repeatedly warned his family not to allow doctors to intravenously feed him, no matter what. its state.

“Hisham will continue, whether it be martyrdom or victory,” Ms. Hirbat said. “Even if it is martyrdom, it will be a victory, for he did not surrender to them.”

Raja Abdulrahim reported from Beer Yaakov, Israel, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv. Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Iyad Abuhweila from Gaza City.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Palestinian prisoner's hunger strike leads to release deal
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