Palestinian political prisoner Khalil Awawdeh has suspended his hunger strike after securing an agreement with Israeli authorities for his release on October 2, the date on which his detention order is set to expire. The announcement came late on August 31, a day after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a second petition calling for his freedom.
Awawdeh had been on hunger strike for over 170 days in protest of his unjust imprisonment, and his lawyers had warned that he could “die at any moment.”
After the news broke on Wednesday, Awawdeh declared, “This victory is an extension of the victories achieved by the great Palestinian people.” He will remain in hospital to recover.
Israeli forces apprehended Awawdeh in 2021, claiming that he was an “operative” of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) resistance group. He was placed under illegal administrative detention on December 27.
A remnant of the British Mandate, Israel deploys this practice almost exclusively against Palestinians, holding them indefinitely without charge or trial (for up to six months at a time, pending renewal). Arrests are based on “secret evidence” that neither a detainee nor their lawyer can access. This is justified on grounds of “security” concerns.
Palestinian organizations have repeatedly also highlighted the “integral role” that Israel’s military judicial system has played in facilitating and expanding administrative detention.
“Contrary to the claim purported by Israel’s courts that detention orders are judicially reviewed, administrative detainees and their lawyers constantly point to the dominant role that the Shabak [Israel’s intelligence agency Shin Bet] plays in determining detention periods,” notes Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka.
“In this way, the juridical review processes create a facade of judicial oversight while allowing Israel to bypass legal battles through which the detainees and their lawyers would be able to bring forth an actual defense.”
Israel’s actions are a blatant violation of established international laws and principles, including the Geneva Convention. Administrative detention has been consistently used to target Palestinian political activists, human rights defenders, and leaders.
Awawdeh’s detention and declining health condition
Awawdeh has spent around 13 years in Israeli prisons, including six years under administrative detention.Three months into his most recent imprisonment, he launched a hunger strike on March 3 to demand his freedom.
After over 110 days on strike, Israeli prison officials reportedly told Awawdeh that they would not renew his detention order if he agreed to end his strike. Awawdeh halted his protest and agreed to receive medical care. However a few days later, his detention was renewed for another four months, prompting him to resume his hunger strike.
Speaking to Middle East Eye, Awawdeh’s family and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society also stated that Israeli forces had used torture, including putting Awawdeh in solitary confinement and transporting him to a hospital every day only to deny him treatment on arrival, to coerce him to end his strike.
Awawdeh continued his struggle, refusing food, vitamins, and nutritional supplements, even as his health declined drastically.
On August 11, Awawdeh was transferred to the Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin, Israel. On August 19, an Israeli military court issued a temporary suspension of his detention, only for the duration of his medical treatment in the hospital. However, Awawdeh refused to end his hunger strike, declaring that he would do so only if his full release was secured.
PIJ has also stated that it had demanded Awawdeh’s release as part of the conditions of the August 7 ceasefire agreement with Israel which was mediated by Egypt. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Wednesday that Egyptian officials had been part of talks with Israel to secure his release.
On August 21, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the first petition for release filed by Awawdeh’s lawyer, Ahlam Haddad. After examining the supposed classified security information, the court ruled that there was “solid and strong justification for the decision of administrative detention.”
It stated that given that the detention order had been suspended during Awawdeh’s hospitalization, there was no need for the Court to intervene.
In her second petition to the Court, Haddad argued that the administrative detention order must be lifted completely, adding that if there were indeed any charges against Awawdeh that warranted jail time, then he must be given the right to defend himself in court.
Part of Haddad’s application was an opinion by Dr. Bettina Birmanns, a neurologist at Physicians for Human Rights who had visited Awawdeh last week. She noted that there had been a deterioration in his condition, that he could barely move his limbs, was unable to complete sentences, and was suffering from pain and weakness.
She also said that Awawdeh was going through a deterioration of his cognitive function, eyesight, and memory. Birmanns warned that he was also at risk of irreversible organ damage, even if he ended his hunger strike at this stage. Awawdeh has lost over 40 kilograms since March, and is reported to now weigh around 38 kilograms.
However, in its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court repeated the summary provided by Israel’s intelligence agency Shin Bet, stating there was “solid” justification for Awawdeh’s arrest. It added that the lack of charges was not indicative of the strength of the evidence, rather that its disclosure could “severely compromise the security of the state and the sources of information”.
Judge Anat Baron said that given that a ruling had been issued on a petition for Awawdeh’s release a week prior, there was no substantial change in circumstances that would warrant the Court’s intervention, adding “We have nothing to do other than hope he will come to his senses and end the hunger strike.”
According to the Euro-Med Monitor, approximately 228 Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, more than 70 of whom due to deteriorating health conditions and medical neglect.
“Our cause is just”: Palestinian prisoners resist
On August 28, a message from Awawdeh was circulated on social media– “Oh free people of the world, this suffering body, of which nothing remains but skin and bones, does not reflect a weakness and vulnerability of the Palestinian people, but rather is a mirror reflecting the true face of the occupation…”
“We are a people who have a just cause, that will remain a just cause, and we will always stand against administrative detention, this injustice, even if the skin is gone, even if the bone deteriorates, even if the soul is gone”, he proclaimed.
As of late August, the number of people being held under administrative detention had crossed 720, the highest in 14 years. On August 29, the WAFA News Agency confirmed that two other administrative detainees, 44-year-old Ahmad Mousa and his 34-year-old brother Odal, had completed 22 days on hunger strike.
For decades, Palestinians have used different methods of both individual and collective protest, including hunger strikes, against their imprisonment by Israel.
On December 20, 2021 the approximately 500 Palestinians who were in administrative detention at the time announced a comprehensive mass boycott of the Israeli military court system under the campaign “Our Decision is Freedom…No to Administrative Detention!” The protest was suspended in June 2022 until September, after certain agreements were secured with the Israeli authorities.
Over 4,400 Palestinians are estimated to be held in Israeli prisons. Over the past two weeks, prisoners have launched a series of protests against the “reinstitution of a series of collective, punitive, and retaliatory measures” imposed by Israeli prison authorities. These have included the seizure of electrical devices, the deployment of additional forces, and the doubling of isolation time of prisoners. The Israel Prison Service has reportedly also reneged on agreements it made in March.
On August 28, the Palestinian Prisoners Society declared that all representative bodies had been been dissolved, which would force the IPS to engage with prisoners one-on-one. A few days prior, the prisoners refused to vacate their cells for security checks and also returned meals. On August 30, prisoners in the Hadarim prison also shut down all sections of the facility.
These steps have been taken in the lead-up to a mass hunger strike, involving 1,000 prisoners, which is slated to begin on September 1.