By Paul Duer
Jerusalem, Aug 25 (EFE).- Khalil Awawdeh is at risk of dying after refusing food for 175 days in protest of his detention in an Israeli prison without charge or trial, the longest hunger strike ever held by a Palestinian prisoner in the history of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
In room number six at the Shamir medical center near Tel Aviv, an Israeli security guard finds it hard to even look at the 38 kilograms that remain of Awawdeh, enervated on a bed that symbolizes hope for hundreds of Palestinians arrested without charge.
“Freedom or death,” Awawdeh stammers as his eyes move involuntarily.
Awawdeh, a 41-year-old father of four from Idhna in the occupied West Bank area of Hebron, stopped eating on March 3 to protest his fifth incarceration in 20 years, believed to be due to his alleged ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, designated as a terrorist organization by Israel.
Three of his five arrests were under Israel’s administrative detention system, which is currently indefinitely holding more than 720 Palestinians — the highest number since 2008 — on secret information unknown even to their lawyers.
After the sharp deterioration in his health, Israel transferred Awawdeh to a hospital on Friday, where he has been able to receive visits but not from his parents and wife because they do not have the necessary permit to travel from the West Bank.
In recent weeks, Awawdeh’s release was demanded as part of negotiations between Israel and the Islamic Jihad that ended a three-day escalation of violence, in which 49 Palestinians were killed.
But refusing to release him and his worsening health condition have sparked tensions between Israel and truce mediator Egypt, according to local media.
“Hunger strikes have a long history in the movements of Palestinian prisoners,” Sahar Francis, director of the Palestinian NGO Addameer which provides legal support to prisoners, explains to Efe.
“Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 and after the first arrests that did not respect basic needs, Palestinian prisoners began to go on hunger strikes to get things like mattresses or pencil and paper,” she adds.
Since then, Palestinian detainees resorted to this method on countless occasions, including three hunger strikers who died after they were force-fed by the Israeli authorities in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, this method has started to grow weaker on the Israeli side, says Guy Shalev, manager of the Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
“The Israeli government doesn’t care about these people’s lives, it just cares about the pressure, and if there’s no pressure they don’t feel like they have to do anything about it,” he says.
“Israelis used to see Palestinian hunger strikers almost like suicide bombers, who were willing to sacrifice their own lives to unleash violence in the region, but now that doesn’t happen anymore,” he adds.
Administrative detentions represent the most extreme case of deprivation of liberty for Palestinians, since “the lack of control is absolute” and they can only resort to “control of their own body as a form of resistance.” EFE