Palestinian health activist Shatha Odeh released from Israeli imprisonment

60-year-old Odeh has been freed after spending 11 months in arbitrary detention following her arrest by Israeli Occupation Forces in July 2021

June 03, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Credit: Viva Salud/Twitter

Prominent Palestinian health activist and nurse, Shatha Odeh, has been freed after being detained by the Israeli occupation for 11 months. Her release was confirmed by her daughter, Shirin Odeh, on June 3, Friday.

On May 12, the Ofer military court sentenced Odeh to 16 months in prison, and ordered her to pay a fine of $9,000. She was also given a 5-year suspended sentence, on the condition that she would not provide health services to people. Shatha Odeh is the director of the Palestinian Health Work Committees (HWC). The 60-year-old has been instrumental in securing healthcare for over 400,000 Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank. 

On July 7 2021, Odeh was forcibly arrested in a violent raid by occupation forces on her home in Ramallah. The operation was conducted without an arrest warrant or confiscation order. She was transported to the Ofer military camp where she was interrogated for nine hours, and then taken to the Hasharon Prison outside the West Bank.

Odeh was arrested a month after Israel shut down the HWC office in Ramallah. The organization runs 34 health centers across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, providing healthcare to 15% of all patients in the West Bank. This work has been crucial, especially given Israel’s routine, and illegal, denial of critical care to Palestinians.

Israel’s move to shut down the organization was widely condemned, with Amnesty International describing its consequences as “catastrophic”. Meanwhile, health workers and activists across the world rallied to demand Odeh’s release. 

Following her arrest, Odeh’s illegal detention was renewed over successive hearings at the Ofer Military Court. On July 26 2021, the prosecutor announced the charges against her, which were primarily related to her leadership of the HWC. The organization was declared “unlawful” by an Israeli military order dating back to January 2020, of which the HWC was not notified.

The charges against Odeh included “holding a position in an unlawful position”, “receiving and bringing funds illegally to the area”, and “receiving funds and support fraudulently”. The court hearings were conducted in Hebrew, a language that neither Odeh nor her family could understand. On July 27th, she was transferred to the Damoun prison in Israel. 

The period of her detention was marked by further rights violations, including a denial of fresh clothing until her third hearing in court. She was also denied access to her medications and proper covers in her cell, and was placed under constant camera surveillance. Odeh’s imprisonment at Israel’s Damon Prison was a violation of the Geneva Convention, which states that an Occupying Power must detain residents of an Occupied Territory in prisons within the territory. 

Odeh’s sentencing in May 2022 was also fiercely rejected by the People’s Health Movement, with Co-Chair Dr. Hani Serag stating that it had “further exposed the ugly face of the Israeli racist occupying forces….This sentence is a crime that should be recognized and denounced at all levels. Yet this crime will never stop the struggle of Palestinian women and men until they realize their rights to land, dignity, and health.” 

Finally, after spending nearly a year in detention, the Ofer military court approved an early release request submitted by Odeh’s lawyers on Friday, after she had finished two-thirds of her sentence. Viva Salud welcomed the news, calling it a “huge day” for healthcare workers and activists worldwide.