The Current Challenges Facing Palestinian Political Prisoners

November 08, 2021

This FAQ focuses on Palestinian detainees (especially administrative detainees) on hunger strike and the collective punishment policy implemented by the Israeli Prison Service. It also discusses other Israeli violations of international law and international humanitarian law, which pose a great challenge for Palestinian political prisoners. Highlighting such grave Israeli violations should encourage the international community to hold Israel accountable for its breach of international law and international humanitarian law, and to put an end to its crimes and policy of arbitrary detention.


1- What are the main challenges facing Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons?

Since 1967, the occupying Power has been implementing arbitrary measures against Palestinian political prisoners, with the aim of subjugating them and undermining their dignity. These practices were further escalated as a retaliatory measure during tense political events and developments, including popular uprisings, intifadas, among other transforming events.

After 6 September 2021, following the escape of six Palestinian political prisoners from “Gilboa” prison, the Israeli Prison Service launched an organized attack on Palestinian prisoners, with strong support from the Israeli political and security establishment, using the “Metzada” repressive unit[1] (which is well-equipped with weapons and police dogs). The Israeli Prison Service carries out extensive storming and assaulting operations in many prisons, especially the “Negev”, “Rimon”, “Ofer”, and “Gilboa”. The unit also closes down prison sections; conducts solitary confinement and collective isolation operations; and perpetrates physical attacks and torture in several cases. The said unit also transports inmates and conducts extensive searches on them inside prison. Moreover, they impose a number of collective punishment measures, such as preventing visits to prisons, shortening the allowed time in the external courtyard, closure of facilities, and depriving inmates from accessing the canteen. In response to these measures, a total of 250 prisoners declared an open hunger strike to express their rejection of the abusive measures taken against them. The said hunger strike ended after 9 days following an agreement that stipulated the removal of most of the imposed penalties.   

Since the beginning of this year (2021), more than 60 Palestinian detainees[2] have gone on hunger strike to reject the illegal Israeli policies. A number of them reached an agreement with the Israeli Prison Service, leading to accepting some of their rights and the end of administrative detention of some. Currently, there are 6 Palestinian prisoners who are on an open hunger strike in protest of their administrative detention by Israel. They are: Kayed Al-Fasfous, Miqdad Al-Qawasmeh, Alaa Al-A’raj, Hisham Abu-Hawwash, Ayyad Al-Hreimy, and Lou’ay Al-Ashqar. During press conferences, prisoner organizations, human rights organizations, and the Palestinian Ministry of Health called upon world countries and international organizations to urgently “end the suffering of prisoners on hunger strike”, along with highlighting that “every hour of delay may further deteriorate the prisoners’ health and might cause their death”.


2- Why do Palestinian political prisoners and administrative detainees resort to hunger strikes?[3]

Hunger strikes are used as a form of peaceful resistance in response to Israel’s illegal policies and to challenge racism and injustice in Israeli prisons. Prisoners use this method to defend their cause and achieve their humanitarian demands guaranteed by international laws and conventions. For more than half a century of Israeli colonialism, prisoners led numerous individual and collective hunger strikes to protect their undermined basic rights[4] and achieve their legitimate demands. These hunger strikes sought to end Israel’s policy of arbitrary detention, torture and abuse, as well as eliminating unfair trials, children’s detention, medical negligence, solitary confinement, humiliating and degrading treatment, and deprivation of basic rights (such as preventing visits to prisoners, violating the right to education, etc.). These violations prove that Israel is perpetrating countless crimes against Palestinian prisoners, in contravention of international law and international humanitarian law.      

Prisoners are many times obliged to go on an open hunger strike to confront the repressive measures imposed by the Israeli Prison Service and stand up against the harsh and illegal detention conditions. On the other hand, administrative detainees go on hunger strikes in protest of their incarceration without any trial or charge/indictment, and their refusal to be imprisoned for long periods of time (which might last several years) due to administrative detention extensions. Therefore, hunger strikes became the only way (albeit their excruciating pain) to make the prisoners’ voices heard and influence the local and international public opinion to demand interventions to end Israel’s repressive and racist policies in prisons. Hunger strikes have been commonly used by Palestinian prisoners since 1967 due to their strong faith in their just cause desire to achieve the inherent right to freedom. Prisoners successfully achieved their demands in some hunger strikes. However, most of these achievements were only temporary due to the racist Israeli behaviour that constantly subjects prisoners to illegal measures.


