Mixed reactions in Palestine over deal to release, deport Shalabi

Shalabi ended her hunger strike and is supposed to be freed from prison within days – but banished to Gaza. While pleased with the release, many criticize the deportation, and some accuse Israel of foul play. A second hunger striker administrative detainee was released without conditions. Two more detainees have been hospitalized, having entered their second month of hunger strike.

After 43 days of hunger strike, and while at imminent risk of death, administrative detainee Hana Shalabi started eating yesterday (Thursday) night in a deal has been struck for her release. Shalabi has reportedly agreed to be deported to the Gaza Strip and banned from her home in the West Bank village of Burqin for three years, committing not to be involved in terrorist activities – according to the IDF spokesperson. Israeli media was the first to air the news, followed shortly by Palestinian media, which had Shalabi’s lawyer Jawwad Boulous and former PA Minister of Prisoners Affairs Qadoura Fares confirming the existence of a deal.

Mixed reactions in Palestine over deal to release, deport Shalabi
Hana Shalabi reunites with her father after her October 2011 release from prison (photo: Oren Ziv / activestills.org)

While Fares, PA officials and human rights groups commended Shalabi’s release, they also protested her forced transfer to Gaza.  The PA’s current Minister of Prisoner Affairs, Issa Qaraqe, who announced last week that the government in Ramallah refused a similar deal, told Ma’an news agency yesterday that he considers the deportation a war crime. In a joint statement by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Palestinian human rights group Addameer, concerns were raised that the deal was struck under duress. The two NGOs have been following Shalabi’s condition closely, with PHR doctors checking up on the hospitalized detainee almost daily, and in the past week both published warnings that her body is nearing the point of no return in its deterioration. The groups’ statement from last night reads as follows:

 Addameer’s lawyers were deliberately denied access to Ms. Shalabi today and PHR-Israel’s doctor has been denied access to her tomorrow. Her family has also been denied permission to visit her.

Addameer and PHR-Israel are first and foremost concerned about Ms. Shalabi’s health. Addameer and PHR-Israel are further concerned that her medical condition and the high danger on her life were used in order to threaten her to take the sole option of being deported.

Addameer and PHR-Israel are against this form of forcible deportation, which is not only illegal under international law, as clearly stated in the Fourth Geneva Convention, but is also part of an Israeli policy that is not new; Israel has systematically made agreements in which Palestinians are deported from their homes and separated from their loved ones.

In his statement to Ma’an, Fares concluded by saying, “We reject deportation, but this is her decision and her own life.”

Shalabi, 29, was formally held for 25 months in administrative detention, was released last October in the Schalit prisoner swap, and re-arrested within four months of her release. Since her second arrest, Shalabi refused to eat in protest of her continued detention without charges or trial. The IDF claims it has intelligence indicating Shalabi might endanger regional security – however, nothing substantial enough to bring forward as evidence in a criminal court. Appeals filed to the military court and then to the military court of appeals against her detention were rejected, while a petition filed to the High Court of Justice was not yet even heard.

Widening criticism on administrative detention

Shalabi’s hunger strike and deteriorating health, which followed that of Khader Adnan, drew growing attention to the issue of administrative detention. In recent weeks, Shalabi was joined by more than 20 out of 309 administrative detainees, who also started a hunger strike, including one 72 year old. Two of the detainees, Bilal Diab and Tha’ir Khlekhle, were hospitalized this week in the Prison Service hospital-detention unit, entering their fifth week without food. A female detainee, who refused food since her arrest ten days ago, was released last night in a checkpoint remote from her home. She was met by family members and Israeli activists, who helped her get home.

The detainee’s hunger strike led Amnesty International and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to release statements against Israel’s widespread practice of administrative detention. It also led to protests throughout the West Bank and to demonstrations in university campuses in Israel and abroad. A quiet protest in Tel Aviv University, comprised of students sitting on the grass with their hands tied behind their backs and their eyes covered, was met with a counter demonstration by right wing group Im Tirtzu. Members of group posed for pictures as “triumphant” soldiers near the Palestinian detainees – perhaps unconsciously imitating the famous Eden Abergil.

The growing discourse on these detentions without trials, and the growing use of hunger strikes as a tool in the hands of the detainees themselves – who have already compared themselves to the IRA members who went on strike in the 80s – is likely to cause Israel a serious headache, which in the long run might have to be solved by more than just individual deals struck with various inmates.

Im Tirzu activist fitting himself into a student protest in TAU for the release of Hana Shalabi (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
Im Tirzu activist inserts himself into a student protest in TAU for the release of Hana Shalabi (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Read more Hana Shalabi and administrative detention:

Human rights NGO: Hana Shalabi in danger of imminent death

PA refuses Israeli offer to deport hunger striker to Gaza

Palestinian detainee’s health in danger; hunger strike spreads

International Women’s Day: Hana Shalabi’s hunger strike enters 4th week