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(Jerusalem) – Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) should immediately charge or release men they are detaining arbitrarily and investigate alleged abuses against them in custody.

At least three men on hunger strike to protest their detention by Israel are at risk of death, while another man detained by the PA refused all food and water for almost three days last week and stated at a court hearing yesterday that he would immediately resume his total strike until death, after a judge ordered his detention to be renewed.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority are violating international law when they throw Palestinians in jail for months or years without charge or trial,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign donors supporting Israeli and Palestinian security services should press for an end to longstanding practices that detainees are risking their lives to protest.”

Samer al-Barq, Hassan Safadi, and Ayman Sharawna are among the approximately 250 Palestinians whom the Israeli military has ordered detained without charge or trial. The deteriorating health of the three men due to hunger strikes means that, “These people are going to die unless the detaining authorities find a prompt solution,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said on September 14, based on prison visits to the men.

Zakaria Zubeidi’s refusal of fluids as well as food to protest his detention by the Palestinian Authority without charge or trial means he has only days to live. According to a 2006 World Medical Association document on hunger strikes, “the body cannot survive more than a few days without fluid,” and “death would occur within the first week” in such cases.

Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners’ rights group, and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, another group, say that the three men in Israeli custody allege that prison officials abused them. Al-Barq told lawyers with the groups that, on July 31, Israeli prison officials beat him on the legs while transferring him from a medical clinic in a detention facility in Ramleh, inside Israel, for a hearing at the Ofer military court in the West Bank.

On August 1, a prison official “punched [Safadi] in the face,” a lawyer with the Prisoners’ Club told local news media. Addameer reported that on August 13, prison guards slammed Safadi’s head against his cell door in the Ramleh facility, knocking him unconscious, when he refused to be transferred to another cell with prisoners who were eating, which he saw as an attempt by prison officials to make his hunger strike more difficult. On a separate occasion, Sharawna, who suffers from back pain, told an Addameer lawyer that Israeli prison officials had refused to provide him with pain medication.

A doctor with another group, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) – Israel, said last week that prison officials had required the three men to shower themselves and perform other physical tasks without assistance, though they are too weak to do so. Prison officials have shackled the men to hospital beds during hospital visits, Addameer and PHR – Israel said.

The Palestinian authorities have detained Zakaria Zubeidi, the co-founder of The Freedom Theater in the West Bank, without charge or trial since May 13, according to his lawyer. Zubeidi has told his lawyer and work colleagues that PA security officials cuffed his arms behind his back and threw him down a staircase during the arrest, without provocation, tortured him during interrogation, and denied him access to his lawyer and family for an extended period. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and abuses including torture of detainees by Palestinian security services.

Al-Barq has been on hunger strike for 120 days and is unable to walk, Addameer said. Safadi, who has gone without food for 88 days, is receiving fluids intravenously because he is unable to drink and has been repeatedly shackled to a hospital bed by Israeli prison officials, including during an August 28 hearing to renew his detention, said lawyers from Addameer and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, who visited the men last week. Sharawna has been on hunger strike for 79 days; as of last week, he was vomiting blood and had lost 80 percent of his vision in one eye and all feeling in one leg, Addameer said. Al-Barq was transferred on September 17 to the intensive care unit of the Assaf Harofeh hospital, in Israel, where Safadi is in the infectious diseases unit, their lawyer, Jawad Bolous, told Human Rights Watch.

Another Palestinian man in Israeli custody, Samer al-Issawi, began a hunger strike against his detention without charge on August 1. Human Rights Watch has not been able to get information about his condition.

Israel is holding al-Barq and Safadi under military “administrative detention” orders, which allow it to detain Palestinians without charge or trial indefinitely for renewable six-month periods if military commanders in the West Bank have “reasonable grounds to presume that the security of the area or public security require the detention.” Sharawna and al-Issawi are being held under military orders whereby a military committee can order detention without charge or trial. In all four cases, the men are being detained on the basis of secret information that they and their lawyers are not allowed to see.

In response to a mass hunger strike by Palestinian detainees, from April 17 to May 14, Israeli authorities pledged to improve detention conditions, such as by ending long-term solitary confinement, and to review administrative detention policies. However, Israel has subsequently renewed the detentions of al-Barq, Safadi, Sharawna, and others.