3- Is the number of days spent by prisoners on hunger strike just a number?

No, it is not. Prisoners undergo tremendous physical and psychological suffering from these hunger strikes, and their families, loved ones, and entire communities suffer with them. The prisoner’s family and community become quite worried and closely follow up with their loved ones’ deteriorating health, loss of weight, failure of internal organs, and experience with them the strive to restore their dignity and redress their rights in the face of Israel’s system of oppression and injustice. Prisoners are equipped with strong will and determination during their hunger strikes and receive strong support and solidarity from the people. Therefore, they choose to go on hunger strikes either to live with dignity or else to die in pursuit of freedom. Prisoners’ hunger strikes also encourage the Palestinian people to stand firmly against the Israeli occupation and confront its illegal and racist policies. Hence, hunger strikes have a strong impact on prisoners and their families and supporters because the loss of one of these prisoners and the international community’s negligence of their plight would lead to regional destabilization.


Overview of Palestinian administrative detainees who are currently on hunger strike:[5]

  • Kayed Al-Fasfous: is from Dura, Hebron. He is 32 years old and is currently on hunger strike, together with other political prisoners. He has been on a hunger strike for almost four months (117 days). Prior to his arrest, Kayed was working for the Municipality of Dura. He recently resumed his studies in Computer Science at Hebron University. However, this was interrupted due to repeated arrests by the Occupation. He is married and has a daughter named Joanne who, together with her grandmother, ceaselessly call upon the free people of the world (through different videos and messages) to facilitate the release of Kayed and bring him back home in the same physical condition that he was in prior to his arrest. Kayed is a former prisoner and went on a hunger strike in 2019 to denounce his detention. His last arrest took place in July 2020. Kayed’s health condition is deteriorating, and he is currently at Barzilai Medical Center due to the health effects of his hunger strike. For example, he is experiencing a loss of memory, extreme exhaustion, weakness, acute pain, high ocular temperature, and numbness of the feet. Prisoners’ organizations and human rights institutions warned that Kayed might experience sudden death at any moment. But despite his dangerous health condition, the occupation’s Supreme Court re-activated his arrest using an order to “freeze” his administrative detention.[6]
  • Miqdad Al-Qawasmeh: is a 24-year-old university student from Hebron. He is also in his fourth month on a hunger strike (110 days). Miqdad is currently in critical condition at the intensive care unit of Kaplan Medical Center. Medical reports received from this medical centre confirmed the possibility of his sudden death, whereas his symptoms show a problem in his nervous system, which may cause serious brain injury and damage. Miqdad was arrested several times before and was jailed for a total of four years under prison sentences and administrative detention. His most recent detention took place in January 2021, when the occupation’s Supreme Court issued a decision to “freeze” his administrative detention despite his aggravating health condition. Two days ago, the Israeli Prison Service decide to move al-Qawasmeh from the ICU in Kaplan hospital to Ramle Prison Clinic.
  • Alaa Al-A’raj: is a 34-year-old civil engineer from Tulkarem. He has been on hunger strike for 93 days. His only child was born while he was in detention, and he lost his father while in prison. Alaa was arrested several times before, and he served more than 5 years in prison (including administrative detention). He was recently imprisoned in June 2021 after an administrative detention order was issued against him. Alaa is currently held at Ramleh Prison Clinic and is often taken to hospital. This is because he cannot stand on his feet for more than a month and he lost about 20 kilograms. He also has difficulty speaking and suffers from pain in the chest and abdomen, blurred vision, and severe aches in the kidney. But despite his dangerous health condition, he was taken by the Israeli Intelligence for military investigation at the Ramle Prison Clinic. It should also be noted that the administrative detention order against Alaa is still in effect.
  • Hisham Abu-Hawwash: is a 39-year-old resident from Dura, Hebron. He is married and has five children and has been on hunger strike for 84 days. Abu-Hawwash was imprisoned for a total of 8 years in the past. He was arrested again in October 2020, and two administrative detention orders were issued against him. Hisham is currently held at Ramleh Prison Clinic and is often taken to hospital. He suffers from severe potassium deficiency, intense aches in the heart and liver, insomnia due to acute pain throughout his body, and continuous vomiting. He can now only move through a wheelchair.
  • Ayyad Al-Hreimy: is a 28-year-old resident from Bethlehem. He has been on hunger strike for 47 days and was imprisoned several times before. The occupation authorities re-arrested him shortly after his release, and he has gone on hunger strike in the past to express discontentment from his administrative detention. His hunger strike in 2016 lasted for 45 days. Ayyad served a total of 9 years in prison in the past. His recent administrative detention took place in April 2021. He is currently held at Ofer Prison and his health is subject to great risk.
  • Lou’ay Al-Ashqar: is from the town of Seida in Tulkarem. He has been on hunger strike for 29 days and spent approximately 8 years under administrative detentions and prison sentences. He was recently arrested and put under administrative detention in October 2021. Lou’ay is currently held at Megiddo prison and his health condition could be at risk at any moment.  


