Forty-year-old Hisham Abu Hawash has been on hunger strike for 114 days to protest being held in administrative detention since October 2020. He is confined alone in a locked room in an Israel Prison Service infirmary. In addition to losing considerable weight, he has been having difficulty speaking and communicating. He has also had trouble drinking water and has felt palpitations with every movement.
According to the Israel Medical Association guidelines for doctors caring for prisoners or detainees on a hunger strike, the patient is at risk of sudden death after 55 days without food. Abu Hawash doesn’t want to die, but his refusal to eat is the only means at his disposal to oppose what he sees as the arbitrary deprivation of his freedom.
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The Shin Bet security service claims he is an Islamic Jihad activist who endangers the security of the region. The Shin Bet has not provided explicit and overt evidence in support of its allegations. Abu Hawash, who under police questioning has denied the general suspicions against him, has been deprived of the basic right to a defense in a military court. Granted that such courts tend to favor the military prosecution, but at least military court judges hand down prison terms of a specific duration.
On the other hand, administrative detention orders, which are signed by a military commander based on confidential material from the Shin Bet, can theoretically be extended and renewed indefinitely. Abu Hawash had in the past been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for Islamic Jihad activity during the second intifada, before he became a father to five children. He was also placed under administrative detention in 2008 and 2012.
The families of administrative detainees and those representing them are convinced that administrative detention is a means of political silencing, carried out through false incrimination or as revenge for acts for which a person had in the past been convicted.
Previously, the military and legal system as well as the Shin Bet had given the impression that they weren’t interested in having a hunger-striking detainee die in custody. The security and ethical consequences of such a death are far-reaching. Hunger strikers were therefore hospitalized at civilian hospitals – even after about 50 days.
Later, justices of the Supreme Court proposed an artifice in the form of a suspension of the administrative detention in order to prevent a further deterioration in the detainee’s health. As of Tuesday, for some reason, Abu Hawash had not been transferred to a civilian hospital, and the Shin Bet, via the State Prosecutor’s Office, has opposed suspending his detention order.
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Whatever the reason may be, the rule that hunger-striking prisoners should not be allowed to die, while their right to strike must be respected, must also be upheld for Abu Hawash. Along with that, it’s time to resume public criticism over the routine imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinians without trial and for an unlimited period of time.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.