Al-Barq, from the West Bank, had previously been detained by Jordanian officials in 2002, apparently on suspicion of involvement with Al Qaeda, and was allegedly tortured, his father told Human Rights Watch. Jordan detained him for a total of four and a half years, keeping him in solitary confinement until 2006, and periodically thereafter, then transferred him to Israeli custody in July 2010, his father said. Israeli military prosecutors accused him of belonging to and getting training from Al-Qaeda, plotting terrorist attacks, and making weapons, the father said.

Israeli military authorities have renewed al-Barq’s administrative detention order seven times, according to Addameer. Al-Barq went on hunger strike on April 15 but resumed eating on May 14, with the end of the mass hunger strike by Palestinian detainees. He began a second strike on May 21, when the Israeli military most recently renewed his administrative detention order.

Safadi was previously detained without charge by Israel repeatedly, most recently from 2007 to 2010. In May 2011, the Palestinian Authority detained him for 45 days, then released him. But Israeli forces arrested him again a week later, on June 29. Israeli interrogators alleged that Safadi is “a prominent activist of Hamas and that he is endangering public order, but that is all we know about why he is being detained,” his lawyer, Jawad Boulus, told Human Rights Watch. Safadi went on hunger strike from March 5 to May 14, and renewed the hunger strike on June 22, when the Israeli military renewed his administrative detention order for another six months.

Israel had previously sentenced Sharawna to 38 years in prison, but released him after 10 years, in October 2011, as part of a prisoner swap with Hamas for the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, according to news reports. The release order was conditioned upon his not engaging in activities that threatened security. On January 31, Israel rearrested and detained Sharawna at his home in Dura, near Hebron, in the West Bank, on suspicion of unspecified “activity that endangers the security of the area,” media reports said at the time. Addameer and the Prisoner’s Club later said that a special military committee had revoked his previous release order on the basis of secret evidence. Israeli military orders authorize such a committee to revoke the mitigation of punishment for detainees if it determines that they violated the conditions of their release and reinstate their prior sentences. Sharawna began his hunger strike on July 1.

Israeli military forces arrested al-Issawi, also on a hunger strike, in 2007, and a military court sentenced him to seven and a half years in prison. Israel released him in December 2011 during the second phase of the Shalit prisoner swap, but re-arrested him on July 7, on the basis of a special military committee’s decision to revoke his release.

The Palestinian Authority arrested Zubeidi, the theater co-founder, as part of a sweep that led to scores of arrests after May 2, when an unknown person fired gunshots at the home of the governor of Jenin, in the northern West Bank. Palestinian interrogators have alleged that Zubeidi, formerly a commander of an armed group in Jenin who renounced the use of force in 2006, knew the location of guns used by Palestinian armed groups and was involved in the killing of the theater’s co-founder in 2011, but he has not been charged with any crime.

In August, the Palestinian Authority released Zubeidi for four days during the Ramadan holiday, after he had gone on hunger strike for two days, but then re-arrested him. Zubeidi’s colleagues and lawyer said he told them that officials from the Preventive Security service tortured him at a detention facility in Jericho, and barred access to his lawyer for 15 days, before transferring him to a civilian prison there.

Palestinian prosecutors detained Zubeidi’s lawyer, Farid Hawwad, for six days in July and are investigating him for “insulting” the Preventive Security service and the prosecutor, after the lawyer said during a court hearing that the Preventive Security service was operating outside the law and influencing the prosecution in Zubeidi’s case.

Zubeidi began a total hunger strike after a judge extended his detention for eight days at a court hearing on September 9. In response, prison officials barred him from making phone calls until September 12, he told theater staff. He was hospitalized on September 11 for kidney problems related to the strike, and began accepting fluids again when he was informed by criminal justice officials that he would “almost certainly” be released after another court hearing on September 17, his theater colleague Jonatan Stanczak told Human Rights Watch.

On September 17, the court ordered Zubeidi’s detention for another 19 days, according to his colleagues, who attended the hearing, in response to the prosecution’s request for “time to finish the investigation.” Zubeidi responded to the ruling by stating in court that he would resume a total hunger strike until death.

Israel’s international legal obligations require it to inform those arrested of the reasons for the arrest at the time, to inform them promptly of any charges against them, and to bring them before a judge. In criminal cases, Israel is required to provide fair and public trials in which defendants 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.

While the Palestinian Authority cannot sign human rights treaties, which are open to signature only by recognized states, it has repeatedly pledged to uphold human rights, including fair trial provisions in the quasi-constitutional Basic Law.

Israel’s practice of jailing West Bank Palestinians - including Al-Barq, Safadi and Sharawna - inside Israel violates the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit an occupying power from detaining members of the occupied population outside the occupied territory.

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