Administrative detention, an offence against humanity
For more than 60 consecutive days, Palestinian administrative detainees have been on hunger strike. We recently received news from the jails that the prisoners are now refusing water, the essential ingredient of life without which death is inevitable. About 100 of the hunger strikers are currently in hospital and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, has ordered that they should be force-fed, which is a form of torture that violates international conventions. The administrative detainee Ayman Itbeish, who is from the Dura town in Al-Khalil city, has been on hunger strike for 116 days.
Administrative detention is a relic left over from the British mandate. It allows for Israel to arrest people without trial on indefinitely renewable military orders. While detention without trial is permitted in international law under certain circumstances, this only applies to extreme cases where there is imminent danger to life. Because Israel regularly uses administrative detention, it routinely breaches the Geneva Convention to which it is a signatory.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz describes administrative detention:
[A]s one of the most offensive measures a regime can take against a person’s civil rights. In Israel, any military officer in the territories can have a person jailed almost indefinitely and without judicial oversight. Administrative detention procedures do not require the detainee to be informed of the charges against him, attorneys cannot defend him and the evidence against him is not open to judicial review.
While international law recognises the need to occasionally practice administrative detention, it restricts its use, limiting it to cases involving a danger to public safety for which there is no other prevention. Israel, however, uses it excessively in the occupied territories, mainly to protect sources or to prevent the exposure of Shin Bet security service methods.
Additionally, Israel practices an apartheid judicial system. Palestinians are tried in military courts with, according to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, a 97.7 per cent conviction rate. There are more than 5,200 political prisoners in the jails of the Israeli occupation, among them 270 children under the age of 18. This breaches international conventions on the Rights of the Child.
The administrative detainees’ hunger strike is not aimed at improving conditions inside jails but has a political nature. The main issue is to close the file on administrative detention forever as an abusive form of detention. Among the testimonies of the detainees who experienced this type of detention, Imad Abu Shamsieh reports he was administratively detained six times:
When you are detained, they interrogate you and torture you psychologically for many weeks, and then they transfer you to administrative detention without any trial. Then when your detention period is over, you say good-bye to all your friends and you ride the bus that is supposed to get you out of jail, you are surprised when they bring you a paper that shows your detention renewal, or sometimes when you are finally at home they arrest you again, which psychologically affects anyone who was deprived of freedom and longing for it every day in jail.
The hunger strike, known as the Campaign of Water and Salt, has created a notable mobilisation that is increasing the longer the hunger strike continues. Even internationally, there is more support and sympathy for Palestinian prisoners. In the name of this strike, many events have been organised all over Palestine including “Palestine inside the green line”, which unites all Palestinians wherever they are in a common cause.
Freedom campaigns, kidnapping and collective punishment
Other campaigns aim to focus attention on the Palestinian political prisoners, such as the Campaign to Free Shireen Al-Issawi, the sister of Samer Al-Issawi, the superhero who made the longest-recorded hunger strike. The pivotal spokesperson for his campaign, Shireen, was with a group of other lawyers and two of her brothers Medhat and Shadi. She was detained on 6 March 2014. Medhat had already spent 18 years of his life imprisoned. He and Shireen remain detained. Their mother, Raafat Al-Issawi, a well-known political activist, told me that the total number of years spent by her family in Israeli jails is about 58. She told me that the detention of Shireen and her colleagues was revenge.
There are many other campaigns, among them the campaign for Lina Al-Jarboni, who is 40 years old and has spent 13 years in jail.
Now three Israelis, two of them settlers and the third a soldier in the Israeli army, have suddenly disappeared. It is reported they were in the Gush Etzion settlement before their disappearance, an area under the total security control of Israel. The Israeli government has accused all Palestinians, especially those who live in Al-Khalil, of being kidnappers.
Israeli occupation forces have launched a series of collective punishments against the entire population of the West Bank, affecting 750,000 people. One of these is that they will not allow men to travel abroad across the bridge between Jordan and Palestine. In addition, they are preventing Palestinians from Al-Khalil from entering Israel to work despite having work permits. They have also closed some roads linking the city and other towns and villages. They have invaded many areas of the city, as well destroyed houses and furniture. They have killed four Palestinians so far, and detained over 400, placing about half of them in administrative detention.
Some points worth noting in relation to the alleged kidnapping are as follows. It took more than ten hours for the first declaration of the kidnapping operation. What caused Israel to lose these golden hours to find them? Second, a state of confusion is accompanying the campaign. Sometimes Israel accuses Islamic Jihad, sometimes Hamas, and the latest was Tipzi Livni accusing the so-called Daash militia, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is a terrorist organisation. When in fact, the operation has not been claimed by any Palestinian organisation. It may be that accusing Daash is just another attempt to link the Palestinian struggle and international terrorism.
Finally, Israel is trying to divert all attention to the subject of the “kidnapped” Israelis at the expense of the on-going Israeli occupation, and especially at this time the issue of prisoners. They want the hunger strike to be a secondary issue when it previously had popular and even international support.
A few weeks ago, two 16-year-old boys, Nadim Nuwara and Mohammed Abu Taher were shot dead by Israeli troops during a Nakba Day demonstration in the West Bank. Video footage shows that they posed no threat to Israeli security forces at the time of their death and both shootings were unauthorised. Israel deals with Palestinians like rocks that lack feelings or dignity. All of this happens in our life and we are still raising the message of peace and justice for everyone.
A message of freedom and peace
Finally, my message is a message from our people to the Israelis and especially to the mothers of those kidnapped.
Dear Israelis mothers: Now is the time for you to feel what our mothers feel and suffer. We are human as you are and have the same blood. Our blood is not cheap. We have emotions and pains. Because of what has happened we need you to work to put pressure on your government to release our political prisoners in Israel jails. As we pay attention and have feelings for your mothers, why do you not care about our more than 5,200 sons in Israeli jails? We need to bring our boys back home safe from death. We believe a human is a human. Humanity is not divided. Why do you not pay attention to our lives under Israel’s occupation? We desire to live in peace without occupation and without prisoners in jail. We are not a bloody people. We do not hate Jews because our enemy is the occupation, not anything else, and we are against blood and hate. We wish for all our sons from both sides to come back home.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.