A Palestinian Hunger Striker Is Dying in an Israeli Hospital

Palestinian detainee Mohammad al-Qiq is dying at Haemek Hospital in Afula. Qiq, whose administrative detention was suspended last week when his condition worsened, is conscious but non-communicative. He’s lost his hearing and ability to speak. On Saturday, his hunger strike entered its 81st day. In the West Bank village of Dura, his family waits for news, including his wife Fayhaa and their two small children, Islam and Lur. They haven’t seen him since November 20.

Meanwhile, the anonymous Shin Bet security service officers who recommended Qiq’s be arrested without trial or evidence continue to live and work normally in their homes and offices. They and the politicians will not bend when faced with hospital photographs that recall a “muselmann” (concentration camp inmate who is slowly dying). As far as they’re concerned, Qiq can die.

Life at home and work also continue as per usual for justices Elyakim Rubinstein (deputy to the Supreme Court president), Zvi Zylbertal and Daphne Barak-Erez – the High Court justices who approved his detention without trial, charges or the right to a defense.

They ordered his detention order be suspended on February 4 – but only due to his deteriorating health. It’s no longer necessary to handcuff him to his bed, they said, ruling against the state. His family can visit him, they magnanimously decreed. However, he will remain in the intensive care unit at the Afula hospital. He won’t be released or charged, remaining instead a suspended detainee. A new legal invention.

This is what they wrote in their convoluted ruling: “After deliberating, we came to the conclusion that due to the plaintiff’s medical condition, as shown in the detailed and updated report, and as human beings we wish him a speedy recovery, he brought this on himself, including the severe neurological and communication impairment – a risk that compels at this time the imposing of a detention order designed to prevent rather than punish. We’ve therefore decided to suspend the administrative detention order … so that when his condition stabilizes and he asks to leave the hospital, he should turn to the authorities and his rights to petition are maintained. This is a suspension, with the implied interpretation, and not an expression of our opinion.”

Two Israeli social activists, Anat Lev and Anat Rimon-Or, arrived in front of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Friday. They tried to meet President Reuven Rivlin so that he might intervene and prevent the death by starvation of a human being. When the president failed to show up and Shabbat approached, they decided to stay put and go on a hunger strike, sitting on mattresses on the sidewalk. Behind them is a building that once housed the military court of the British Mandate, “in which trials of Jewish underground fighters, who did not accept the court’s jurisdiction, took place” (as is written on a plaque by the gate).

Rimon-Or, who teaches philosophy and education at the Beit Berl College, said on Friday, “I see a person who is saying, ‘I do not play by your rules.’ Oppression exists on so many levels and we – if we can’t do anything and our battle is lost, let us at least show some personal responsibility by saying an emphatic no.” Previously, she stood outside the Afula hospital for two weeks, holding a placard calling for Qiq’s release. “I was there because I felt helpless in the face of everything that’s happening,” she explained.

After the judges suspended the detention order, people started visiting Qiq, including Palestinian and Jewish activists (all of them Israeli citizens). Lev entered his room and saw “a man crying out in pain, without voice.” Last Tuesday, a dozen right-wing activists came to the hospital “to express their dismay at expressions of concern for an Arab,” as Rimon-Or puts it, and to demonstrate against the other activists. Two women launched an amazing stream of invective that Rimon-Or found hard to repeat, including “whores,” “terrorists,” and “Jewess-abductors.” One Israeli-Palestinian answered in kind, so the women lodged a complaint against him. He is now suspected of sexual harassment.

Last Wednesday, several activists summoned an ambulance to take Qiq to a hospital in Ramallah. They assumed that he’d agree to resume eating there. The hospital quickly filled with security personnel, who foiled the transfer. On Friday, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club filed another petition with the High Court, asking it to order Qiq’s transfer to Ramallah. “This is our last resort,” said attorney Ashraf Abu Sneineh.

Some of the activists used their smartphones to show Qiq a video in which his family expressed their support. His wife Fayhaa told Haaretz, “We object to the High Court’s ruling allowing us to visit him. We won’t be part of this game – ‘Please kiss your children and remain a suspended detainee.’ We want him out. We don’t know what the state is relying on if it thinks it can withstand the results of his strike. We, the family, know we can handle the results.

“His condition is very grave – the children know that their father is held by the army and that he’s sick,” she added. “They don’t quite understand the meaning of a hunger strike. I tell them their father is a hero and try to tell them that if, God forbid, something happens to him, he’ll be in paradise.”

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