4- Who is responsible for violating international law and international humanitarian law vis-à-vis Palestinian prisoners, and what are the main types of perpetrated violations?

Israel, the Detaining Power, is responsible for these violations. For example, it is responsible for perpetrating the crime of arbitrary detention by arresting and detaining more than one million Palestinians since 1967, including about 50,000 children and 17,000 women. Israel also issued more than 54,000 administrative detention orders, which are systematic and widespread arrests that amount to crimes against humanity.[7] Israel is currently holding 4,600 Palestinians under arbitrary detention, including 200 children, 35 women, 500 administrative detainees, 9 parliamentarians, and 550 sick prisoners who urgently need treatment and health care, with more than 10 of them suffering from cancer.[8]

Israel, the Detaining Power, is guilty of implementing a policy of arbitrary and administrative detention, in violation of international law and international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention.[9]  Israel is also responsible for maintaining the safety and life of administrative detainees on hunger strike and should be held accountable for the crime of transferring Palestinian prisoners to detention facilities inside Israel.[10] This crime includes other crimes under its framework, such as the practice of torture;[11] physical and psychological harming of prisoners, depriving them of sleep, and leading to their collapse; deprivation of prisoners’ basic rights (such as preventing them from receiving visits or appearing before courts);[12] and imposing arbitrary and collective penalties which amount to crimes against humanity. Israel is responsible for the death of 226 Palestinian detainees in its prisons, including 71 prisoners who died from deliberate medical negligence,[13] and the willful killing of 71 prisoners under detention, 73 prisoners due to intense torture, and 7 prisoners after shooting at them inside prison. Israel is also responsible for detaining children and establishing a military court regime that lacks the minimum standards of a fair trial, in violation of international law.[14]

Israel is also responsible for enacting racist and discriminatory laws that contravene international law, including the law to deduct prisoners’ allowances from Palestinian tax revenues. This violates the Detaining Power’s obligations put forth in Articles (81) and (98) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[15]


5- Should the international community intervene to protect the rights of Palestinian prisoners?

Yes, they should. Despite the resolutions taken by international organizations (including the Human Rights Council, two special human rights rapporteurs, and World Health Organization) to oblige Israel to duly release political prisoners, as well as demands by the international and legal community to take serious steps to protect prisoners’ rights, these resolutions and demands only remained words without action. Due to its great concern for the fate of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike and Israel’s disregard of Palestinian and global demands, the State of Palestine holds Israel fully responsible for the fate and lives of Palestinian detainees on hunger strike. In light of Israel’s violation of international humanitarian law, Palestine requests from relevant United Nations bodies, world countries, states parties to the Geneva Conventions, and the two special UN rapporteurs to carry out their responsibilities and enforce international conventions to oblige Israel to fulfil its duties as a Detaining Power. The said parties should also pressure Israel to immediately release all administrative detainees who are on hunger strike, as well as releasing the sick; elderly; children; and women. Israel must also release all administrative detainees and prisoners whose sentences are almost complete. Israeli prisons should also be opened before an international inspection and investigation committee. Palestine also calls upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) (which is a tool of international accountability and justice) to open an international investigation and prosecute the crimes of the Israeli occupation.   


