The Hunger Voice

Ayat Omran

What can people locked up inside four walls do to refuse the reality imposed on them? Not a lot, but they can refuse to eat.

The fact that several jailed Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike for months afflicts me deep on the inside like a blow in the gut. Israel’s policy of detaining Palestinians without charge for long periods is well known.

The survival instinct orders us to eat and when we disobey, our lives are at risk. There are many stories about hungry people lost in an unfamiliar landscape who eat raw animal flesh, grass or leaves, or even kill and steal to fill their bellies. If Palestinian prisoners, in an enclosed, familiar space, choose to refuse food, it’s surely because they are desperate too. Does the survival instinct sometimes tell us to be free, even at the risk of death?

When I sat down to write this, the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported at least a dozen individual hunger strikers in Israeli jails. At that time we were in Ramadan.

During the fast I began to understand some of their feelings, though never for more than the length of a day, from sunrise to sunset, without food. As each hour passes the hunger-voice gets louder, our bodies feel weak, we are faint, we get headaches, yet our faith keeps us going. And of course we know it's going to end soon.

Hunger strikers can’t know this for sure. Probably hunger stings their veins like electric shocks, on and on, yet they keep the hunger fight alive, day after day, month after month, without knowing when it's going to end, until the time comes when they are no longer hungry. Of course they’d hope to survive. But in Palestine to eat is to continue down the road to death.


  • 30 May 2014 at 11:49am
    stettiner says:
    Israel has fewer than 200 prisoners in administrative detention. Jordan detains over 10,000 every year. The US, UK, Ireland, and Australia all use administrative detention for reasons of public safety, in much higher numbers than Israel does.

    • 30 May 2014 at 12:58pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ stettiner
      Good to know, so that clears Israel does it?

    • 31 May 2014 at 10:08am
      Phil Edwards says: @ stettiner
      The UK does not use "administrative detention for reasons of public safety" in higher numbers than Israel - or in any numbers at all. Detention without trial was introduced in 2001 for one specific category of suspect - non-nationals who were suspected of terrorist links but who couldn't be deported to their country of origin without violating their human rights. Less than 20 people had been detained in this way when the system was found to be unlawful, and abolished, in 2005.

      This doesn't give me much confidence in your assertions regarding the US, Ireland and Australia.

    • 31 May 2014 at 8:24pm
      stettiner says: @ Phil Edwards
      The UK has maintained many forms of Administrative detention over the years. The most recent forms were a series of Acts intended to introduce a form of administrative detention to Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974. This Act allowed the security forces to apprehend and detain persons suspected of terrorist activities without trial for an unlimited period. The introduction of the Act led directly to the creation of internment camps (particularly Long Kesh (the Maze) and the prison ship HMS Maidstone where suspects were detained, some for protracted periods. The Act of 1974 was amended a number of times during the late 20th and early 21st century, the most recent incarnation being the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 which introduced the concept of the control order, itself a more politically palatable means of limiting the freedom of a suspect without the need to provide a court of law with prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing. (Wikipedia)

    • 31 May 2014 at 8:25pm
      stettiner says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Yes, it does. You clean up your act first, before you preach to others.

    • 2 June 2014 at 2:36pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ stettiner
      You don't seem to know what you're talking about. Internment (including the use of HMS Maidstone) was in operation between 1971 and 1975 - nothing to do with the PT(TP)A 1974. That Act gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects, for pre-charge questioning, for a maximum of 48 hours, rising to 7 days on application to a judge.

      Obviously, control orders weren't 'administrative detention' either - in fact they were introduced to replace the (very limited) detention system, which I referred to above, which was introduced in 2001 and subsequently found unlawful. They've been abolished in any case.

    • 2 June 2014 at 2:40pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ stettiner
      Can I take it that you're a citizen of the US, UK, Ireland, and Australia, stettiner?

    • 2 June 2014 at 7:02pm
      stettiner says: @ Phil Edwards
      "Each year the UK detains around 1,000 children in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs)3. These children are members of families identified for enforced removal from Britain, who are detained indefinitely under administrative order. They have committed no crime but can be detained without time limit and without judicial oversight. The children range in age from very young babies to older teenagers, as well as so-called ‘age disputed minors’ who are alone. (...)The majority of children in administrative detention are from families seeking asylum." (The Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health).

