In Israel, a Detainee Is Allowed to Die in Jail - if He Is a Palestinian

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Hisham Abu Hawash's children holding a poster of him at their home in Dura, the West Bank.
Hisham Abu Hawash's children holding a poster of him at their home in Dura, the West Bank.Credit: Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

In a locked room in an Israel Prisons Service clinic, lies a man who has refused to put food into his mouth for 114 days. Besides his extreme weight loss, he has difficulty speaking and communicating, even drinking water and whenever he moves, he has palpitations. He is brought to meetings with his lawyer groggy and in a wheelchair. This is Hisham Abu Hawash, 40, who is on a hunger strike to protest his administrative detention.

When he was arrested in late 2020 he denied all accusations during his interrogation by police. And indeed, on the night of his arrest he told his wife not to worry because he had not done anything, and he would be home soon. Together they have five children - no small responsibility, especially when one of the children has a kidney disease and needs expensive treatments.

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She didn’t worry: She had seen him at work, on a construction site in their hometown of Dura in the southern West Bank from morning until evening.  Abu Hawash and his wife were both wrong.

While the military prosecution had no open evidence against him on which to base an indictment to submit to military court, the Shin Bet security service claimed to have classified material on the basis of which a military commander signed the first administrative detention order for six months. On August 17, after the second administrative detention order was signed, Abu Hawash launched his hunger strike.

Abu Hawash is risking his health and his life to protest the denial of his freedom without trial. That is the only way to tell the world that he has been locked up with no indictment filed against him, without evidence, without the basic liberal right to defend himself, to face the prosecution's witnesses and explain what he believes to be their hostile motives.

If Abu Hawash thought that physically harming himself, his health and his life would attract the attention of others to the common Israeli practice of arresting hundreds of people without trial, he was wrong. Neither the world, nor Israeli legal experts nor the local media are disturbed by the ease with which the only democracy in the Middle East locks people up without trial. For years now, at any given time, about 500 Palestinians have been kept in administrative detention for an unlimited period.

Over the past decade a phenomenon has begun of individual administrative detainees launching hunger strikes. The authorities, aware of the complications that the death of a Palestinian prisoner could cause, made sure that hunger strikers were hospitalized in civilian hospitals long before the hundredth day of their strike, because there, they could be saved from death.

In 2015, the High Court of Justice began ordering the “suspension” of the administrative detention order during the time the detainee was hospitalized. That was an elegant way for both sides to leave the corner into which they had painted themselves. But the Shin Bet claims that even in his clearly failing health, Abu Hawash is a danger to state security. While continuing his hunger strike, a third administrative detention order was issued against him. Even the clear decline in his health, and the danger of death he faces, did not move the Prison Service doctors to order his hospitalization.

The High Court on Monday discussed the request of Abu Hawash’s lawyer, Jawad Bulus, that his client be hospitalized and the administrative detention order suspended. The state prosecutor, representing the Shin Bet, opposed this. Judge Isaac Amit was at first angry with Bulus for convening the High Court when the military court of appeals is set to hear Abu Hawash’s appeal against his detention on Wednesday.

Bulus asked the court to put procedures aside, to appreciate Abu Hawash’s medical condition and remember that for years it had been agreed not to let administrative detainees die in jail. Amit listened closely and then instructed the Prison Service doctor to examine Abu Hawash immediately – and submit his medical findings to the military court.

Will the Prison Service doctor interpret the order as a hint from the High Court that an administrative detainee should not be allowed to die in jail, even if he is a Palestinian?

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