Palestinian detainee ends hunger strike, expects release
A Palestinian detainee held by Israel without charge or trial said Wednesday that he is ending his nearly six-month hunger strike after reaching an agreement that will see him released in October.
Lawyers and physicians had warned that the Khalil Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four from the occupied West Bank, was at risk of dying and already suffering neurological damage from the prolonged hunger strike. In recent pictures, he appears extremely gaunt and ill, his skin tightly stretched over a bony frame.
In a video circulated online Wednesday and apparently shot from his hospital bed, Awawdeh confirmed that an agreement had been reached for his release, calling it a “resounding victory” for the Palestinian people.
Awawdeh was protesting being held without charge or trial in what’s known as administrative detention. Israel says the practice is needed to keep dangerous militants off the streets without revealing sensitive intelligence. The Palestinians and rights groups say it denies detainees the basic right of due process.
The Commission of Detainee Affairs, part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Awawdeh had reached an agreement that would see him released on Oct. 2, “after fighting an epic battle for which he sacrificed his flesh and life.”
It said he will remain in an Israeli hospital until he has fully recovered.
The exact details of the agreement were unclear. The Israeli military, the prison service and the Defense Ministry declined to comment. The Shin Bet internal security service did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel accuses Awawdeh of being a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group, an allegation he denies. The group had demanded his release as part of the cease-fire that ended three days of heavy fighting in Gaza earlier this month, without identifying him as a member.
Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said this week that her client weighs 37 kilograms (around 80 pounds) and is suffering from neurological damage. He took vitamins over two weeks in June when he thought his case was being resolved but has otherwise only had water since the strike began in March, his family says.
Israel had officially suspended his arrest, but he remained in custody at an Israeli hospital.
Several Palestinians have gone on prolonged hunger strike in recent years to protest being held in administrative detention. In most cases, Israel has eventually released them after their health significantly deteriorated. None have died in custody, but many have suffered irreparable neurological damage.
Israel is currently holding some 743 administrative detainees, the highest number since 2008, according to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which tracks the number using official figures obtained through freedom of information requests.
The number of administrative detainees has shot up in recent months as Israeli forces have carried out nightly raids in the occupied West Bank following a series of deadly attacks against Israelis earlier this year. Nearly all administrative detainees are Palestinian, as the practice is rarely used with Jewish detainees.
“Administrative detention should be a rare, exceptional measure, but it’s standard practice in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, with hundreds of people held for months at a time, without charge or trial, solely on the basis of secret information,” said Jessica Montell, the director of HaMoked. “All of these detainees should be given a fair trial or released immediately.”
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. The Palestinians view all of them as political prisoners held for resisting Israel’s 55-year military occupation of territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel contributed to this report.