Palestinian hunger striker freed into exile

Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 01:00

JERUSALEM – A Palestinian woman who spent more than 40 days on hunger strike to protest against her detention by Israel without charge or trial was released from an Israeli prison on Sunday and sent into temporary exile in Gaza under a deal reached with the Israeli authorities.

The woman, Hana Shalabi (30), from the northern West Bank, was the second Palestinian this year to have challenged and changed the terms of their “administrative detention”, a practice of the Israeli military courts that allows imprisonment based on secret informants or information and that has been used against thousands of Palestinians over the years.

Both Shalabi’s case and that of Khader Adnan (33), who ended a 66-day fast in February in return for a reduced term, drew international attention to the continuing use of administrative detention and prompted concerns in Israel that a hunger strike to the death could set off widespread unrest.

Both cases were resolved individually and have so far failed to produce any fundamental change in Israeli policy.

Ms Shalabi previously spent more than two years in administrative detention before being released in October 2011 as one of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners exchanged for Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held in Gaza. She was rearrested in February and handed a six-month detention order, later cut to four months.

The Israeli military said she was originally placed in detention in 2009 on the basis of information that she intended to carry out a suicide attack against Israelis, and that intelligence reports had indicated she recently “resumed terrorist activity”.

Ms Shalabi’s brother, Omar Shalabi (42), rejected those accusations. “If they were true, she would have been sentenced,” he said in a telephone interview shortly before Ms Shalabi’s deal with the authorities was made public toward the end of last week.

Israel defends its use of administrative detention as necessary for national security, and says it is used when a case is based on informants or intelligence material that cannot be revealed in court. Critics say the secret evidence makes it impossible for administrative detainees or their lawyers to mount a defence.

Administrative detention orders can be issued for up to six months but can be renewed indefinitely.

Mr Adnan was said to have been a leader of Islamic Jihad, an extremist organisation that has carried out suicide bombings and fired rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. Ms Shalabi is also said to belong to Islamic Jihad. When she entered Gaza on Sunday, supporters and leaders of the movement were waiting. Islamic Jihad did not welcome the deal with the Israeli authorities, which will confine Shalabi to Gaza for three years, but said it respected her decision. – (New York Times)