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Israel rejects appeal to free Palestinian hunger striker it alleges is a terrorist

Khalil Awawdeh has refused food for 165 days to protest his detention without trial; Islamic Jihad had demanded his release in ceasefire talks

Protesters gather with a Palestinian flag outside the hospital in Be'er Yaakov where a hunger-striking security prisoner, Khalil Awawdeh, pictured in the placards, detained by Israel as an alleged terrorist, is in deteriorating health, August 13, 2022. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Protesters gather with a Palestinian flag outside the hospital in Be'er Yaakov where a hunger-striking security prisoner, Khalil Awawdeh, pictured in the placards, detained by Israel as an alleged terrorist, is in deteriorating health, August 13, 2022. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal for release by a Palestinian prisoner whose health is deteriorating as he continues a 165-day hunger strike to protest being held without charge or trial, his lawyer said.

Khalil Awawdeh is one of several Palestinian detainees who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years in protest of what is known as administrative detention. The 40-year-old father of four was arrested by Israel in December and accused of being a member of a terror group, a charge Awawdeh has denied through his lawyer.

The Islamic Jihad terror group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as a member.

Israel says administrative detention is needed to keep dangerous terrorists off the streets and to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the form of detention, which is almost exclusively used for Palestinians, denies them due process. Administrative detainees can be held for months or years without charge or trial.

Ahlam Haddad, a lawyer for Awawdeh, confirmed that the military court had rejected his appeal for release. He has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family.

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.

Dr. Lina Qasem-Hassan, of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, visited him on Thursday at the hospital where he was transferred after his condition worsened. She said he weighed 42 kilograms (around 90 pounds), was handcuffed to a bed and surrounded by guards.

“He suffers from severe neurological symptoms and cognitive impairment, which might be irreversible,” the rights group said in a statement. “His life is in immediate danger.”

Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.

Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.

Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition and maintain permanent control over millions of Palestinians while denying them basic rights.

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