Israel ‘in talks’ over Palestinian journalist on 75-day hunger strike

Israeli security officials are trying to reach an agreement over the fate of Muhammed al-Qeq, the first Palestinian journalist to go on 75-day hunger strike, local media reported. He was arrested without trial in November and may die at any moment.

Al-Qeq, 33, was arrested on November 21 by Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which accused him of links to Hamas. He launched a hunger strike in protest at being detained without charges or due legal process, refusing food and drinking only water. The journalist is believed to be the first to protest extrajudicial detention, widely practiced against the Palestinians, by refusing food.

Al-Qeq’s wife, Faiha’a Shalash, earlier told RT the Israelis arrested him in his house in Ramallah, citing alleged media incitement to violence as justification. She said al-Qeq was made to suffer inhuman and degrading treatment in an Israeli detention center.

“We knew that he was subject to all kinds of threats and torture methods, like being beaten on a small chair when he was handcuffed and blindfolded for long hours.”

His health condition worsened rapidly after losing over 20 kilograms, al-Qeq’s lawyer told RT earlier in November, adding he suspects the authorities of planning force-feeding – widely recognized as torture. The journalist was losing consciousness while trying to walk to the toilet, and the prison guards reportedly forced him to give a blood sample despite his condition.

Last Thursday, Israel's Supreme Court lifted an order to hold him under the controversial administrative detention law, which allows the state to hold suspects without trial indefinitely.

However, the court ruled al-Qeq still needs permission to leave the hospital where he is handcuffed to his bed.

"The patient at this stage — and in fact during recent days — is in grave danger and in a condition where there is a high risk of his sudden death," Jordan Times quoted the Afula Hospital as saying.

Hiba Masalha, an attorney for the Palestinian Authority’s Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, visited al-Qeq on Friday evening in the hospital where he is being kept under an Israeli court order.

Masalha said that al-Qeq is in a “struggle against death,” but is going on with his hunger strike to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday. On Friday, Palestinian media disseminated this video of al-Qeq in his hospital bed holding a sign in English, Hebrew and Arabic declaring that he was continuing his hunger strike.

Saturday’s talks between Israeli security officials and the Palestinian authorities are believed to be trying to reach an agreement, in order to shorten the period of his arrest and to try to ensure the warrant against him is not renewed, Haaretz reported.

Previously, senior UN humanitarian officials had voiced concern at the administrative detention of more than 525 Palestinians in Israeli jails and detention centers, including al-Qeq.

The UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid for the occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper said in a statement on Tuesday that all the Palestinian detainees must be set free by Israel immediately.

“After 69 days of hunger strike, Mr Al-Qeq is in a dangerous state of health and his physicians have informed him of the possibility of irreversible damage. I reiterate the United Nations’ long-standing position that all administrative detainees – Palestinian or Israeli – should be charged or released without delay. All allegations of ill-treatment must also be independently and promptly investigated.”