Palestinian hunger striker held by Israel could die at any time, doctor warns

Palestinian hunger striker held by Israel could die at any time, doctor warns

A Palestinian hunger striker held by Israel is in critical condition and could die at any time from a range of illnesses, a doctor who has examined him said Monday after the country’s High Court of Justice rejected an appeal to release the man.

Khalil Awawdeh, 40, has been on a hunger strike since March to protest his so-called administrative detention, an Israeli policy of holding Palestinians for alleged involvement in militant activity. Detainees can be held without charge or trial for months or years at a time, without seeing the purported evidence against them. Israel describes the policy as a necessary security measure, while critics say it is a violation of due process.

Awawdeh’s family says he has been on the hunger strike for 170 days, subsisting only on water. Photos of Awawdeh taken by his lawyer on Friday showed him emaciated and lying in a hospital bed.

Dr. Lina Qasem-Hassan, a doctor with Physicians for Human Rights who visited Awadeh earlier this month, said he was extremely thin and suffering from malnutrition.

She said there are signs of neurological damage, with symptoms like memory loss, an inability to concentrate, involuntary eye movement and a near loss of vision. She said there was a risk of heart failure or kidney failure at any time.

“There is no doubt there is a risk for his life,” she said.

Dalal, the wife of Khalil Awawdeh, a Palestinian prisoner in Israel, displays his picture at the family house, in the West Bank town of Idna, west of Hebron, Aug. 17, 2022. I(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

A military court on Friday temporarily suspended the detention of Khalil Awawdeh to allow him to receive medical care at an Israeli hospital with no restrictions but said he would be rearrested once his condition was better and he could return to jail.

His lawyer, Ahlam Haddad, submitted an appeal last week to the High Court of Justice to have his client’s detention revoked completely, but it was rejected on Sunday.

In its ruling, the top court said it had examined classified security information about Awawdeh and determined there was “solid and strong justification for the decision of administrative detention.”

Haddad said she would file another request for his release as soon as his condition worsens. “This is the equation, a difficult equation,” she said.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Awawdeh received a visit on Monday from Joint List MK Ofer Cassif, who in a video statement recorded beside the hunger-striker’s hospital bed characterized his administrative detention as a “kidnapping” by the IDF and expressed his solidarity with the effort.

Joint List MK Ofer Cassif (R) visits hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Khalil Awawdeh at the Asaf Harofeh Hospital in Be’er Ya’akov on August 22, 2022. (Screen capture/Channel 13)

A barely audible Awawdeh muttered his thanks to Cassif in response.

The Israeli military arrested Awawdeh last December, claiming he was an operative for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group — an allegation that his lawyer has dismissed.

PIJ demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month, but it did not identify him as a member.

Awawdeh is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes in recent years to protest their administrative detentions. Many continued to suffer permanent health problems after their release.

Israel says administrative detentions help keep terrorists off the streets and allow the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence or evidence against the suspects. Critics say it denies prisoners due process and is aimed at quashing opposition to Israel’s 55-year occupation of territories the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including ones who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones.

File: Protesters gather with a Palestinian flag outside a hospital in Be’er Yaakov where a hunger-striking security prisoner, Khalil Awawdeh, pictured in the placards, is in deteriorating health, August 13, 2022. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that has jumped since March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank following a series of terror attacks.

Awawdeh’s family says he has not eaten food since March, though he took some vitamin supplements over two weeks in June when he thought his case was being resolved.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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