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The case of Israeli occupation starving human rights

Yossi Mekelberg

Published: Updated:

Mohammed Allan’s 65-day hunger strike has come to an end, and he is slowly recovering in an Israeli hospital. Nevertheless, the administrative detention of a suspected member of Islamic Jihad, and his readiness to die in an Israeli prison, leave many moral and political questions unanswered.

First and foremost, Allan’s hunger strike brought Israel’s practise of administratively detaining Palestinians, frequently for prolonged periods of time, into the public consciousness. At times the detention is aimed at combating militancy, and sometimes it is an arbitrary practise of deterring political resistance against the occupation.

Allan’s rare form of protest also accentuated the power of such a political act by a single person. When it got to the point that he seemed to be suffering from irreversible brain damage and might die, it exposed Israeli hopelessness in the face of non-violent acts of martyrdom, civil disobedience, and consequently international political pressure.

The Israeli government was ‘saved’ from a potential outbreak of violence with the Palestinians and an international outcry, by a medical diagnosis and judicial decision to release Allan from his unjust incarceration. Without it, this affair could have ended in personal tragedy for him and his family, political disaster for Israel, and more violence and bloodshed.

Administrative arrests

Administrative arrests contravene natural justice and international law, which permits it only in very exceptional circumstances. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

The longer the occupation goes on the more oppressive it becomes, compromising what is left of Israeli democracy and its ability to ever reach a peaceful solution with the Palestinians, and further denting its international standing

Yossi Mekelberg

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”

Moreover, any person arrested has the right at the time of arrest to know the reason for it and if there are any charges. Administrative detention contravenes the very core of these values, denying a person their freedom without judicial due process.

International law permits it in exceptional circumstances as a last resort to prevent imminent danger that cannot be otherwise averted. Fundamentally, however, arrests without charge are seen as an abuse of a basic freedom that undermines the rule of law.

Israel is far from being alone in pursuing this objectionable practise, even among democratic countries. However, it has used it widely, especially since the outbreak of the first uprising, when up to 1,794 administrative detainees were imprisoned at one time.

According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, at the end of June this year 370 Palestinians were under administrative detention in Israeli prisons for varying lengths of time. In the past, the length of their detention varied from anything between less than six months to four and half years in a number of cases.

Astonishingly, among the administrative detainees are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. In April this year, the Israeli military commander of the West Bank ordered Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar to be put under administrative detention for six months. The grounds for the order were Jarrar’s refusal to comply with another military decree internally displacing her from her home in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, to Jericho.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote that all evidence indicates that “ Jarrar is not a terrorist but rather a nonviolent activist who is working to liberate her people from the occupation.” Due to domestic and international condemnation, Israel opted to charge her with an array of offenses on the basis of what increasingly appears to be very flimsy evidence.

Futility of the occupation

The cases of Allan and Jarrar epitomize not only the oppressive and arbitrary nature of the occupation, but also its futility. Allan in his hunger strike has probably challenged Israel and the way it deals with the Palestinians more than any Palestinian armed resistance could have ever done.

It exposed both Israel’s brutality and incompetence in dealing with a man who said all along he did not want to die, but was ready to sacrifice his life unless he was released from forced military custody. He was depicted as a danger to Israeli security, but no evidence was ever presented to make these allegations stick in court.

Instead of releasing him due to lack of evidence, the Israeli authorities let his situation deteriorate while unsuccessfully putting pressure on the medical team to force feed him, which also contravenes international law. They must have known that the worst case scenario for Israel would have been for Allan to die in custody as an innocent person.

No country can regard itself as democratic if the presumption of innocence is not respected. In both Jarrar’s and Allan’s cases, the Israeli military establishment is presuming guilt instead of innocence, and is ready to abuse its power without compassion, compunction or even political logic.

Not many Palestinians are likely to follow Allan’s example and embark on hunger strikes. Nevertheless, in his act of defiance, or maybe of desperation, he demonstrated the moral deficiency and unsustainability of the occupation.

The longer the occupation goes on the more oppressive it becomes, compromising what is left of Israeli democracy and its ability to ever reach a peaceful solution with the Palestinians, and further denting its international standing.

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Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.

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