Who Is Khalil Awawdeh, the Prisoner Islamic Jihad Claims Israel Agreed to Release in Gaza Cease-fire Deal?

Little is known about Khalil Awawdeh, who spent more than 15 years in prison and is currently on his second hunger strike since his latest detention in December 2021

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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Demonstrators take part in a protest in solidarity with Palestinian hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh, who is jailed by Israel, in Gaza City, June.
Demonstrators take part in a protest in solidarity with Palestinian hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh, who is jailed by Israel, in Gaza City, June.Credit: Mohammed Salem / Reuters
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

"Prisoner Khalil Awawdeh will be released to a hospital within a few hours, and we are sure of that," Islamic Jihad spokesperson Daoud Shihab said in an interview with Palestinian radio on Monday, just over a day after Israel and the terrorist group reached a cease-fire on Saturday evening, ending three days of fighting.

Islamic Jihad claims that as part of the deal, Israel agreed to free both Awawdeh and Bassam al-Saadi, the 62-year-old head of the Islamic Jihad operations in the Jenin area whose arrest by Israeli forces in Jenin last week helped trigger the latest current outbreak of violence between the IDF and Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip.

But while al-Saadi – who has previously been detained by Israel three times and served a total of 15 years in an Israeli jail – is, for the most part, a relatively well-known public figure, far less is known about Awawdeh.

An administrative detainee held by Israel without charges, Awawdeh has been on a hunger strike since early July to protest his detention. According to Hebrew language news reports, little is known about the 40-year-old father of four beyond the fact that he is a devout Muslim, a resident of the West Bank village of Idna near Hebron, and has studied economics at Al-Quds Open University but has not graduated.

Family members of Khalil Awawdeh, from right, Tolin, 9, Maryam, 21 months, his wife Dalal, 32, and Maria, 4 pose with a poster of Khalil Awawdeh at the family house, in the West Bank village of Idna, Hebron, Tuesday.Credit: AP Photo/Nasser Nasser

Awawdeh is on his second hunger strike since being detained in December 2021 and, according to Channel 12 News, the Palestinian Prisoners Club has warned that he faces “the danger of death due to his difficult health condition which worsens with the passage of time” and that “dozens” of other prisoners have announced sympathy fasts in order to show solidarity.

His wife, Dalal Awawdeh, told news website Mekomit that he has spent a cumulative six years in administrative detention. Since his latest arrest last year, “I have only been allowed to visit him once,” she said. “He told me, during the visit, that he decided to go on a hunger strike because they will keep him in prison for two or three years as happened in his previous administrative arrests.”

“I am afraid for him, that he will die,” she said.

In an interview with Radio 103FM on Tuesday morning, Awadeh’s father Abu Riad Awawdeh said that he had no contact with his son since his detention but that “the lawyer told me that his weight might be 35-36 kilos.”

“My son was in prison for 13 years, in 2000 he served five years and a half, and then administrative arrests all the [rest of the] time,” he continued.

Awadeh’s attorney, Ahlan Haddad, told the radio station that his detention was “based on secret evidence” to which his defense was not privy and claimed that Awawdeh was no longer a member of Islamic Jihad.

Israel has disputed Islamic Jihad’s claim, with officials stating only that even though Cairo did commit to act for the prisoners' release, Jerusalem had not.

On Monday, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev told Israel public broadcaster Kan that Israel hasn't agreed to release any Islamic Jihad members from prison and added that Islamic Jihad commander Bassam al-Saadi will stay in jail, "like any prisoner.”

"This is about him and another security prisoner, an administrative detainee," he said, referring to Awawdeh, "and like any security prisoner who is under administrative detention … Towards the end of the period, the Shin Bet decides whether to release him or extend his detention. And many times – most times – the Shin Bet extends the detention period."

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