Last week, following 94 days of surviving solely on water, Palestinian journalist Mohammad Al Qiq ended his hunger strike. Al Qiq, in his early thirties, is the father of two small children. He was placed in Israel’s custody after its army stormed his West Bank home in the middle of the night last November. He was held without charge or trial, in a procedure misnamed “administrative detention”, but more aptly called kidnap. Following his kidnap, Al Qiq decided to go on a hunger strike in protest of his detention without charge or trial. His demand was simple: provide a fair trial or release me.
Al Qiq is one of an estimated 650 Palestinians, including two members of the Palestinian parliament, currently being held under this system of indefinite Israeli detention without charge or trial. Administrative detention orders rely heavily on secret evidence — often obtained by torturing other Palestinians — that cannot be challenged by the detainee and, owing to the lack of fair trials or due process, detention orders can be renewed indefinitely provided that the detainee is brought before a kangaroo court that issues its stamp of approval for renewed detention. Through this macabre system, Israel has imprisoned thousands, some for up to 11 years, without providing the minimum guarantees of a fair trial. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned Israel’s policy of administrative detention alongside other human rights organisations. Yet, despite these condemnations, Israel’s policy — in place for nearly 50 years — persists, with Palestinians undertaking prolonged hunger strikes to highlight their plight and demand their release. Al Qiq follows in the footsteps of several hunger strikers, most notably Mohammad Allan and Khader Adnan, all of whom were willing to whither away to nothing and die to secure their freedom.
But Al Qiq, like those who preceded him and those who will undoubtedly follow in his path, were oppressed not only by the system of administrative detention but by an Israeli judicial system that provides the Israeli army carte blanche to do whatever it pleases and by a public, including news media outlets, that refuses to question Israel’s actions.
Israel’s Supreme Court — a court long praised (erroneously) by legal scholars — has aided Israel’s administrative detention policy. Al Qiq’s lawyers sought his release before Israel’s top court, asserting that with his loss of hearing, inability to speak and his organs shutting down, Al Qiq posed no threat to Israel’s “security.” Yet, rather than declare this kidnap policy illegal or release Al Qiq, Israel’s highest court ordered that Al Qiq’s detention be “suspended” until his health improves while also denying him the right to be sent to a Palestinian hospital to receive treatment rather than remain in Israeli custody in an Israeli hospital. In other words, the court preferred to condemn him to die alone in an Israeli hospital while held without charge or trial.
Of course, we Palestinians have learned that we cannot expect relief from the court of our oppressors, for this is the same court that permits the demolition of homes and school, has granted Israel a free hand to maintain its siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.88 million residents, that has legitimated the use of torture against Palestinians, that has upheld countless racist Israeli laws and that has refused to stop Israel from taking over Palestinian land to build Israeli-only settlements. We Palestinians know very well that our freedom will never arrive from the hands of our oppressor’s courts. Indeed, Al Qiq reached a deal last week in which the Israeli authorities will release him in May, six months after his detention, and pledge not to re-arrest him. His release did not come at the hands of the Israel court but simply by staring Israel’s power in the face until it blinked.
But for all of his efforts and the untold health effects that his hunger strike caused, international news media outlets barely covered his case. As the number of days of Al Qiq’s hunger strike exceeded those of his predecessors, barely a word was written about Al Qiq. “How long can he last?” several reporters asked. “What did he do?” others asked.
To be fair, this mirrored current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who barely uttered a word about Al Qiq or his illegal detention. In other words, it was not newsworthy that Al Qiq and hundreds of others have been kidnapped by Israel, not newsworthy that a man abstained from food and water for 94 days and not newsworthy this highly, albeit erroneously, praised court has refused to intervene when a man refused to bow to Israel’s continued denial of his freedom.
Undoubtedly, there will be more hunger strikers as Palestinians continue to challenge Israel’s violent policies and practices. Not only have Al Qiq and his fellow hunger strikers underlined the strength of Palestinian resilience, they also have illuminated the shallowness of the international community’s willingness and resolution to end Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Palestinians should not have to starve for our freedom.