Khalil Awawdeh, the Palestinian on a hunger strike since March

USA & World

Khalil Awawdeh, the Palestinian on a hunger strike since March

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

The 40-year-old Awawdeh has been on a continuing hunger strike for more than 160 days in protest at his continued detention by Israel without trial or charge, a process known as “administrative detention”, since his arrest in December 2021.

What is Awawdeh’s current health condition?

    As he nears the sixth month of his hunger strike, Awawdeh is in a critical health condition, weighing 38 kilogrammes (84 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?

    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. However, Israeli authorities have so far refused to release him, and on Sunday the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by his lawyer for his immediate release. The PIJ has said that Awawdeh should have been released as part of the August 7 ceasefire deal, as Egypt had promised to work towards his release. 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.

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.