In the past few weeks, there have been a series of demonstrations and events held across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) in support of Palestinian administrative detainees and political prisoners who, as of today, have been on a 38-day hunger strike calling for an end to administrative detention. On 25 May Israeli forces suppressed one of these peaceful demonstrations in Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers, some of whom were on horse-back, stormed toward the protestors as they arrived at al-Sultan Suleiman Street, in East Jerusalem. Additionally, two Palestinian men were arrested by Israeli Special Forces and another two sustained bruises after being beaten by Israeli soldiers.
One of the men arrested was Kayed al-Rajabi, 37, who was subsequently held for 24 hours at the Russian Compound (al-Masqubiyya) and accused of organising the demonstration. Kayed denied participating in the event, stating that he had only been in the area to run personal errands. However, from what he saw of the event, he recalls that it was peaceful and that participants were merely distributing water and salt. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 9607/2014) The significance of this is that water and salt are the only substances consumed by the hunger strikers and are essential for their survival for the duration of the strike.
According to Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association, the mass hunger strike was initiated by 90 Palestinian administrative detainees on 24 April 2014. These original 90 hunger strikers were later followed by an unknown number of further administrative detainees and political prisoners throughout different Israeli prisons. Although the exact number of hunger strikers is not yet known, it is estimated that there are approximately 125-150 administrative detainees participating, in addition to the other prisoners. Since the beginning of the hunger strike, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has repeatedly transferred the hunger strikers into solitary confinement and to other Israeli prisons. Moreover, the hunger strikers have had all of their personal belongings confiscated and have been denied access to hygiene products. During the first 15 days of the hunger strike the participants were also denied access to salt. This changed, however, on the 16th day of the strike and now the prisoners have all been provided with salt.
The hunger strikers have also been subjected to daily body and cell searches and some have been beaten and treated in a violent manner. Those who are beaten have subsequently been denied medical attention by the prison authorities. In addition, some of the Palestinian administrative detainees and political prisoners have chosen to boycott the prison clinics as they have faced pressure from the clinics to end their hunger strike.
All family visits to the hunger strikers have been halted for the next four months, and those who are considered to be the leaders of the movement have had their family visits halted for six months. Furthermore, restrictions have been imposed on the prisoners’ lawyers, some of whom have had to wait for hours before being allowed to enter the prisons. In some cases, lawyers have only been allowed 30-minute visits, and others have been forced to leave the prison without seeing their clients, purportedly due to security reasons.
The youngest hunger striker, Ahmad Rimawi, 19, is a student from ‘Abwein, Ramallah. Ahmad was arrested on 17 November 2012 and has been in administrative detention since. In May 2014, Ahmad’s administrative detention order was extended for a further six months. In an interview conducted by Al-Haq, Ahmad’s mother, Amal Irhimi, stated that her husband, Ishraq, has been detained in Israeli prisons since June 2001 and is serving a 19-year sentence. Prior to the hunger strike, Amal’s husband and son were both being held in the Naqab prison. On the evening of 28 April, Ishraq phoned his wife and informed her that their son, Ahmad, was about to begin a hunger strike and that Ishraq would join him as a sign of solidarity. They both commenced their hunger strike on 29 April. According to Amal, on 30 April, her son and husband were separated and Ishraq was transferred to Eshel prison in Beer Sheva as a punitive measure in response to his hunger strike. On Wednesday 28 May, Ahmad was admitted to al-Ramla Hospital due to his deteriorating health condition. As a result of his hunger strike, he was suffering from extreme weakness, was repeatedly fainting and was refusing to take medicine. Ahmad remains hospitalised and has lost approximately 15 kilograms. Amal says that she is constantly worried about her husband and child, especially because she has been denied visiting rights since they began their hunger strike.
Al-Haq expresses its deep concern regarding the health condition of the hunger strikers held in Israeli prisons as they approach their 39th day. Under international humanitarian law (IHL), the Occupying Power is permitted to detain persons whom it deems necessary to subject to assigned residence or to internment, but only for imperative reasons of security. As such, the reasons for internment must be of an exceptional character and each case must be decided upon individually. In addition, the detainee must be held within the frontiers of the occupied territory itself. IHL further affirms the right of administrative detainees to have their internment reconsidered by an appropriate court or administrative board and, in the event that the internment is maintained, this same body must review the decision periodically, and at least twice yearly.
Under international human rights law (IHRL), Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Israel is State party, affords everybody the right to liberty and security of person and as such, prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention. Since 1948, Israel has claimed to be in a state of emergency, during which States can derogate from Article 9 of the ICCPR, allowing for administrative detention in strictly limited circumstances. However, even in the event of such a derogation, certain fundamental guarantees remain in place, including, among other guarantees, the right to be informed of the reason for detention in a language that the detainee understands; the right to challenge the lawfulness of the detention; the right to access a lawyer; the right to correspond with and be visited by family members; and the right to medical care. Administrative detention that does not provide these fundamental guarantees becomes arbitrary and, as such, violates customary international law. Moreover, administrative detention cannot be used to facilitate further breaches of international law, including the right of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated humanely and the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
In the case of the administrative detainees currently on hunger strike, the fundamental guarantees outlined in IHRL and IHL have been violated. Furthermore, in contravention to the provisions of IHL, Israel uses administrative detention in a widespread manner (there are currently 183 Palestinians in administrative detention) rather than on a case by case basis and for imperative reasons of security. As such, Al-Haq demands an immediate end to Israel’s illegal practice of administrative detention and calls for the release of all administrative detainees.