Israel releases Palestinian journalist, hunger-striker Muhammad al-Qiq

Published May 20th, 2016 - 08:34 GMT
Mohammed al-Qiq flashes a peace sign as he arrives back to his village in the West Bank. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
Mohammed al-Qiq flashes a peace sign as he arrives back to his village in the West Bank. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

Israeli authorities released Palestinian journalist Muhammad al-Qiq Thursday who came near-death in recent months during a 94-day hunger strike in protest of his administrative detention.

The release of the hunger-striker marks the end of his six-month administrative detention -- an Israeli policy of internment without charge or trial based on “secret” evidence that even a detainee’s lawyer is barred from viewing.

In a rare move, Israeli authorities released al-Qiq near the illegal Israeli Beit Hagai settlement that sits on the southern Hebron hills in the southern occupied West Bank, according to Ibrahim Najajra, director of the Ministry of Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Affairs in the Hebron district.

The family of al-Qiq, including his two children, excitedly waited for him at the Mitar crossing to welcome him back to his home in Palestine following his gruelling six month ordeal.

The 33-year old journalist from the northern occupied West Bank district of Ramallah was originally detained in November and initially embarked on his hunger strike to protest the torture and ill-treatment he faced in Israeli custody, but which soon developed into a demonstration against Israel’s internationally condemned policy of administrative detention.

Al-Qiq ended his 94-day hunger strike after his lawyer struck a deal with Israeli authorities toward the end of February. Although his immediate release was not granted, Israeli authorities agreed not to renew his administrative detention order and release the imprisoned journalist in May.

Al-Qiq’s imprisonment -- widely condemned by the United NationsAmnesty International, and other rights groups -- and his subsequent hunger strike, which brought him to the brink of death, directed a spotlight on Israel’s use of administrative detention, its arbitrary imprisonment of Palestinians, and the concerted targeting of Palestinian journalists.

“They [Palestinian journalists] are now experiencing forceful and abusive detention because they have been the voice of human conscience, exposing crimes and oppressive practices of Israeli occupation against the Palestinian people,” al-Qiq said in a statement in late January.

Palestinian journalists including myself are paying the toll of a racist Israeli policy,” al-Qiq wrote.

“When people are treated tyrannically, they are no longer worried about the consequences even if the toll is life. Thus, I entrusted myself in God’s hands and I will continue with this hunger strike, until martyrdom or freedom,” al-Qiq said in the statement.

Al-Qiq’s steadfast commitment to his hunger strike won him popular support among Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory, as they marched, protested, and clashed with Israeli forces in shows of solidarity with the detained journalist.

All the while, al-Qiq’s health continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate, with his wife, Fayhaa Shalash, reporting to Ma’an in February that the hunger-striker had become “unresponsive.” A little over a week later, one of al-Qiq’s lawyers told Ma’an he started suffering from sharp chest pains, numbness in his face, and had begun "shouting loudly, and screaming: 'Let me hear my son's voice, please God."

Al-Qiq's family was barred from visiting him during his hunger strike, despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that Israeli authorities must allow family visits for the critically ill prisoner. 

Israeli authorities were also accused of forcing treatment on the hunger-striker during his detention in a direct violation of medical ethics. 

Later in February, one of al-Qiq's lawyers reported at the time that al-Qiq was going to die at any moment after 92 days of the prisoner being on hunger strike. 
Al-Qiq created a space for himself among the long line of Palestinian hunger-strikers who have used their bodies as a way of subverting the power of Israeli authorities and focusing international attention on Israel’s use of arbitrary detention as a weapon against the Palestinian population. 
“The violence to which Palestinian prisoners are subjected must be seen within the context of Israel’s colonial project and its subjection of the entire population to different forms of violence, including the loss of their land, destruction of their homes, expulsion, and exile," Basil Farraj of the Palestinian policy organization Al-Shabaka said in a recent policy brief 
The various forms of violence Israeli agents and institutions inflict on Palestinians, coupled with the omnipotent control they hold over every aspect of Palestinian political and civil life, has created the conditions in which inflicting violence on your own body becomes one of the only avenues left to subvert a mechanism of control regularly used by Israeli authorities. 
“Through hunger strikes, prisoners no longer remain silent recipients of the prison authorities’ ongoing violence: Instead, they inflict violence upon their own bodies in order to impose their demands. In other words, hunger strikes are a space outside the reach of the Israeli state’s power. The body of the striking prisoner unsettles one of the most fundamental relationships to violence behind prison walls, the one in which the Israeli state and its prison authorities control every aspect of their lives behind bars and are the sole inflictors of violence,” Farraj wrote.
All of the 700 Palestinians currently being held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons are not granted any rights to defend themselves in a fair trial, nor have they heard a single piece of evidence against them that could justify their detentions.  According to prisoners' rights group Addameer, Israel’s policy of administrative detention is almost exclusively used against Palestinians. 
Following a wave of violence that erupted across the occupied territory since October, Palestinian journalists have been targeted by Israeli forces amid a concerted crackdown on Palestinian media outlets, with at least 43 journalists being arbitrarily detained since the start of violence. 
In a statement released in March, Palestinian media freedoms group MADA said Israel’s targeting of Palestinian journalists and media was neglecting “the main reason for the whole conflict, which is the continuous occupation and all systematic violations against Palestinian people.” 

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