Last updated on 17/05/2012
- On 14 May an Egyptian brokered agreement between Israel and Palestinian prisoners ended a hunger strike by inmates that began four weeks ago.
- Israel agreed to a number of the prisoner’s demands, in return for which the prisoners ended their strike and also signed commitments to refrain from all practical activity in support of terrorism.
- The prisoners who were striking were mainly individuals convicted of security related offences, who demanded improvements to their conditions.
- Two individuals, who had been on hunger strike since March, were protesting being held without charge on administrative detention. Both cases had been reviewed by Israel’s Supreme Court.
- On 14 May an Egyptian brokered agreement between Israel and Palestinian prisoners ended a hunger strike by inmates that began four weeks ago. Israel agreed to a number of the prisoner’s demands, in return for which the prisoners ended their strike and also signed commitments to refrain from all practical activity in support of terrorism. Israel agreed to allow prisoners in solitary confinement to serve their sentences with their fellow prisoners and to allow visits by families from the Gaza Strip.
- There were also reports in the Israeli media that there was agreement that Bilal Diab and Taer Halahleh, who had been striking for 76 days over the issue of administrative detentions, would be released at the end of their detention periods.
- In the first week of May, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Bilal Diab and Thaar Halahleh, both global Jihadi activists, to be released from administrative detention or charged.
- The hunger strike had led to demonstrations across the West Bank and among Israeli-Arabs. The weekend before the deal was signed, hundreds gathered in Jaffa to hear Balad Chair MK Jamal Zahalka threatening a third intifada if a prisoner were to die.
Why did the prisoners strike?
- On 17 April 2012 (coinciding with Palestinian Prisoners Day), around 1,600 Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli custody began an open-ended hunger strike. There are currently 4,500 Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prisons, most of whom have been convicted of terror related offences.
- The demonstrators joined a hunger strike by six prisoners in administrative detention. Two of them, having begun their strike March, had been moved to civilian medical facility as their health had significantly deteriorated and they had refused medical intervention.
- The hunger strike was led by the Prisoner’s Committee, made up of members from across the Palestinian political spectrum including Fatah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and the DFLP. Their explicit aim was to garner international exposure and support.
- They were led by Abbas al-Sayyid and Muhannad Shrim, high profile Hamas terrorists. The two are serving 35 and 29 life sentences respectively for planning the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya in 2002 which killed 30, the most deadly bombing during the Second Intifada.
What did the prisoners want?
They were primarily protesting their conditions and have given the authorities a list of demands, thought to include:
- Reinstituting high school and academic studies (in the past they were allowed to study at the Open University).
- Facilitating family visits to prisoners from Gaza, (this is complicated by the fact that Gazans are generally allowed into Israel only for medical treatment or to organize trade).
- Improving the quality of the food.
- Improvement in their conditions and treatment by the Prisons Service, e.g. access to more TV channels.
- Another fundamental issue is campaigning against solitary confinement. There were 18 prisoners segregated as they were deemed a security threat if they were allowed in with the general population.
What is administrative detention?
- Around 300 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are held under administrative detention, which is a set of legal procedures which allows the state to hold terror suspects for up to six months without charge. This period can be renewed upon expiry. The law restricts the use of such measures to cases in which there is intelligence that demonstrates the detainee is a threat to security, but where a prosecution is not possible.
- Evidence to justify the detention is presented to military judges before approval. Appeals against detention can also be made by any party to Israel’s Supreme Court. Suspects are entitled to legal counsel but are not obliged to be presented with the evidence collected against them.
- The practice is permitted under international law in some circumstances. In both Britain and the United States the legislative and judicial systems have also struggled with the problem of dealing with threats from extremists where prosecutions are not always possible. The UK law currently allows for individuals to be held for 14 days without charge (previously 28 days). UK law also allows extensive restrictions for up to two years on the liberty of terror suspects who cannot be prosecuted, through Terrorism Investigation and Prevention Measures (formerly called Control Orders). In such cases, suspects are also not shown sensitive intelligence evidence held against them. Since 2001 the US has held hundreds of terror suspects without charge or legal recourse as enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay.
- The number of Palestinians held under administrative detention orders in Israel, currently around 300, is steadily decreasing. In 2007 there were 3,059 cases, in 2011 the numbers were 855.
- When the case of Bilal Diab underwent judicial review on 14 February 2012, the military judge, Major Shimon Ashuel wrote: “My impression is that administrative detention is the only available tool to negate the danger the detainee poses. Therefore, no other option can be used with him, other than administrative detention, which will mitigate the danger he poses.”
- In the case of Thaar Halahleh, reviewed on 7 March 2012, the military judge Lt. Col. Dalia Kaufman said: “In his numerous substantial activities with the World Jihad organization, there is a clear and present danger to regional security. Not only that, there is proof that point to his continued activity even after his arrest and detention. Because of the inherent danger posed by the detainee, I believe that the duration of the order is reasonable and proportional.”
Is there a precedent?
- In October 2011 around 400 prisoners from the Popular Front for the Liberation Palestine (PFLP) went on a hunger strike that lasted 21 days. The strike ended without achieving its aims because they did not receive the public’s support. Its termination coincided with the release of 477 prisoners in the Gilad Shalit deal.
- In 2004 over 1,000 prisoners went on hunger strike. On this occasion it came to an end when Marwan Barghouti was photographed eating in his prison cell.
- More recently there have been a couple of high profile hunger strikers. Ironically, one of those, Adnan Khader, an Islamic Jihad activist, was released on the same day the hunger strike begun. He was protesting at being held in administrative detention and had been on a 66-day hunger strike.
How did the Israeli Prison Service handle the strike?
- The Israeli Prisons Service acted according to their procedures by separating the strikers and the non-strikers. This was done primarily to allow medical monitoring. The strikers agreed to accept saline solution and some vitamins and glucose.
- Similarly, according to protocol, striking prisoners were denied various privileges. This included receiving visitors (those from the West Bank), watching TV, and access to the canteen.