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Khalil Awawdeh – Palestinian Political Prisoner on Hunger Strike since 3 March 2022

This is the first in a monthly series of profiles on Palestinian Political Prisoners

Khalil Awawdeh is a Palestinian political prisoner, husband, and father of four. He is currently facing severe health difficulties in hospital, as he continues his hunger strike against Israel’s inhumane carceral system. Awawdeh is imprisoned under administrative detention, meaning he has not been charged, faces no trial, and has no access to any supposed evidence against him. His family have called upon the international community to support his strike and demand his immediate release, noting that he is on the precipice of death having not eaten for over eighty days.

Awawdeh was recently rushed to the Asaf Harofeh Hospital in Israel after his health condition worsened drastically. The severe pain and fatigue associated with this malnourishment has confined him to a wheelchair. He has lost twenty-kilograms of weight and is suffering with an irregular heartbeat, impaired vision, and nerve damage.

His wife and four daughters have decried Israel’s cruel system of administrative detention, against which he is on strike, and expressed concern that his time is running out. “Khalil went through this hunger strike over the issue of public Palestine – administrative detention – which is a sword on the necks of the entire Palestinian people.”

Israel’s widely derided system of administrative detention is frequently cited as one which arbitrarily targets and suppresses Palestinians. Awawdeh’s hunger strike comes amid a coordinated prisoners’ boycott against the system. Detainees and their lawyers have refused to attend Israeli military court proceedings since the start of this year. Israel’s military judicial system has been condemned by the likes of Amnesty International as a key component of Israel’s apartheid apparatus over the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Israel’s military courts have a conviction rate of over 98%, where both judges and prosecutors are soldiers in Israeli military uniform. The system of administrative detention resembles the 1967 Terrorism Act of the South African Apartheid regime, which allowed people to be detained as security risks for up to sixty days without trial or charge. Under administrative detention, Palestinians are frequently detained in intervals between three and six months, which can be renewed indefinitely. Administrative detainees are imprisoned based on undisclosed evidence that even their lawyers are barred from viewing.

Khalil Awawdeh has cumulatively spent five years of his life as an administrative detainee. He embarked on his hunger strike on 3 March 2022, against his arbitrary detention and calling for the abolition of the administrative detention in Israel.

As a taxi driver, Awawdeh’s family rely on his support to put food on the table, and are desperate for his release. Awawdeh has four daughters, all under the age of ten, who have not seen him since his arrest. They know from his previous experience that he could be detained for several years under administrative detention.

His wife Dalal, who has only been permitted to visit him once, prior to his hunger strike, is fearful that he will be martyred. She has issued a plea to international human rights organisations, calling for their support. “What do human rights activists and other organisations expect? Reach 100 or 140 days like other prisoners? I call on all these institutions to intervene to save Khalil’s life before, God forbid, nothing happens.”

Once a Palestinian prisoner announces their hunger strike, they are generally isolated from fellow prisoners and transferred to solitary confinement. This was the case with Awawdeh, who has faced immense physical and psychological distress at the hands of the Israeli carceral system. In addition to solitary confinement, he has been denied a shower or change of clothes for over a month.

Besides Awawdeh, there are several other Palestinian prisoners whose lives are in imminent danger, including Nasser Aby Hmaid and Ali Hroub who suffer from cancer. Raed Rayyan, also under administrative detention, is into his second month of his hunger strike to demand his freedom. There are currently close to five thousand Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, of which six-hundred are administrative detainees.

United Nations’ experts have criticised Israel’s use of administrative detention as a violation of international humanitarian law. The state drives prisoners to take drastic measures to defend themselves against arbitrary arrests and detention without trial. Khalil Awawdeh is not the first prisoner to be pushed to such extremes. His plight, and that of his family, exemplifies the excruciating costs of resistance against a well-established occupation force. They will take hope from the growing number of states and human-rights organisations to publicly recognise Israel’s crimes of apartheid against Palestinians. Whether this international pressure is enough to free Awawdeh and his fellow political prisoners, however, remains to be seen.

Mahfouz Raffee is a researcher and activist with the Palestine Solidarity Alliance. He is presently engaged in campaigns in support of Palestinian students, academics, and political prisoners – drawing links between past and present decolonial movements in Africa and Palestine.