Israeli court rules against Palestinian hunger-strikers
Published Monday 07/05/2012 (updated) 08/05/2012 11:20
Palestinians take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoner Bilal Diab,
who has been on hunger strike since Feb. 29, near the West Bank town of
Jenin on May 4, 2012. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel's Supreme Court turned down on Monday an appeal by two Palestinians, who have been on hunger strike for nearly 70 days, to free them from detention without trial.
But in its decision, released by the justice ministry, the court said security authorities should consider freeing them for medical reasons.
Administrative detainees Bilal Diab, 27, from Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, from Hebron -- are in a precarious condition after refusing food since Feb. 29, a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said this week.
On April 17, Palestinian prisoners day, over 1,000 prisoners joined a group of hunger-strikers protesting detention without charge. Around 2,000 are now taking part in the strike, prisoners rights groups estimate.
Prisoners are also protesting restrictive visiting rights and limited access to educational materials.
Palestinian prisoners society chief Qaddura Fares and Physicians for Human Rights -- Israel decried the ruling as a "death sentence."
Fares accused the court of being politically motivated.
"The court knows the gravity of their status and health, but it has decided to reject the petition. This court is a tool of the (Israeli intelligence services)," Fares said.
The scope of the hunger strike has posed a new challenge to Israel, which has come under international criticism over detention without trial and could face a violent Palestinian backlash if any of the protesters die.
Looking frail, Halahla and Diab had appealed against their detention on Thursday, appearing in court in wheelchairs. Their lawyers and human rights groups said their lives were in jeopardy, and Diab was taken back to an Israeli hospital after he fainted.
In its ruling, the court said "administrative detention causes unease to every judge" but was a "necessary evil" because Israel is "constantly fighting terror."
But it drew authorities' attention to a law under which a prisoner can be released conditionally "if as a result of his illness, his days are numbered or if keeping him in prison significantly endangers his life".
Many Palestinians have family members in prison or experienced detention first-hand during decades of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Solidarity tents have been pitched in main squares from Gaza to Ramallah. Demonstrations outside the main Israeli prison in the West Bank are held almost daily, repeatedly descending into confrontations stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli soldiers who respond with teargas and stun grenades.
"We will teach the Zionist enemy a tough lesson should any of the striking prisoners die," Islamic Jihad leader Mohammed al-Hindi said in Gaza.
Three weeks ago, Israel released hunger striker Khader Adnan, a member of Islamic Jihad, amid concern he would die. He agreed to end his 66-day-long strike in exchange for a promise not to renew his detention.
Palestinian officials and rights groups said prisoners belonging to the mainstream Fatah movement were studying an Israeli offer to satisfy their demands.
Concessions include a measured increase in family visitors to prisoners from Gaza, which is subject to broad Israeli travel restrictions, and an agreement to reduce the number of prisoners in solitary confinement.
Other representatives have said the Fatah committee does not represent the whole movement.