Administrative detention is a policy by which Israel detains suspected militants without formal charge indefinitely. Israeli sources put the number of hunger strikers at roughly 1,600; Palestinian sources at 2,500. Two participants, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, refused food for seventy-seven days, making this the longest and largest Palestinian hunger strike to date.
According to a statement made by Palestinian minister of detainees, Issa Qaraqe at a press conference held that evening in a protest tent in the Central West Bank city of Ramallah, the agreement stipulates that administrative detainees will have their files examined by legal committees, and that their detentions will not be renewed unless new evidence is submitted.
Activists are calling this a victory both for Palestine and for the use of non-violent protest tactics. Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement that “The hunger strikers’ courage is magnificently inspiring, and their selflessness deeply humbling. They have truly demonstrated that non-violent resistance is an essential tool in our struggle for freedom.”
Bruce Katz, co-founder of Montreal-based human rights organization Palestinian and Jewish Unity (PAJU), says that while “this is an important political victory for Palestinians,” that “this process of arbitrary arrest for political ends, for the purposes of intimidating the Palestinian population, is nowhere near over.”
Addameer, an NGO dedicated to supporting Palestinian political prisoners, has alleged in a statement released on May 24 that, in direct violation of the May 14 agreement, multiple extensions to administrative detentions have already been issued by the Israeli Prison Service.
According to Qaraqe, Israel has also agreed to end its solitary confinement policies within three days of the May 14 agreement, to allow for family visits for detainees from the Gaza strip, and to handing over the remains of one hundred Palestinians buried at the Numbers Graveyard. Family visits to prisoners from the Gaza strip were barred in 2006 when militants linked to Hamas captured and held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for five years.
Addameer has also alleged that one of the hunger strike’s first participants, Diab, has already been denied a family visit.
Since the first Intifada in 1989, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Israel has held thousands of administrative detainees for prolonged periods of time; often, for several years. Of the 308 current administrative detainees, more than a third have been held for over a year.
Israel has continued to defend administrative detention as a necessary security measure in a state of emergency. McGill political science professor and Israeli politics expert Harold Waller puts it this way: “Well of course nobody wants to use administrative detention. But Israel has retained its use because it faces unusually hostile circumstances.”
Neither administrative detainees nor their legal counsel are informed of charges laid or any evidence put forward, a fact which a 2003 United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee found undermined Israel’s appeal to article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in order to justify its use of administrative detention. Article 4 declares that states may infringe on a person’s right to a trial in the event of arrest “[i]n a time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.”
The UN Committee also expressed concern about the frequency with which administrative detention is used.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon released a statement six days before the strike ended urging that “those detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees, or released without delay.”
The strike sparked sympathy protests and demonstrations across the Occupied Territories, unsurprising among a population in which most families have had a direct experience with imprisonment. Katz points out that since 1967, nearly twenty percent of the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories has been imprisoned at least once. “Just to put that in perspective – if those numbers were applied to Canada, that would mean that about 7 million Canadians alive now would have been in prison at least once in their lives,” Katz told Alternatives. “Nearly half of all Palestinian men over 18 have been arrested at least once.”
Addameer director Sahar Francis told Mondoweiss that Israeli jails currently hold nearly 4,700 Palestinians; 220 of which are minors, and 27 of which are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.