Palestinian prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash has apparently agreed to end his hunger strike of 141 days in a deal with Israel which will see him released next month. Abu Hawash went on hunger strike in protest at the occupation state's decision to hold him since 27 October 2020 with neither charge nor trial under a renewable administrative detention order. Such a protest is indicative of the determination and defiance of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, regardless of the price to be paid.
Having been transferred to a prison hospital because of the deterioration of his medical condition, Abu Hawash fell into a coma; his life was threatened, confirmed his family, the Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Affairs Authority and many human rights and media institutions. The suffering he went through was an example of what nearly 4,600 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel go through.
Given the extent of the public support for the prisoners, the issue may spark a full-blown confrontation with the occupation authorities at any time. The Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza warned Israel that if Abu Hawash died in custody then they would regard it as a political assassination and respond accordingly. That would necessarily open the door to a military confrontation between the resistance and the occupation army. Until Abu Hawash actually leaves prison as agreed, and in reasonable health, such a confrontation may yet erupt.
According to prisoners and human rights institutions, Israel arrested around 8,000 Palestinians last year, including 1,300 children and 184 women and girls. Just under 1,600 are being held under administrative detention. Such persecution and detentions are part of Israel's war against the Palestinian people, who are striving for freedom and independence.
Israel continues to ignore the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, ever since six men escaped from Gilboa High Security Prison in September, special military units have been unleashed against the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons in revenge for the humiliating breakout. Among Palestinians, though, the incident has pushed the prisoner issue to the top of their priorities. Popular resistance in solidarity with the prisoners makes it clear that the ordinary people on the street will not abandon them.
It has now been announced that Israel's senior negotiator for the release of Israelis held in Gaza, Moshe Tal, has resigned due to the "negligence" and failure of the occupation government to reach a prisoner swap deal with the resistance groups in the besieged territory. His decision was also influenced, it seems, by what former army spokesman Ronen Manelis said regarding the Israeli government's refusal to conclude a prisoner swap deal in 2018. The implication, clearly, was that the occupation state is not ready to pay the required price for the release of its soldiers captured in Gaza.
"The Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades are holding four prisoners inside the Gaza Strip," the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, told Al-Jazeera recently, "and if Israel is not convinced to reach a deal, Hamas and the brigades will force them." This was a clear warning that more Israeli soldiers will be captured if necessary to push through a prisoner exchange.
Finally, it seems that the conditions on the ground are ripe for any incident to spark a confrontation between the resistance groups and the occupation state. The Israeli government's stability would be threatened by such a conflict, which could force it to agree a new prisoner swap deal with the Palestinians on the terms set by the resistance groups. If, as anticipated, this leads to the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners — some of whom have been held for decades — then 2022 could indeed by the "Year of the Palestinian Prisoners".
This article first appeared in Arabic in Felesteen on 4 January 2021 and has been edited by MEMO to take the latest prisoner developments into account.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.