Bilal Kayed suspends hunger strike as prison struggles continue

Palestinians rally in solidarity with hunger striker Bilal Kayed, in front of the Red Cross offices in the occupied West Bank town of al-Bireh, on 24 August.

Shadi Hatem APA images

After refusing food for 71 days, Bilal Kayed has announced that he is suspending his hunger strike.

At a press conference on Thursday, Kayed’s lawyers with Addameer revealed details of the agreement with Israeli authorities that led to the suspension of his strike. Kayed will be released from administrative detention in December, after completing six months.

Addameer director Sahar Francis said that Israeli military prosecutors had wanted Kayed be exiled from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories for four years as part of the agreement, before backing down. Kayed will remain in an Israeli hospital until his health improves.

Kayed had vowed to continue his hunger strike until he was released from Israeli prison. His strike prompted at least 100 other Palestinian prisoners from several political factions to maintain a rolling, collective hunger strike in support of his release.

News that Kayed had suspended his strike was greeted with spontaneous celebrations in his home village of Asira al-Shamaliya near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli forces forcibly broke up a rally in solidarity with Kayed, near occupied East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. Videos released by Palestinian media show women activists defending themselves against Israeli forces.

The announcement of the suspension of Kayed’s hunger strike comes just days after the Israeli high court refused to rule on the lawfulness of the shackles that bound Kayed to his hospital bed while he undertook a life-threatening fast.

On 22 August, as the case came to the high court, Israeli authorities announced they had removed all restraints from Kayed, except one shackling an ankle to his bed.

As a result, the court said it could not rule on the issue as it considered Kayed to be no longer “fully restrained.”

Lawyer Tamir Blank of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel described the removal of some of his restraints as “an obvious and cynical tactical move by the state” to dodge a court ruling on the general policy of shackling hunger strikers.

In a statement, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel reported that the high court justices had noted that “the issues of principle raised in Kayed’s requests … deserved examination,” but they would not do so in this setting.

On 21 August, the night before the high court was scheduled to hear Kayed’s petition, his lawyer met with him in the intensive care unit at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

Farah Bayadsi of Addameer reported that at 68 days on hunger strike, Kayed had difficulty speaking and his vision was sharply deteriorating.

Kayed, who had only consumed salt and water since he launched his hunger strike on 15 June, finally agreed to eat a small amount of table sugar and some vitamin B1, which are recommended for hunger strikers in order to avoid neurological damage that often sets in after a strike has ended.

The Israeli doctor who has been monitoring Kayed, but from whom Kayed has rejected any treatment, said he was at imminent risk of losing consciousness.

The doctor told Kayed and his lawyers that if he did lose consciousness, the hospital would treat him against his wishes.

Forced treatment or feeding is a violation of the World Medical Association’s Malta Declaration, which forbids both applying pressure to end a hunger strike and forced medical treatment.

The United Nations’ Istanbul Protocol stresses the need for physicians to obtain informed consent from competent patients before conducting any medical treatment.

A direct threat

Kayed was placed under administrative detention for six months after he completed a 14.5-year prison sentence for his alleged work with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

During his nearly 15 years in prison, his fellow prisoners elected Kayed to serve on the factional coordinating committees that planned the collective hunger strikes in 2011 and 2012, which at their height involved thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

For the last nine months of his sentence, Kayed was held in solitary confinement, Charlotte Kates, the international coordinator for the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, told The Electronic Intifada.

But upon his scheduled release, Israeli authorities decided he was a “security threat,” and ordered him to remain under administrative detention, the practice of holding people indefinitely without charge or trial.

“This isn’t just another administrative detainee,” Kates said. “This is a direct threat to every other Palestinian prisoner serving their sentence and also an attempt at retaliating against prisoners who are leaders of movements inside prisons.”

“[The hunger strike] is about stopping a precedent that threatens every one of the 7,000 Palestinian prisoners.” The strikers are demanding Kayed’s release.

The United Nations also commented on Kayed’s prolonged detention, condemning the practice of administrative detention.

“This is an egregious case, in which Mr. Kayed was placed on administrative detention on the day of his scheduled release after completing a 14.5-year prison sentence,” Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid in the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a press release.

“The number of administrative detainees is at an eight-year high,” Piper added. “I reiterate the United Nations long-standing position that all administrative detainees – Palestinian or Israeli – should be charged or released without delay.”

But Palestinians in the West Bank have denounced what they see as insufficient efforts by the UN to work on behalf of the hunger striking prisoners. In Ramallah, protesters blocked an entrance to a UN building over the weekend before being shut down by Palestinian Authority police forces.

Kates, speaking to The Electronic Intifada from Brussels, was recently denied entry by Israel to the occupied West Bank when she attempted to cross from Jordan.

Kates was travelling to accompany a delegation of European parliamentarians and lawyers in support of Kayed.

Kates said when she arrived at the final passport check, the Israeli security guard knew that she worked for a website for Palestinian political prisoners.

“They asked me, ‘are you here to do anything about Bilal Kayed?’”

Kates said she was also interrogated about her involvement with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and Israeli Apartheid Week.

She said she has not attempted to enter the West Bank since 2007 and travelled to Gaza in 2012 via the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Earlier this month, Israel announced it was forming a task force to root out and deport BDS activists.

Kates says that she has observed “an intensified policy of exclusion” of internationals over the last year, particularly focused on Palestinians holding international passports.

Kates emphasized that Palestinians still experience the most scrutiny at the border, and are more frequently denied access or given restricted access to the land.

More hunger strikers

Several prisoners continue their hunger strikes in protest at their own administrative detention. Palestinian journalist Omar Nazzal saw his administrative detention extended by an additional three months earlier in August.

The International Federation of Journalists denounced the extension.

“We are extremely concerned that the Israeli authorities are extending this policy and that they are allowed to do so ad infinitum,” said Philippe Leruth, the federation’s president.

Nazzal, 54, has been on hunger strike for 20 days. He was arrested on 23 April while attempting to cross into Jordan on his way to a journalism conference in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Hunger striker Mahmoud al-Balboul, meanwhile, was transferred to an Israeli hospital on 21 August after 50 days without food. His brother Muhammad has been on strike for 47 days.

Malik al-Qadi and Ayad Herama have been on strike for 39 days.

None of the strikers has been charged with any crime or stood trial.

Note: This article has been updated since initial publication.


Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.