Khalil Awawdeh: Palestinian who was on a 172-day hunger strike

Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh was on a hunger strike demanding Israel end his continued detention without charge.

Palestinian administrative prisoner Khalil Awawdeh, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 160 days, is seen at Assaf Harofeh hospital in Be'er Ya'akov, Israel
Palestinian administrative prisoner Khalil Awawdeh's health is in a serious critical condition [Sinan Abu Mayzer/Reuters]

Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh ended his 172-day hunger strike on Wednesday, after obtaining a written agreement from Israel that it will not renew his detention in October.

The 40-year-old Awawdeh began his hunger strike last March protesting his administrative detention – a process where a prisoner is held by Israel without trial or charge and is subject to indefinite renewal – since his arrest in December 2021.

Awawdeh’s case was thrust into the spotlight during Israel’s recent bombardment of the blockaded Gaza Strip.

What is Awawdeh’s current health condition?

  • As he approached the sixth month of his hunger strike, Awawdeh’s health was described by his lawyer and the Palestinian prisoners’ commission as critical, with his body weighing 37 kilogrammes (80 pounds).
  • Doctors and prisoner rights groups have warned that the father of four from the village of Ithna, in the southern occupied West Bank, could die at any moment.
  • A doctor with Physicians for Human Rights, Lina Qasem-Hassan, who visited Awawdeh on August 11, said his life was in immediate danger.
  • Qasem-Hassan also said there were signs of neurological damage, including memory and a near-total loss of vision, as well as difficulties concentrating.

Is Awawdeh likely to be released by Israel?

  • Israeli authorities said they will not renew his detention when it is up for extension, meaning that he will be released on October 2.
  • An appeal filed by his lawyer last week demanding his immediate release had earlier been rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court.
  • Awawdeh will remain in hospital until he recovers.
  • The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed resistance group had demanded that Awawdeh be released as part of the conditions of an August 7 ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s three-day bombardment of Gaza, in which 49 Palestinians were killed, including 17 children.
  • Israel initially arrested Awawdeh on suspicion of being a PIJ “operative”, an allegation his lawyer has denied.
  • “I demand to be released after all this suffering. My hunger strike is like the bleeding of a long injury that has lasted for almost half a year,” Awawdeh told Al Jazeera from the Assaf Harofeh hospital, southeast of Tel Aviv. “Freedom is more valuable than anything else, dignity above everything. We are a nation that will not be defeated. God willing, we will get to our victory or we will die.”

Has Awawdeh been on a hunger strike before?

  • Awawdeh has spent a total of 12 years in Israeli prisons since the early 2000s, including five years in administrative detention, split into two periods.
  • After his arrest in December, Awawdeh went on a hunger strike for 111 days, before breaking it following an agreement with Israeli prison authorities to end his administrative detention.
  • Awawdeh resumed his hunger strike a week after breaking it, after authorities reneged on their promises to release him.
  • “There are many [Palestinian] prisoners who have been through this experience and were victorious,” Awawdeh’s wife, Dalal, told Al Jazeera. “Khalil, with his will and determination, will be victorious.”

What is administrative detention?

  • Out of the approximately 4,450 Palestinian prisoners currently held by Israel, about 670 are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that has increased since March as Israel stepped up its raids in the occupied West Bank.
  • Administrative detention is an Israeli policy that allows the indefinite detention of prisoners without trial or charge based on “secret evidence” that neither the detainee nor his lawyer is allowed to see.
  • Human rights groups describe Israel’s use of the practice as “systematic and arbitrary”, and a form of collective punishment, noting that its extensive use constitutes a violation of international law. They also say it denies prisoners due process.
  • Israel claims the policy is necessary for security reasons and allows the government to hold “dangerous suspects” without revealing intelligence information. They also say that it was used during the British Mandate for Palestine.
INTERACTIVE Palestinian Prisoners Israeli prisons August 2022
(Al Jazeera)

Why do prisoners decide to go on hunger strikes?

  • Awawdeh is the latest of a number of Palestinian prisoners in administrative detention to have embarked on individual hunger strikes to secure their freedom since late last year.
  • Hunger strikes have been used by prisoners around the world as a method of nonviolent resistance.
  • For Palestinian prisoners, it can draw international attention to their plight, which they hope will put pressure on their jailers and spur a policy change.
  • Healthy humans can survive up to eight weeks without food, but the risk of starvation differs from one person to another depending on body weight, genetics and other factors.
  • The tactic was used by British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century, Irish republicans, and most notably, Mahatma Gandhi, among many others. Under international human rights norms, hunger striking is seen as a form of freedom of expression, and a civil and political right.
Source: Al Jazeera