A Palestinian political prisoner has been taken to hospital and is in a critical condition as he continues to refuse food in protest at being imprisoned by Israel without charges, a Palestinian official has told Al Jazeera. Muhammad al-Qeq, a 33-year-old journalist from the occupied West Bank village of Dura, launched his fast on November 24 in protest against his administrative detention, a practice in which Israel imprisons Palestinians on “secret evidence” and without trial or charges.
“He hasn’t eaten in 49 days and his health is very bad now,” Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Authority’s prisoner committee, told Al Jazeera, adding that Qeq had been transferred to Afula hospital in northern Israel. “He has many serious health issues and we fear he is nearing death,” Qaraqe said, adding that the prisoner has lost 22kg.
“We are worried that Israeli prison authorities will force-feed him,” he said, referring to the Israeli government’s legalisation of July 2015 that allows the force-feeding of prisoners who refuse to eat.
Explaining that Qeq temporarily slipped into a coma over the weekend, Qaraqe said that the Palestinian government was calling on international organisations and human rights groups to intervene on behalf of the prisoner and “help save his life”.
The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), a press rights group, called in a statement published earlier this week for Israel to release Qeq . In addition to Qeq, at least two other Palestinian political prisoners are on hunger strike behind Israeli bars, Qaraqe said.
Abdullah Abu Jaber, a dual Palestinian-Jordanian national who has been serving a 20-year sentence since 2000, renewed a hunger strike on December 31 and is demanding to be transferred to a Jordanian prison to complete the final five years of his sentence. “We have been in contact with the Jordanian government,” Qaraqe said, declining to elaborate as to whether Jordan has requested that Israel transfer the prisoner.
Kifah Hattab, another prisoner from the Tulkarem area of the West Bank, is serving two life-sentences. He was arrested and sentenced in 2003 for alleged involvement in an armed organisation. Because he was employed by the PA security services, Hattab, who has refused to eat since November 25, is demanding to be recognised as a prisoner of war in compliance with the Third Geneva Convention.
“Israeli authorities have also prevented his relatives from visiting him in prison,” Qaraqe said. Hattab was recently transferred to a hospital, as well. The Israel Prison Service did not reply to Al Jazeera’s request for a comment. According to Addameer, a Ramallah-based prisoners’ rights group, there are an estimated 6,800 Palestinians being held in prison in Israel.
“Israeli forces target academics, professionals, journalists, student activists and other influential leaders in the community by using administrative detention,” he told Al Jazeera. Hunger strikes are a common tactic for Palestinian prisoners to secure their release or to protest against the conditions of their imprisonment.
Mohammed Allan, a lawyer who was also an administrative detainee, went 66 days without food and temporarily went into a coma. He suspended his strike in August 2015 and was released three months later. Qeq is not the first journalist to stage a hunger strike against Israel’s use of administrative detention.
Nidal Abu Aker, 47, a radio host, launched a weeks-long hunger strike during his 18-month administrative detention. He was released in December. The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor’s director Abdu says that prisoners will continue to launch hunger strikes behind bars as long as they “feel they have no other choice”.
“Prisoners believe this is their only tool to make people aware of their suffering,” he said. “It is not just about what they do inside the prisons – they are part of the Palestinian national liberation struggle.”