Prisoner on Hunger Strike Protesting Administrative Detention Near Death
May 2, 2012

It shouldn’t take the self-starvation of Palestinian prisoners for Israel to realize it is violating their due process rights. Israel should stop holding prisoners for extended periods without charge.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(Jerusalem) – Israel should immediately charge or release people jailed without charge or trial under so-called administrative detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

Two men have been on hunger strike since February 29, 2012, to protest their situation, and an Israeli doctors’ group said that one of them is at imminent risk of death. The men have been denied access to their families, apparently as punishment for their hunger strike. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal of their administrative detention orders on May 3.

“It shouldn’t take the self-starvation of Palestinian prisoners for Israel to realize it is violating their due process rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel should stop holding prisoners for extended periods without charge.”

Around 2,000 Palestinian prisoners are currently on hunger strike to protest administrative detention and measures taken by the Israeli Prison Service, according to prison officials.

Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha’er Halahleh, 33, are currently in the medical facility in a prison in the Israeli city of Ramle. The men’s lawyer, Jamil al-Khatib, told Human Rights Watch that prison officials have denied both men family visits as a penalty for their hunger strike, and denied him access to his clients on May 1, without providing a reason.

Diab was previously convicted of membership in Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group whose armed wing has claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli civilians. Human Rights Watch has condemned such attacks as war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Halahleh is also allegedly a member of the group. However, Israel has not charged either man with any crime or allowed the men to see or contest any evidence against them, instead placing them in administrative detention for renewed six-month periods, which Israel contends is a preventive rather than punitive form of detention.

A doctor from Physicians for Human Rights – Israel visited the two men on April 30. The doctors’ group reported that both had suffered “drastic weight loss,” were bedridden, and at risk of fatal muscular atrophy and blood clotting. Diab was also at risk of heart arrhythmia, had a very low pulse and blood pressure, possible nerve damage, and internal bleeding.

The men have gone without food for 64 days. According to a 2006 study by the British Medical Association, “during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland […] death generally occurred between 55 and 75 days.” In general, “the final stage” of a hunger strike occurs between 45 to 75 days “due to cardiovascular collapse or severe arrhythmias,” the study said.

On April 23, an Israeli military court rejected appeals by Diab and Halahleh of their administrative detention orders on the basis of confidential material provided by Israel’s security service that they continued to pose security risks. Al-Khatib and his clients were not allowed to see the material, following standard procedure of the military courts in such cases.

Israeli forces arrested Diab on August 17, 2011, after a Ramadan meal at his family home near Jenin, according to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner’s rights organization. His brother told Human Rights Watch that Israeli military authorities have not granted any of his relatives the permits required to enter Israel to visit him, for unspecified security reasons, and none has been able to see him since his arrest. According to Addameer, the Prison Service has stated that it is not permitting Diab or Halahleh to have family visits as a penalty for their hunger strike.

The military renewed Diab’s administrative detention for another six months on February 14. The Israeli Prison Service has transferred him repeatedly between Assaf HaRofeh hospital and the medical center in the Nitzan detention center in Ramle after he lost consciousness due to his hunger strike, said the physicians’ group, which has successfully petitioned Israeli courts to be allowed to see Diab twice.

Diab was convicted in 2003 of conducting hostile military activities and membership in the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, a banned organization, and released in February 2010, his lawyer, al-Khatib, said. He was arrested again in 2010 for several months without charge.

Halahleh, from the Hebron governorate, was arrested in June 2010. His administrative detention was extended for a third time in January, according to the prisoner’s rights group. Halahleh has never seen his 22-month-old daughter, who was born after his arrest, al-Khatib and Mourad Jadallah, a lawyer with Addameer, told Human Rights Watch. Israel has held him in administrative detention a number of times since 2000, for a total of more than four years in jail without charge or trial.

According to the rights groups, both men say they have been insulted and humiliated during room searches by prison officials, and in response have refused treatment during their hunger strike from Prison Service physicians. Al-Khatib said that on April 29, prison officials confiscated the radio the men had shared in their hospital room, which they had tuned to local radio stations that broadcast messages from their families.

As of April 1, 4,610 Palestinian prisoners were in Israeli detention centers, including 322 administrative detainees, and 203 children under 18, Addameer reported, based on Israeli Prison Service figures.

Other Palestinian prisoners are also on long-term hunger strikes about their administrative detention. Omar Abu Shalal, 52, began a strike on March 7 and is in very poor health, Sahar Francis, the head of Addameer, told Human Rights Watch. Abu Shalal was arrested on August 15, 2011, and went on a hunger strike after his administrative detention order was renewed. Another prisoner, Hassan Safadi, began his strike on March 5, Francis said. On April 24, a military court rejected his appeal of the detention order on the basis that he was still a threat to security, but he was not allowed to see or contest any evidence. The Israeli Prison Service transferred both men to the medical facility in Ramle prison.

On April 17, Israel released Khader Adnan, who had been on hunger strike for 66 days, after earlier reducing his administrative detention from six months to four. On April 1, it expelled Hana al-Shalabi, another hunger striker, from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip for three years after reaching a deal with her lawyer to decrease her administrative detention.

Israel’s international legal obligations require it to inform those arrested of the reasons for the arrest at the time, to promptly inform them of any charges against them, and to bring them before a judge, and in criminal cases, to provide a fair and public trial in which the defendant may challenge any witnesses against them. In its concluding observations on Israel in 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, criticized Israel’s “frequent and extensive use of administrative detention,” and called on Israel to “refrain from using [it]” and to “complete as soon as possible” a review of relevant legislation.

Israel’s practice of jailing West Bank Palestinians inside Israel violates the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit an occupying power from detaining members of the occupied population outside the occupied territory. Israel’s practice of expelling detainees, such as al-Shalabi, to Gaza violates prohibitions on the forcible transfer or deportation of members of the occupied population.