Ramallah, Occupied West Bank Palestinian detainees detained without trial or indictment have launched a boycott of Israeli military courts in the occupied West Bank, as prisoner groups warn that one detainee on hunger strike faces “imminent death”.
In an escalating move agreed by Palestinian political parties, the 500 so-called administrative detainees began the new year by refusing to show up for their court sessions. The boycott includes the initial hearings to enforce the administrative detention order, as well as appeal hearings and later hearings at the Supreme Court.
Under the banner, “Our decision is freedom … no to administrative detention,” administrative detainees said in a statement that their move comes as a continuation of long-standing Palestinian efforts “to put an end to the unjust administrative detention that exercised by the occupying forces against our people. ”.
They also noted that Israel’s use of the policy has expanded in recent years to include women, children and the elderly.
“Israeli military courts are an important aspect of the occupation in its system of oppression,” the detainees said, describing the courts as a “barbaric, racist instrument that has devoured the lives of our people for hundreds of years under the banner of administrative detention., by nominal and fictitious courts – the results of which are determined in advance by the military commander of the region ”.
141 days on hunger strike
The boycott comes as the health of Hisham Abu Hawwash – Tuesday on his 141st day on hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention since October 2020 – is still seriously deteriorating.
The 40-year-old is the latest in a string prisoners who in recent months have refused food and water to claim their freedom. Many of them reached a critical stage and were hospitalized for long periods of time until Israeli authorities agreed to release them on a set date.
“What led the prisoners to take this step? [boycott] are the developments in terms of individual hunger strikes – especially Abu Hawwash and the stubbornness of the [Israeli] intelligence, ”Sahar Francis, head of the Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoners’ Rights Group, told Al Jazeera.
“The man is going to die and all they did was freeze the administrative detention order without any guarantee of when it will end,” she continued.
Abu Hawwash, a father of five from the village of Dura near Hebron, faces “imminent danger of death due to potassium deficiency and arrhythmia,” said Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI). said on Sunday. “The use of administrative detention and hospitals as detention centers must be stopped,” the group added.
Palestinian Authority (PA) Prison Commission officials on Monday said Abu Hawwash was in a state similar to “clinical death” as he fell into and out of his consciousness. The commission said doctors at the Israeli hospital where he was being held had discussed the possibility of sudden death, or strokes, the consequences of which could be serious.
Administrative detention is an Israeli policy that allows the indefinite detention of prisoners without trial or indictment based on “secret evidence” that the detainee or his attorney may not see. At least four Palestinian children are being held under such orders.
Human rights groups describe Israel’s use of the practice as “systematic and arbitrary”, and as a form of collective punishment, noting that its widespread use constitutes a violation of international law “especially with regard to internationally recognized principles of a fair trial” . “
“Administrative detention is often used as a coercive and retaliatory measure against Palestinian activists, members of civil society, students, former prisoners and their family members,” Addameer said.
Increase in administrative detention
In November, administrative detainee Kayed Fasfous ended his 131-day hunger strike following an agreement with Israeli authorities to leave him two weeks later. Several other prisoners, including Miqdad al-Qawasmi and Alaa al-Araj, agreed to end their hunger strikes after setting a date for their release.
Francis said that although the individual hunger strikes brought about individual solutions, they “do not get results on a collective level – they do not influence the policy as a policy” – which forces prisoners to make the collective boycott decision.
Law groups have noticed a dramatic increase in Israel’s use of administrative detention in 2021.
Israeli authorities issued more than 1,500 administrative detention orders last year, according to a joint annual report by Palestinian prisoner rights groups released on Sunday, compared to just over 1,100 orders in 2020.
Some 200 orders were issued in May alone, during widespread Palestinian protests against attempts to forcibly displace residents of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem and Israel’s 11-day bombing of the besieged Gaza Strip.
“The military courts are a hoax. The decisions of the military courts – especially with administrative detention – are merely a reflection of the intelligence decisions, “Amany Sarahneh, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) monitoring group, told Al Jazeera.
“In the vast majority of cases that receive administrative detention orders, the order is upheld and renewed,” she continued.
Referring to the boycott, Sarahneh said the refusal to attend hearings was an “integral part of the occupation confrontation” and “would be humiliating” for Israeli courts.
“As organizations, we think this step is extremely important to bring down the idea of the recognition and legitimacy of these mock courts,” she added, noting that a similar boycott of military courts in 1997 led to fewer administrative prisoners .
Francis said “there must be collective compliance with the decision,” for such a step to succeed. “The prisoners have to be very patient – the impact will not be felt in a week or two.”
She said she expected Israeli military courts to “attract prisoners to attend their trials by offering lower detention periods – to show that they are intervening and making positive decisions”.
“We hope that there will be an impact on the use of the policy in general. “No one expects Israel to end its use of this policy – but there must be at least clear standards for its use,” Francis continued.
She said the role of local and international organizations would be key to generating pressure on Israel to limit its use of the practice.
The issue of Palestinian prisoners has received renewed attention since six prisoners broke out of Israel’s Gilboa prison in September before being re-arrested.
The prison break was widely celebrated as a victory by Palestinians, most of whom are being held in Israeli prisons – which number 4,550 Palestinians, including 170 children – as political prisoners detained because of the Israeli military occupation or their resistance to it.
Since then, Israeli prisons have witnessed increased tensions and collective penal policies imposed on Palestinian prisoners, especially members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) party, which includes five of the six prisoners who escaped, and more recently against Hamas-affiliated prisoners.
Last month, Israeli prison authorities raid cells of Palestinian female detainees in Damon Prison, who were beaten a lot after several refused to walk out in the cold weather during a cell search, according to Addameer, who deny the “inhuman treatment and collective punishment” handed out to the prisoners.
Shortly afterwards, a Hamas-affiliated detainee in the Nafha prison stabbed an Israeli prison officer in the face with an improvised weapon and wounded him lightly. Hamas said in a statement that the incident was “a natural response to the escalation” facing the female prisoners.
About 80 detainees in the Hamas section of the Nafha prison were then handcuffed, forced to stay outside in the cold for hours, and beaten severely. The prisoner who carried out the attack was taken to hospital along with three other detainees before being returned to their cells, the groups said.
Many were placed in solitary confinement while others seized their belongings, faced financial fines and were banned from having access to canteens and family visits.