Human rights groups have lashed Israel for its practice of keeping Palestinian suspects in prison indefinitely without trial. Hunger strikes have become a tactic of last resort to resist the Israeli judicial system.
Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, 33, attracted worldwide media attention after he spent more than two months on hunger strike to highlight the plight of fellow Palestinians in similar circumstances.
Adnan was placed in administrative detention nine times after Israel identified him as an activist with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group Israel regards as terrorist.
His ninth arrest on 17 December was the last straw for Adnan. He started a hunger strike which was to last 66 days – the longest in Palestinian history.
On 21 Feb 2012, Israeli authorities announced they had reached a deal with Adnan, who agreed to immediately end his hunger strike in return for a promise of release on April 17.
Adnan’s epic fast left him unable to walk and he is now being fed intravenously.
His actions inspired a female Palestinian prisoner, Hana Shalabi, 30, to go on hunger strike too.
Shalabi spent 25 months in administrative detention without any charges being brought against her. Last year, she was released as part of a deal which saw over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive in Gaza for five years.
In February, she was re-arrested and again held without charge.
She went on hunger strike in protest and has now been fasting for two weeks. Shalabi has complained of repeated mistreatment. Her lawyer says she has been placed in solitary confinement as punishment for the hunger strike.
Meanwhile, an Israeli military court in Ramallah has postponed Shalabi’s case until March 4, after the judge reportedly granted the prosecution leave to submit a "secret file."
Israel makes wide use of so-called “administrative detention,” which can mean spending months and even years in prison without trial.
The legal grounds for administrative detention in Israel originate in a law dating back to 1946 under the British Mandate for Palestine. The Law on Authority in States of Emergency states that a military judge can issue an administrative detention of up to six months, which can be easily renewed.
Not all Israeli politicians support administrative detention. However, many in the ruling Likud Party see it as an essential weapon in the fight against terrorism.
“We have seen periods when buses were blowing up in Jerusalem. Administrative detention helps secure the well-being of Israelis,” said Likud’s Danny Danon, who sits on the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The Palestinian human rights group Adameer calculates that some 20,000 Palestinians that have been under administrative detention since 2000.
“It's one of the basic moral principals that our society is founded upon – that if you deny a person's right to freedom you have to have a very good case and you have to have a trial and you have to let them defend themselves against these accusations,” says Sarit Michaeli of the Tel Aviv-based human rights group, B’Tselem.
“When Palestinians are placed under administrative detention they are not told what they are suspected of, there's no charge sheet, there's no trial,” explains Michaeli.
At the moment, 310 Palestinians are in administrative detention. They are suspected of terrorism, but no formal charges have been brought against them. They could face years in prison without trial.
At the height of the second Intifada uprising just over a decade ago, thousands were put in jail without trial.
Israel insists it is doing nothing wrong; and claims it is necessary to protect the identities of informers by not having them testify in court. But human rights groups both in Israel and abroad beg to differ, slamming the practice as extreme, and criticizing the Israeli authorities’ habit of handling Palestinian political prisoners’ fates ad libitum.
“They used to frighten us, terrify us, by screaming, banging on tables, pushing us and forcing us to the ground. They’d keep us in cells for two or three months in order to take confessions by force. We were so frightened. Imagine a free young person who suddenly finds himself in jail?” recalls former prisoner Habderaziz Azizi, who was just 16 when he was arrested.
It looks like Khader Adnan’s story will have a happier ending and his family believes he will indeed be released from jail. Yet already there is talk of the Israeli authorities moving him back to prison when he recovers from his fast, or releasing him only to rearrest him later, as has happened many times before.