Khalil Awawdeh declares victory, ends 6-month hunger strike

People hold posters and flags on the sidewalk

Activists demonstrate outside the Shamir Medical Center in Tel Aviv in solidarity with Khalil Awawdeh on 13 August 2022.

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Khalil Awawdeh declared the end of his hunger strike on Wednesday, after Israel agreed to release him on 2 October.

He has been on the verge of death after refusing food for some 180 days in a struggle for freedom no human being should ever have to wage.

In a video message from his hospital bed, Awawdeh said, “This resounding victory extends the series of great victories achieved by the mighty and honorable people of this nation.”

In the meantime, Awawdeh will remain hospitalized until he recovers.

Over the course of his months-long hunger strike against his “administrative detention,” the 40-year-old father of four has lost over half of his body weight. His medical condition has been dire and deteriorating rapidly.

“He is at risk of death and irreversible damage,” Physicians for Human Rights-Israel warned on Sunday.

He has “severe neurological symptoms and cognitive impairment, which might be irreversible,” the group stated.

Last week, Israel denied his family permission to visit him in hospital, and he had no contact with his lawyer.

No progress

More than 50 Palestinian and Jewish Israeli doctors had urged Israel to release Awawdeh and to end its administrative detention policy.

In spite of that, on Tuesday, Israel’s high court denied his release petition for the second time in a month, even though Israel had agreed to discuss his release as part of a ceasefire with Islamic Jihad.

Even the European Union, which rarely demands that its Israeli partners release Palestinian prisoners, urged that Awawdeh be freed or charged immediately.

The EU’s diplomatic mission in occupied East Jerusalem said it was “shocked by the horrible pictures of Awawdeh,” stressing that “he has to be released.”

In an attempt to absolve itself of responsibility for Awawdeh’s health, Israel “froze” his detention earlier this month.

But this word play changed nothing for Awawdeh, so he continued his protest.

Israel has increasingly resorted to “freezing” detentions of Palestinian hunger strikers protesting their administrative detention in order to evade responsibility for their lives.

It is “one of the most dangerous inventions that the occupation’s high court has come up with since 2015,” the Palestinian Prisoners Club recently said.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem previously called it “an interpretive solution invented by the high court in order to avoid reaching a decision on – and taking responsibility for – administrative detainees on the verge of death.”

Adalah, a legal advocacy organization for Palestinians in Israel, said it held Israel’s government, as well as its military and judicial systems, “responsible for the danger posed to Awawdeh’s life.”

Israeli military courts issue administrative detention orders for Palestinians without charging or trying them. The orders are typically issued for up to six months at a time but can be renewed indefinitely.

Israel claims it has “secret evidence” against these detainees, but neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see or challenge it.

This Israeli practice is a direct continuation of British colonial rule and may constitute a war crime, according to human rights groups.

Meanwhile, approximately 1,000 Palestinian prisoners will launch a mass hunger strike on Thursday.

They are protesting their living conditions and the failure of the Israeli prison authorities to meet their demands.

Palestinian children take part in a protest in solidarity with Ahmad Manasra in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 16 April 2022.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Third of his life

The European Union demanded that Israel release another Palestinian this month.

Ahmad Manasra, 21, has spent a third of his life in Israeli detention. He has been in solitary confinement since November.

An Israeli court ordered the confinement be extended until at least November of this year.

“It is outrageous that the Israeli authorities have renewed Ahmad Manasra’s spell in solitary confinement,” Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East regional director said in early August.

“Continuing to detain Ahmad Manasra in such inhumane conditions is a callous act of injustice. Ahmad has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is severely depressed.”

Manasra was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2016 for his alleged role in the stabbing and injuring of two Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem the year before.

During the incident his 15-year-old cousin Hassan was shot dead by Israeli police. Ahmad, then 13, was hit by a car as he ran away.

Disturbing footage uploaded later saw the seriously hurt Ahmad surrounded by Israelis shouting curses at the boy as he lay on the ground. The indictment against him did not at any point suggest that Ahmad had himself stabbed anyone, and the boy denied any intention to murder, to which prosecutors had wanted him to confess.

An interrogation video leaked by Palestinian media in 2015 brought Manasra’s case to a wider audience.

The footage shows an Israeli interrogator repeatedly accusing the boy of attempted murder, while the child insists he has no memory of it.

In August, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s envoy to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, visited Manasra’s family and demanded that their son “immediately be released to receive necessary mental health care and counseling.”

Several UN human rights experts have also urged Israel to release him.

“Ahmad’s imprisonment for almost six years has deprived him of childhood, family environment, protection, and all the rights he should have been guaranteed as a child,” the experts said in July.

“The gut-wrenching scenes of a child with broken bones laying on the ground under a barrage of insults and threats shouted by armed adults in a foreign language; of that very same boy being spoon-fed by unfamiliar hands while chained to a hospital bed and then violently interrogated in breach of human rights norms and principles concerning arrest and detention of a child, continue to haunt our conscience,” the experts said.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.