Palestinian hunger striker moved to hospital as health worsens

Palestinian hunger striker moved to hospital as health worsens

A Palestinian prisoner on a protracted hunger strike has been moved from an Israeli jail to a hospital because of his worsening health condition, his wife said.

Khalil Awawdeh has refused food for more than 160 days in a bid to draw attention to his detention by Israeli forces without trial or charge.

Dalal Awawdeh, Khalil’s wife, said his condition had deteriorated, prompting Israeli authorities to move him to a hospital on Thursday.

Israeli forces arrested the 40-year-old father of four in December accusing him of being a member of an armed group – an accusation that Awawdeh’s lawyer Ahlam Haddad said his client denies.

Awawdeh now requires a wheelchair and is showing memory loss and speech difficulties, his lawyer said.

The case was thrust into the spotlight during last weekend’s attacks on Gaza by Israeli forces. Palestinian fighters demanded that Awawdeh be released as part of a ceasefire agreement that ended the fighting. The Israeli attacks from Friday to Sunday killed 47 people in Gaza.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club, which represents former and current prisoners, confirmed that Awawdeh’s condition had worsened.

“He is in a real life-threatening situation,” said Qadura Fares, the head of the organisation.

“He could die at any moment.”

Risk of brain damage

Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, said Awawdeh had ended his hunger strike once after Israeli authorities said his detention without charge would end. Israel then extended his detention instead, Ibrahim said.

“Let’s not forget that he has been on hunger strike for more than 150 days, but during those days he was promised that his detention without charges is going to end, so he suspended his strike,” Ibrahim said.

“But then the Israeli forces have renewed his detention … leading him to go back to his hunger strike. We’ve been hearing from medical officials here in Palestine saying his health is deteriorating, he could be at risk of brain damage.”

Some analysts also believe that moving Awawdeh to hospital might be a way for Israel to prepare for his “potential release”, Ibrahim said.

The worsening conditions of hunger-striking prisoners have in the past whipped up tensions with the Palestinians, and in some cases prompted Israel to accede to hunger strikers’ demands.

Awawdeh’s case also highlights the plight of hundreds of Palestinians who are being held by Israeli forces under a system that critics say denies them the right to due process.

Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinians, including fighters who have carried out attacks and people arrested at protests or for throwing stones.

About 670 Palestinians are now being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.

Palestinians and human rights groups say administrative detention is designed to quash opposition and maintain permanent control over millions of Palestinians while denying them their basic rights.

Israel says it follows due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.