Israelis, human rights organizations, and the United Nations call to end the practice of administrative detention. This practice has recently taken on a face and a name of a Palestinian journalist, Mohammed al-Qiq from the village of Dura. Al-Qiq, who was arrested and held without charges, demanded a trial to end his detention. When his request was denied al-Qiq went on a hunger strike that today Thursday, February 17 is on its 84th day.
His hunger strike has revealed the cruelty of the process in which detainees are powerless to seek legal justice and exposed in full public view the horror of their use of hunger as a last resort. Al-Qiq has used the only means he has to fight his detention, knowing full well the consequences, the gruesome physical impairment to his hearing, his heart, his speech and the ensuing excruciating suffering. Photographs and sounds of pain and agony of the 33-year-old father of two, who is hospitalized in Afula, have now been on public display. Al-Qiq’s use of his starving body sends a most powerful message about the body politics of the occupation.
Cases of administrative arrests with no evidence and no trial were until recently hidden from public view. With pictures on electronic, print, and social media Israelis can no longer claim that they did not know that this kind of an assault on human rights could take place in a country that claims to be democratic. The right to liberty is one of the foundations of democracy, and prolonged arbitrary detention with no recourse to evidence or trial constitutes a breach of international customary law. Yet, since 1948, Israeli administrative arrests have drawn on a colonial law of ‘secret evidence’ of the British Mandate government’s Emergency Regulations. Shortly after the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza an expanded authority was articulated in 1979, in an Israeli Law on Authorities in State of Emergency.
Al-Qiq’s case highlights the larger human rights concern since according to the latest numbers that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) provided to B’Tselem, Israel currently has 584 Palestinians in administrative detention, the highest number since 2008. B’Tselem has been arguing that the Israeli law contradicts international law that states, “Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.”
Al-Qiq has requested to be transferred to a hospital in the West Bank. Two days ago the High Court of Justice denied his request even though he has on his side international law, which states that relocation of administrative detainees from the West Bank to Israel is “a flagrant breach of international law,” which prohibits the transfer of people from occupied territories. There has been international concern about these administrative detentions and a deep concern for Al-Qiq by both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross who describe his condition as critical.
Theoretically, each detainee could appeal to the highest legal authority in Israel to have a judicial review. The High Court of Justice, however, has almost always refrained from exercising its authority and while in some cases the judges shortened detention time, in most cases they have approved the detention orders. The High Court’s holding back on using its authority raises the question of checks and balances and of Israel as a democratic state. Knowing the High Court’s reluctance, organizations like B’Tselem have called on the government to either release or try the detainees; in the case of al-Qiq, B’Tselem was joined by journalists, papers like Haaretz, and two Israeli women human rights activists, Anat Rimon-Or and Anat Lev. The women stood with signs calling for his release outside the Afula hospital and last Friday the two activists tried unsuccessfully to meet with President Rivlin.
Lev said that she wanted people to understand that a kind of madness is sweeping the country. Right now the victim is al-Qiq yet tomorrow administrative detention could happen to anyone who is critical of the government. Lev’s observation is a profound reading of a chipping away of Israeli democracy and the creation of a repressive regime by slow inoculation, so that people get used to the trampling on the rights of “others” in this case Palestinians, only to find out too late that they could become in a blink of eye, an “other” by displeasing the ruling group.
The role of democracy is not only to assure the rule of the majority, but to protect the rights of the minority and contrary to the ignorant comments on the Right that Torah does not include democracy, the rights of the minority are the foundational ethics of Torah, a constant reminder/Zachor that the Israelites are to always remember the minority, the powerless and the stranger.