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Palestinian detainee ends hunger strike after 141 days, to be freed in February

Doctors had warned that condition of Hisham Abu Hawash, accused of terror activity but held without charges, was deteriorating; administrative order won’t be renewed, lawyer says

Supporters and relatives of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash rally in his village of Dura west of Hebron in the West Bank, on January 2, 2022, to demand his release from Israeli administrative detention, as he teetered close to death after around 140 days of refusing food. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)
Supporters and relatives of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash rally in his village of Dura west of Hebron in the West Bank, on January 2, 2022, to demand his release from Israeli administrative detention, as he teetered close to death after around 140 days of refusing food. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

A Palestinian detainee agreed to end his 141-day hunger strike Tuesday night, after Israel authorities agreed not to renew his detention, his lawyers said.

Hisham Abu Hawash, a 40-year-old resident of Dura, near Hebron, has been held in Israel under an administrative detention order since October 2020. According to the Shin Bet, Abu Hawash is an Islamic Jihad member involved in terror activity, but charges were never brought against him.

According to the reported deal, Abu Hawash’s detention will expire on February 26, and Israel will not renew it again. The Shin Bet declined to immediately comment.

Abu Hawash’s marathon hunger strike drew intense interest among Palestinians as well as international pressure on Israel. Arabic language news sites regularly published updates on his condition, and small, scattered rallies on his behalf were held in Palestinian cities.

Abu Hawash is currently being held under Israel’s policy of administrative detention, which allows Israeli authorities to arrest those deemed to pose an imminent threat without charges or a full trial. Israel contends that such means are necessary to fight terror, although rights groups say Israel abuses the extreme practice.

Abu Hawash was the latest in a line of Palestinians to use a protest fast to bring attention to the practice and win his release.

Doctors had warned in recent days that Abu Hawash’s condition was deteriorating, putting Israel under pressure to find a solution, fearing that his death could spark widespread unrest.

“Abu Hawash’s medical situation is difficult and unstable,” a spokesperson for Israel’s Shamir Medical Center said on Saturday night.

According to Physicians for Human Rights, Abu Hawash weighed 86 kilograms (190 pounds) before his hunger strike. By December 29, when Dr. Lina Qassem visited Abu Hawwash on behalf of the organization, he was estimated to weigh just 45 kilograms (99 pounds).

“He is in immediate, fatal danger,” Qassem wrote.

As hunger strikes continue, they become increasingly risky for those involved. Prisoners protesting their conditions and detention have occasionally died from self-imposed starvation. For those who survive, the long-term medical damage can be severe.

As Abu Hawash’s physical condition spiraled, the European Union and the United Kingdom both called on Israel to either charge the detainee or release him.

“Detainees have the right to be informed about charges underlying any detention, must be given a fair trial within a reasonable time or be released,” the EU’s envoy to the Palestinians said in a statement on Sunday.

Islamic Jihad repeatedly threatened renewed violence against Israel should Abu Hawash have died in Israeli custody.

“He is being subjected to a process of assassination, of elimination,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement on Saturday afternoon. “We will deal with the matter according to our commitment to respond to any criminal assassination by the enemy.”

Members of Saraya al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad in Gaza City, on December 4, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Palestinian factions in Gaza have regularly threatened violence in response to the conditions of hunger-striking prisoners. Most of these threats have not materialized; in most cases, Israeli authorities either agree not to renew the detainees’ detention or the prisoners end their fast.

Ramallah also demanded that Israel release Abu Hawash. Official Palestinian Authority media further reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj had pushed Israel to cut a deal.

The Hamas terror group praised Abu Hawash’s release, which it called “a victory over the Zionist jailer.”

“The heroic prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash proves once again the Palestinian’s ability to withstand, defy, and wrest victories from the Zionist occupier,” said Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasim.

In 2006, Abu Hawash was sentenced by an Israeli military court to four and a half years in prison for aiding other Palestinians who committed attacks on Israeli soldiers during the Second Intifada, as part of a plea bargain. He also confessed to planning a shooting attack of his own that never took place, according to court filings.

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