"You are destroying my life and I want to know why. As a human being I have my own mind and I am educated, and I want to know what I am detained for. The military prosecution talks of its professionalism, and meanwhile I have no rights?"
Ahmad Qatamesh, prisoner of conscience held in administrative detention by the Israeli authorities, speaking at Ofer military court on October 31, 2011
For decades, the Israeli authorities have held Palestinians without charge or trial under renewable detention orders, denying them any semblance of justice. In the first half of 2012, detainees such as Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi engaged in prolonged hunger strikes to protest their incarceration without charges as well as ill-treatment during interrogation, denial of adequate medical care, and denial of family visits. Other detainees began their own hunger strikes to highlight the plight of the hundreds of administrative detainees and the routine violations endured by Palestinian prisoners. The protest grew, and a mass hunger strike began on 17 April 2012, with an estimated 2,000 prisoners and detainees demanding improved detention conditions, an end to solitary confinement, family visits for all detainees, and an end to administrative detention.
Palestinians held by Israel have used hunger strikes over the years to protest detention conditions and demand respect for their human rights, but in the wake of the wider protests which have taken place since early 2011 across the Middle East and North Africa, this recent wave of hunger strikes have had a greater resonance. Their non-violent protests – which brought several detainees close to death – drew global attention to the fact that Palestinian prisoners held by Israel continue to be starved of justice. Whether the protests have secured greater respect for Palestinian prisoners’ rights from the Israeli authorities remains to be seen, but the signs were not encouraging at the time of writing of this report in late May 2012.
Administrative detention is a form of detention without charge or trial. Its use may result in arbitrary detention and if prolonged or repeated can amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Other violations to which administrative detainees – as well as other Palestinian prisoners held by Israel – are routinely subjected include the use of torture and other ill-treatment during arrest and interrogation; poor prison conditions, including inadequate medical care; detention in prisons inside Israel rather than in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); and prohibitions on family visits. Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the OPT have been arrested – some of them repeatedly – by the Israeli security forces. At the time of writing, well over 4,000 – considered by the Israeli authorities to be “security prisoners” and thus held under harsher conditions than “criminal prisoners” – are detained or serving sentences in Israeli prisons. Over 300 of these “security prisoners” are held under administrative detention orders, with no intention to try them for any criminal offence, a violation of their right to a fair trial.
As the hunger strikes escalated, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) took systematic measures to punish hunger-striking prisoners and detainees and pressure them to end their strikes, putting their lives at risk. These measures included solitary confinement; preventing the detainees from contact with family members and lawyers; refusing to transfer hunger strikers whose health was in danger to hospitals suitable for their condition; and preventing detainees from seeing independent physicians so that they could receive accurate medical information from doctors they trusted. Some hunger striking detainees even reported physical assaults by IPS staff.