[1] According to Al-Haq organisation, the “Metzada” unit was established in 2003 as a repressive quick response unit in times of emergency. This unit belongs to the Israeli Prison Service and works in a manner similar to other special units (such as “Nahshon”, “Dror”, and “Yamaz” units). The “Metzada” unit is comprised of elite officers and soldiers from selected Israeli military units, and its members are usually armed with “Uzi” Israeli submachine guns, teargas canisters, ultraviolet (UV) binoculars, and laser weapons.

[2] Source: Palestinian Prisoners Society.

[3] An open hunger strike means that the detainee refrains from eating all kinds of food and foodstuffs, including medicine, with the exception of a little bit of water and salt.

[4] According to the Palestinian News and Information Agency-WAFA, collective hunger strikes during the occupation included: the hunger strike in Nablus prison in 1968; hunger strike in Ramleh prison in 1969; hunger strike of Palestinian female prisoners in the “Neve Tirtza” women’s prison in 1970; hunger strikes at the Asqalan [Ashkelon] prison in 1973, 1976 and 1977; hunger strike at the Nafkha prison in 1980; hunger strike in Junaid prison in 1984 (accompanied by the hunger strikes of Palestinian female prisoners in the same year), 1985, and 1987, respectively. There were also hunger strikes in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019, and 2021.

[5] Information related to administrative detainees on hunger strike was obtained from reports by the Palestinian Prisoners Society.

[6] According to Adv. Jawad Boulos, an order to freeze or suspend administrative detention does not mean its cancellation. Rather, it means releasing the responsibility of the Israeli Prison Service and Israeli Security Agency (“Shabak”) towards the fate and life of the administrative detainee on hunger strike, along with turning him/her into an unofficial prisoner in a hospital where s/he is guarded by the hospital’s security personnel and his/her family cannot move him/her anywhere else.

[7] This is considered a crime against humanity according to Article (7)(e) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is also considered a war crime under Article (8)(2)(a)(viii) of the same Statute, which discusses war crimes committed as part of a plan or policy that violates the Geneva Conventions of 1949. This practice also contravenes Article (9) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[8] Quarterly report of September 2021 issued by the following prisoner and human rights organizations: Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, Palestinian Prisoners Society, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, and Wadi Hilweh Information Center – Jerusalem.

[9] Articles (42) and (78) of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulate that administrative detention should be absolutely necessary for imperative reasons of security of the Occupying Power. Moreover, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in its explanation of Article (78) of the said Convention, asserts that the character of exceptionality mentioned in this article must be maintained. However, the Israeli occupation authorities conduct administrative detentions in a widespread manner, restrict peaceful political activities, and repress all objections to Occupation policies.

[10] This is a grave violation of Article (49) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, as well as a war crime according to Article (8)(2)(a)(viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  

[11] This is considered a war crime according to Article (8)(2) of the Rome Statute, as well as a crime against humanity according to the same Statute. Furthermore, it contravenes Article (2)(2) of the Convention against Torture, Article (32) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Article (5) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[12] Especially since these are military courts. Also, court jurisdiction in such cases should be in the 1967 territories and not inside of Israel, where the majority of prisons and investigation centres are currently located.

[13] In violation of Articles (76), (91) and (92) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

[14] Article (66) of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that military courts should have a non-political character.

[15]  In violation of Article (81) of the Fourth Geneva Convention that states that the Detaining Power shall provide for the support of those dependent on the internees, if such dependents are without adequate means of support or are unable to earn a living. Parties to the conflict who intern protected persons shall be bound to provide free of charge for their maintenance, and to grant them medical attention. This article also states that no deduction from the allowances, salaries or credits due to the internees shall be made for the repayment of these costs. Moreover, Article (98) of the same Convention mentions that the Detaining Power must provide regular allowances to internees (since this is considered part of their responsibility towards them), and internees may receive allowances from the Power to which they owe allegiance, the Protecting Powers, or the organizations which may assist them. Moreover, the Detaining Power must provide all facilitations to internees in terms of sending allowances to their families and those dependent on them. The Detaining Party should also provide sufficient regular allowances to all internees to enable them to purchase food, tobacco, and basic goods.


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