    • 2 June 2014 at 7:09pm
      stettiner says: @ Phil Edwards
      I'm not a citizen of Israel, if that's what you are angling for. Why does it matter?

    • 3 June 2014 at 8:32am
      Phil Edwards says: @ stettiner
      "You clean up your act first, before you preach to others." By your own logic you shouldn't be criticising the practices of states which aren't your own.

    • 3 June 2014 at 8:38am
      Phil Edwards says: @ Phil Edwards
      In other words, "everything I wrote above was incorrect so I'm going to change the subject". Detention of children in immigration removal centres is scandalous, but it has nothing to do with "administrative detention for public safety", which is what we've been talking about up till now.

      I don't think a comparison of British and Israeli treatment of immigrants would necessarily be unfavourable to Britain, either.

    • 4 June 2014 at 1:02pm
      stettiner says: @ Phil Edwards
      Thousands of people, including babies, are administratively detained in the UK each year. "But none of them for the reason of public safety!!" exclaims Phil Edwards. And "internment without trial" isn't semantically the same as "administrative detention".

      OK, Phil, you convinced me. You are right and I'm wrong. Britannia rules... It's just those stupid immigrants, who keep coming to Israel despite the risk of being shot to death by the Egyptians or kidnapped and tortured by the Sinai Beduins, instead of going straight to the UK, who welcomes them with open arms....

    • 4 June 2014 at 3:06pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ stettiner
      Hi stettiner
      Going back to your earlier point, in which you stated that the UK detains people without trial (leaving aside semantics) "in much higher numbers than Israel", please give us the numbers, and your source. Thanks.

    • 4 June 2014 at 3:08pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ stettiner
      Also, it may blow your mind to hear this, but criticisms of the actions of a given State have the same moral and political force regardless of the passport held by the person making the criticism.

    • 4 June 2014 at 11:06pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ stettiner
      stettiner, you wrote

      "The US, UK, Ireland, and Australia all use administrative detention for reasons of public safety, in much higher numbers than Israel does."

      In the case of the UK, at least, I'd like you to acknowledge that this statement is incorrect. The UK currently does not use administrative detention for reasons of public safety.

      I haven't said anything in defence of the UK immigration system.

    • 6 June 2014 at 3:25pm
      rupert moloch says: @ stettiner
      I'm not certain that the relativity of Australian practices is particularly useful. Many Australian citizens (a minority, alas) regard it as an indefensible breach of our ethical obligation to the world's most vulnerable citizens. Many international bodies have declared it a breach of our treaty obligations and/or international law.

      However an important distinction is that this coercive detention is applied to "irregular migrants" that the government has determined to have entered the country illegally. By the logic of the Australian government, the illegal Jewish settlers of East Jerusalem would be subject to such detention: not the indigenous Palestinians.

      In the Israeli case surely the most pressing legal matter is its consistent breach of fundamental principles of the Geneva conventions. As an occupying power, it has responsibility for the civilian population of Palestine. If the hostilities have ceased, then it must retire to its internationally recognised border. If the hostilities are continuing, then the collective punishment of civilian populations, forced relocation and/or expatriation of same, the introduction of foreign settlers (etc etc etc) all meet the evidentiary standards of crimes against humanity.

  • 5 June 2014 at 10:02am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    My take is that there's a hidden sub-text to this exchange of opinions, which might go "People who criticise events/politicians/policies in Israel are a priori anti-semites and anti-Israel" That's what happens to many Israelis as well. Just as important as the detained prisoners are the outrageous policies of the Israeli government in the occupied areas.

  • 5 June 2014 at 4:05pm
    stettiner says:
    OK, let’s round it up. All the data below is from the Arab ”Addamer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association” and you can find it here: In this report ”administrative detention” and ”internment” are interchangeable. Maybe they also, as me, are confused and should consult Phil Edwards.

