By: Daoud Kuttab
Hana Shalabi has been on hunger strike for over a month. Her condition has been deteriorating so badly that prison officials had to transfer her to a Haifa hospital (though she wasn’t admitted to the hospital).
Shalabi is protesting being held in administrative detention. These detentions are quasi-legal action through which Israel incarcerates individuals without charge or proper trial. Israel inherited this undemocratic procedure from the British mandate, which enacted it as part of the 1945 emergency regulations.
International humanitarian law frowns on this procedureand Israel was asked by the international community on numerous occasions to end this practice. Over 300 Palestinians are presently held without charge.
Administrative detention orders are usually six months long; they are made by an Israeli military commander and presented in front of a military committee for renewal or cancellation.
Typically, individuals are detained by such order when the military prosecutors do not have strong enough evidence to charge them, but have a strong feeling that they are guilty of some security crime and prefer to keep them behind bars. However, many times administrative detention are used as punishment, revenge or as part of a system that the Israeli intelligence service (Shin Bet) uses to control the Palestinian population.
This seems to be the case against Shalabi, who was released last year as part of an Israeli-Hamas prisoner exchange. Released Palestinians are given a pardon recommended by the minister of defense and signed by the Israeli president. The very meaning of a pardon is that all the previous charges and sentencing are erased from all legal books.
While some might attempt to try Shalabi in the court of public opinion, she is considered innocent in the eyes of the law. Basic juridical concepts prevent governments from punishing a person twice for the same crime or from using a pardoned crime as justification for further punishment.
Shalabi’s previous record, regardless of what she did, cannot be used against her.
The state of Israel has no new evidence of wrongdoing against Shalabi, otherwise they would have charged her. In fact, the Israeli commander who signed the order against her chose the unusual step of ordering her incarceration for four months, rather than the usual six months. This is a sign of lack of any “secret” evidence against her.
In an attempt to get out of the quagmire they find themselves in, and to prevent setting a precedent, the Israeli military prosecutors offered to free Shalabi on condition that she is transferred to Gaza.
A similar offer was made to her lawyers to have her sent to Jordan. It is unclear whether the offer is for the duration of the administrative detention and what guarantees, if any, were offered for her return. Both offers were rejected by Shalabi through her lawyer.
The idea of deportation, temporary or permanent, touches a nerve with the Palestinians. Since its establishment in 1948, the state of Israel has prevented Palestinians who left to avoid the violence from returning to their homes.
While any Jewish citizen, from anywhere in the world, is allowed to come to Israel and receive immediate citizenship, Palestinians continue to suffer from what is called “transfer” policy, which uses administrative means to deny individuals residency, sometimes when they are away for schooling or work.
Even inside areas that Israel controls there is a policy of internal displacement and exile. Twenty-six Palestinians who took refuge in the Church of the Nativity in May 2002 were expelled to Gaza, and 13 to various European locations. They have been denied the right to return to their homes since.
Israel, which always boasts of being the only democracy in the Middle East, uses various emergency laws and administrative orders to control the Palestinian population under its military rule. The rule of law is converted by the Israelis into a rule by law — military law, that is — by which the Israeli army decides how millions of Palestinians are controlled.
Most Palestinians have learned the hard way to acquiesce to this unjust rule and play the game by obeying the rules of the military dictators. Shalabi refuses to play by these unjust rules. She is using a centuries-old nonviolent technique to show her protest. She suffers to make the world see injustice. Will anyone see and react?