Illegality and inhumanity
2016-03-01 15:59:32 -
Human Rights

Ronit Lentin


Mohammad Al-Qeeq, a 33-year old Palestinian journalist who had been on hunger strike since November 2015 against being held in administrative detention, has just ended his protest after 93 days.

Al-Qeeq was detained last November without charge, trial or evidence. In mid February he refused Israel’s offer to temporarily suspend his administrative detention, with the sentence to be resumed when his health improved, because the offer included neither his release nor a guarantee that he would receive medical treatment in a Palestinian hospital once freed.

In fact, the Israeli Supreme Court, in what was publicised as an attempt to reach a compromise, rejected his request to be transferred to a Ramallah hospital. Having watched a short video showing him screaming with pain, I find the court decision not only heartless and enraging, but ultimately unfathomable.

Al-Qeeq was one of 584 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in 2015 in administrative detention, akin to what was known as ‘internment’ in Ireland. According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, Israel’s use of administrative detention “blatantly violates the restrictions of international law. Israel carries it out in a highly classified manner that denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defence.”

Administrative detention has no time limit, and over the years Israel has placed thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention for prolonged periods, without trial, without an opportunity to see any evidence against them, without even knowing the charges against them, if they even exist. “In this way,” B’Tselem adds, “the Israeli military judicial system ignores the right to freedom and due process, the right of defendants to state their case, and the presumption of innocence, all of which are protections clearly enshrined in both Israeli and international law.”

Administrative detention is just one technology of ‘state criminality’ – loosely defined as activities or failures to act that break a state’s own laws or public international law – employed by Israel in its war against the Palestinians. 

Israeli state criminality escalated hugely since October 2015 – with an increased use of violence, administrative detention, torture, the detention of minors, house and village demolitions – culminating in the widespread use of extrajudicial spontaneous executions of Palestinians caught in or suspected of ‘terror acts’.

While Israel would defend its treatment of the state’s Palestinian citizens by citing as legal a series of 50 laws that discriminate against such people in all areas of life – including their rights to political participation, access to land, freedom of association, education and state budget resources; punitive measure instigated by the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, against its elected Arab members – such defence is impossible in relation to its blatant infringement of international law.

While it has ratified the main human rights conventions, Israel is not party to most optional protocols, nor has it accepted the jurisdiction of any committees, which means these committees cannot act on complaints or claims against Israeli state crimes, which are alleged to include the widespread use of torture.

Even when it does ratify international conventions, Israel makes reservations, rendering itself immune from almost any action against it. In consequence, Israel’s use of measures such as administrative detention without trial, detention of minors, torture, house and village demolitions and population transfers goes without any international censure.

Towards the final stages of his hunger strike, Al-Qeeq was in extreme danger, with a high risk of heart failure and bleeding in his brain, which was why the ethics committee of the Israeli hospital whose care he was under decided he would be treated against his will if it meant saving his life. 

It was enraging that his condition went largely unreported by the world’s media, hiding his condition like the conditions of other administrative detainees – many of them minors – from international view.

Although the Israeli authorities have refused to transfer him to a Ramallah hospital, there is a good chance now that he would be helped to regain his health and, like other opponents of administrative detention, I am delighted he has decided to end his strike.


Ronit Lentin is a retired associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears regularly in Metro Éireann

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