Following hunger strike victories last year, Palestinians hope collective action will force Israel to abolish its practice of indefinite detention without trial.
By Yuval Abraham – Feb 17, 2022
For the past six weeks, hundreds of Palestinian administrative detainees have been boycotting Israeli military courts over their indefinite imprisonment with no trial or indictment. Since January 1, the prisoners have announced that they will not arrive for hearings at courts, and that they are refusing to allow attorneys to represent them in absentia until Israel ceases its use of administrative detention.
Israel uses administrative detention to indefinitely detain Palestinians (and very occasionally Jewish Israelis) without charge or trial. Administrative detention orders are reviewed every six months, but the detainees are not informed of the crimes of which they are accused, nor shown the evidence against them. As a result, it is virtually impossible to defend oneself against an administrative detention order.
Under international law, administrative detention should only be used in the most extreme cases. As of February 2022, however, Israel is holding approximately 500 Palestinians in administrative detention, out of a total of 4,500 political prisoners. During 2021, 1,595 Palestinians were imprisoned by Israel without trial—an increase of 43% compared to 2020, in which 1,114 were imprisoned according to Addameer, a Palestinian organization that provides legal assistance to Palestinian political prisoners.
“2021 saw many individual hunger strikes by administrative detainees,” said Addameer Executive Director Sahar Francis, “but the Shin Bet in recent years has prevented the release of hunger strikers from administrative detention for very long periods of time. That is why people understood that collective protest was needed.”
Last year, administrative detainee Hisham Abu Hawash went on a 141-day hunger strike, until the Shin Bet agreed to release him. In addition, Kayed Fasous was on hunger strike for 131 days, Miqdad al-Qawasmeh for 113 days, and Alaa al-Araj for 103 days—succeeding in each case to force Israel to grant them their freedom.
Compared to the past, these time periods have doubled. In 2012, for example, Khader Adnan was released after he refused to eat for 66 days in protest of his administrative detention. This was the first individual strike, and it caused a great deal of international uproar. Since then, however, the media’s interest in these strikes has significantly decreased.
Qadura Fares, a senior Fatah official and head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, which offers support to Palestinians in Israeli jails, told +972 that this protest will continue until Israel abolishes the arbitrary practice of administrative detention. “The detainees have together decided not to grant legitimacy to the courts, which are a rubber stamp for the Shin Bet’s decisions,” he said.
Israeli courts, whether military or civilian, very rarely rescind an administrative order, although in some cases they do shorten them. “In this sense, the striking prisoners pay a price for their boycott,” said Francis. “They are willing to sacrifice the possibility of returning home earlier, of being released, for a collective protest.”
According to Israeli law, Israeli authorities must hold a legal oversight hearing at a military court within eight days of the issuance of an administrative order. At the hearing, a military judge examines secret evidence; the detainee has no right to access that evidence nor defend themselves against the charges. Following the judge’s decision, the detainee is given the opportunity to petition their sentence to the Supreme Court, which in most cases does not interfere in the military court’s decision. Both the legal oversight and the opportunity to petition are being boycotted by the administrative detainees en masse.
Amal Nakhleh, 18, who has been in administrative detention for over a year, boycotted a hearing at an Israeli military court in January. During the hearing, the judge permitted the Shin Bet to renew Nakhleh’s administrative order for four months. Nakhleh was arrested at 16, and suffers from a severe chronic autoimmune disorder that affects his muscles and his ability to breathe. During his arrest, he was accused of throwing stones at soldiers. But when a military judge ordered he be released, the Shin Bet decided to put him in administrative detention.