Long-term Hunger Striker Not Backing Down

A Palestinian hunger striker who has gone without food for 70 days said Tuesday he had no plans to back down despite suffering severe medical complications.

Thaer Halahla, 33, from Hebron, wrote in a letter published by a prisoner rights group that he was suffering rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and bleeding from the nose and gums.

"My weight today is 55 out of 83 kilos before the strike, and my hair is falling out along with muscle atrophy," he added, according to the Muhjat al-Quds group which distributed Halahla’s letter.

The detainee, one of over 300 Palestinians held by Israel without charge or trial, called for more support as hundreds of prisoners refuse food in Israeli jails in a bid for better treatment.

"We did not go into the battle because we love to be hungry or in pain, but for our dignity and the dignity of our nation," Halahla wrote.

He also thanked supporters who showed up for his latest court hearing.

Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected Halahla’s appeal along with that of Bilal Diab, 27, from Jenin. Both detainees have been on hunger strike since Feb. 29.

Hundreds of prisoners joined a group of hunger-strikers on April 17 protesting detention without charge. Around 2,000 are now taking part in the strike, rights groups say.

ICRC: Imminent Danger of Death

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned Tuesday that Halahla and five others on hunger strike were in "imminent danger of dying" and called on Israel to transfer them to hospital and allow visits from their families.

The six have refused food for between 47 and 70 days and are in prison under Israel’s long-standing policy of detaining people without charge or trial. Prison terms for "administrative detainees" are renewable for six months at a time.

"We urge the detaining authorities to transfer all six detainees without delay to a suitable hospital so that their condition can be continuously monitored and so that they can receive specialized medical and nursing care," said Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said there would be serious repercussions if any of the prisoners died.

"The most tragic thing is if you look at the list of demands they have presented Israel … they are generally related to the basic rights of prisoners," he said in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "There is a clear violation of the Geneva conventions."

The ICRC’s Shaerer stressed that the strikers’ right to fast is protected by international conventions.

"While we are in favor of any medical treatment that could benefit the detainees, we would like to point out that, under resolutions adopted by the World Medical Association, the detainees are entitled to freely choose whether to consent to be fed or to receive medical treatment," he said.

"It is essential that their choice be respected and their human dignity preserved," he said.

The office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also voiced concern on the strikers’ fate.

"International law is clear: administrative detention should only be used in exceptional cases and only for imperative reasons of security. Administrative detainees have the right to challenge the lawfulness of the detention," spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

Independent UN investigators and UN rights bodies have raised concerns about Israel’s frequent and extensive use of administrative detention, including of children, infringing on detainees right to a fair trial, Shamdasani said.


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