Mahmoud al-Ramahi is secretary-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council, an Italian-educated doctor and the father of five. Ever since taking this position after the Hamas electoral victory in 2006, he has suffered continued detention at the hands of Israeli occupation forces. He was last re-arrested in Nov. 12, 2012. He had been released five months earlier after a series of repeated administrative detentions. He is currently held in the Ketiziot prison in the Negev desert without charges.
Mazen Natshe, father of three, was re-arrested Aug. 26, 2013. He had spent just five months free before that, after 41 months of continuous administrative detention.
Salem Dirdisawi, from al-Bireh, was arrested April 28, 2014, and is held in solitary confinement in the Ayalon prison.
Ahmad Rimawi was 18 when he was arrested in November 2012 and is the youngest Palestinian administrative detainee on hunger strike. He is being held in the Negev.
The above is a small sample of Palestinians held by Israel without charges, generally referred to as administrative detainees. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, 186 Palestinians are currently being held without charges.
About 140 of these prisoners declared a new hunger strike on April 24 demanding an end to a situation internationally recognized as illegal. A campaign to support the striking prisoners has spread from Palestine all over the world, with a high visibility on social media. On May 8, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners joined their fellow inmates in a one-day supportive hunger strike. Daily protests are ongoing in Palestine and many Arab countries such as Jordan. Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti has also joined the hunger strike.
Administrative detention is a relic of the British Mandate era. The original aim of the practice was to hold individuals for a short period as a precaution. Instead, it has become a common tool for the Israelis when they are unable to provide enough evidence to actually convict someone of a crime in Israel’s military courts. The 1945 British State of Emergency Regulations were harshly criticized before the establishment of Israel by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and two former justice ministers, Yakov Shimshon Shapira and Dov Yosef.
An administrative detainee is held for six months without seeing a judge. When a judicial review does take place, secret files are usually presented by the Israeli intelligence service and neither the prisoner nor his lawyer is allowed to see or attempt to refute the materials. Military judges routinely approve requests to extend six-month detentions. Prisoners can be held for years without ever facing a single charge or having the court formally consider the justification for their detention.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have publicly criticized administrative detention as a violation of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The covenant states: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that administrative detention shall be practiced only for imperative reasons of security.
Palestinians are hoping that what they call the “battle of the empty stomach” will produce enough activity in Palestine and around the world to cause Israel to scrap this undemocratic practice. A similar campaign took place two years ago, when Khader Adnan, who was repeatedly administratively detained, went on a hunger strike that continued for 66 days and ended with the Israeli authorities agreeing not to renew his detention. He is a free man.
Jawwad Boulous, a longtime legal advocate for Palestinian prisoners, expects the prisoners to succeed in their quest. Boulous told Al-Monitor that he is sure this strike will produce concrete results, saying, “While the goal of ending administrative detention is the main theme of the strike, I am certain that before ending this strike, the prisoners will extract concessions from the Israelis to refrain from automatically renewing the detention orders, especially for some of the prisoners who have been held in jail for years without charge or trial.”
The failure of the peace talks and the current reconciliation between the PLO and Hamas is expected to provide a strong impetus to supporters of Palestinians around the world to join hunger-striking prisoners. The requirement that prisoners be charged and tried or released is a core value of any democracy. Israel, which repeatedly calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East, will have a hard time defending the continued detention of a doctor, a teenager or a father of three simply based on secret files.
As the hunger strike continues to gain momentum, it is expected that the numbers and intensity of protests in Palestine will dramatically increase. As the lives of prisoners become jeopardized, the protests will become much more powerful. The hunger strike, along with Palestinian protests, will also invigorate the Palestinian diaspora as well as solidarity groups around the world.