    As of February 2013, there were 178 Palestinians administrative detainees in Israeli custody.

    Meanwhile, in India, estimates range from 8,000 to 20,000 detained under the PSA in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 20 years. In Sri Lanka, although the emergency powers expired in 2011, new regulations were introduced in order to keep thousands of separatist Tamils imprisoned, including human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists. According to the Jordan National Centre for Human Rights, around 11,300 people were administratively detained in Jordan in 2012. In China, according to government statistics, approximately 160,000 people are held without trial in 350 facilities at any given time. Administrative detention laws continue to allow the Singapore government to detain activists indefinitely without charge or trial. So-called “Islamic fundamentalists” and other ‘fanatics’ are also targeted for administrative detention. As of January 2012, activists claimed that upwards of 25,000 people were detained in Syria. And so on, and so on….

    And the UK? In 2004, the House of Lords ruled that indefinite detention without charge was against the Human Rights Act, effectively ending the practice. The UK then went through a series of other “terrorism-related” detention schemes, including the current one, which allows the government to control a person’s association and movement based on a secret file and without trial. As for immigration-related administrative detention, the UK is one of the few European countries that have yet to impose limits on the time a person can spend in immigration detention. Immigration detainees complain of high levels of violence and drug use inside detention centers and an increasing number of suicides amongst detainees, as well as systematic medical neglect.

    @Phil Edwards. As you see, according to the authors of the report, the Act you say was deemed unlawful was replaced by other measures, which are still in use.

    @Harry Stopes. If you scroll you can see that I’m citing The Royal College of GP’s (and others): “Each year the UK detains around 1,000 children in Immigration Removal Centres”. Is that enough? If not, there’s more…. Regarding passports, it wasn’t me who introduced citizenship into this conversation. You are stating the obvious, but isn’t it natural to look around before you focus over the border?

    @Geoff Roberts. To you I have only one thing to say: if the shoe fits, wear it.

    Well, gentlemen, thank you for this round. See you next time.

    • 5 June 2014 at 5:17pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ stettiner
      "Yes, it does. You clean up your act first, before you preach to others."
      Pretty sure that's you introducing citizenship, you div.

    • 5 June 2014 at 7:52pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ stettiner
      In this report ”administrative detention” and ”internment” are interchangeable. Maybe they also, as me, are confused and should consult Phil Edwards.

      I never drew a distinction between ”administrative detention” and ”internment”. I did, however, say that you were incorrect to say that the UK uses "administrative detention for reasons of public safety".

      As you see, according to the authors of the report, the Act you say was deemed unlawful was replaced by other measures, which are still in use.

      The authors of the report are wrong twice over. The measures which replaced the (very limited) detention system introduced by ATCSA 2001 were not themselves a form of detention, and they're not still in use.

      I think you may be labouring under a misapprehension about the purpose of my comments on this thread. I'm not trying to defend the UK government or its security practices, let alone its immigration system. The detention system introduced by ATCSA was a blot on the rule of law, and I strongly supported the campaigning work of the dedicated lawyers whose work eventually made it unsustainable. It was abolished in 2005, and a good thing too. Since that time the UK government has not held anyone in "administrative detention for reasons of public safety", and long may this be the case. (The detention of irregular migrants is a scandal in its own right - in Britain as elsewhere.)

      So that's my position on administrative detention in Britain (or anywhere else). What was your position on administrative detention in Israel? That it's not as bad as what they do in other countries? Even if it were true (which it appears not to be) this would be an appallingly complacent line of argument.

    • 6 June 2014 at 8:48am
      Phil Edwards says: @ Phil Edwards
      Clarification: it's certainly the case that, at present, many countries detain more people on 'security' grounds than Israel. What's not true is that the UK is among them. (I don't know about Australia, Ireland or the US - the other countries in your original list - but at the moment I don't see any reason to believe you got those right either.)

      What's also not true, of course, is that you can excuse the crimes of country A by pointing out that country B has done something even worse. Apart from anything else, on that logic we would still have administrative detention in Britain ("it only affects 10-20 people - you should campaign against what the Israelis are doing, it's far worse").

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