Hebron, Occupied West Bank – In al-Fuwwar refugee camp south of Hebron, Palestinians trickled into a tent set up more than 70 days ago by camp residents when Sami al-Janazreh, 43, launched a hunger strike against his detention and mistreatment in Israeli prison.
Visitors discussed the [hunger] strike inside the makeshift tent whose walls are plastered with images of Sami’s face and slogans for his release.
Sami, a father of three, gave up food on March 3 after an Israeli military court extended his administrative detention by another four months, a practice under which a detainee can be held on secret evidence indefinitely.
Sami was arrested last November and immediately placed under administrative detention. According to his lawyer, due to his classification as an administrative detainee, the reasons why he was arrested remain unknown. A court hearing is expected on Wednesday.
Across the street from the visitors’ tent stands Sami’s house where his family waits for his return. “They [Israeli soldiers] refused to let our mother – or anyone else – talk to Sami,” Haitham al-Janazareh, Sami’s brother, told Al Jazeera. “If anyone tried, Israeli soldiers would hold their guns against them and tell them to go inside.”
The decision by a Palestinian detainee to endure hunger strike creates one of the few spaces possible where a Palestinian is able to subvert the power of the state.
According to Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society, the Israeli authorities revoked Sami’s rights to family visits after he began his hunger strike. No relatives had spoken to Sami for nearly 50 days. After over two months on strike, Sami weighs just over 48 kilos and his health has deteriorated severely .
Sami is one of 750 Palestinians held under administrative detention by Israel, according to prisoners’ rights group Addameer. He is the third Palestinian prisoner in the past year to surpass two months without food in protest of their administrative detention; one of these cases led Israeli rights group B’Tselem to slam Israel for reaching a “new low in the instrumentalist approach to human beings”.
Sami was transferred to Soroka Medical Center, where he has since been held under Israeli custody, on April 29 after experiencing seizures, hypothermia, slow heart rate and low blood pressure.
Sami’s detention, according to family members, has had its toll on his children. His eight-year-old son is suffering from severe depression due to his father’s absence, according to his aunt. “Sami’s kids know all about the legal process, they see the emotions, they hear the news, and listen to the phone calls their uncle gets from the lawyers, they wait for any update as much as we do,” Hanaa al-Janazareh, Sami’s sister, told Al Jazeera.
Last Wednesday, Sami temporarily suspended his strike after the Israeli authorities pledged to present evidence of the charges against him but demanded that Sami resume eating in order to undergo investigation.
Fares told Al Jazeera that Sami – certain that Israel would not find information to hold against him – vowed to continue his strike if the court failed to press charges and extended his administrative detention in a hearing to be held on Wednesday.
While Sami’s strike has not succeeded in securing his release, Palestinian political analyst, Basil Farraj, said that Israel’s move to investigate charges against Sami was “a significant victory against the state’s use of administrative detention”.
Farraj explained that while Israel’s concession to hold a trial may seem insignificant, the move – which could end Sami’s classification as an administrative detainee – upsets Israel’s system of control.
“True that Sami suspended his strike, however, one reason was because Israel agreed to take him to court. The Israelis said: ‘We now have evidence against you that we can show you.’ In that sense, their policy has been destroyed.
“The decision by a Palestinian detainee to endure hunger strike creates one of the few spaces possible where a Palestinian is able to subvert the power of the state.”
Farraj, who has done research on Palestinian hunger strikers, explained that in a system in which Israel uses myriad forms of violence to maintain control – including displacement, control of movement, detention, and torture of detainees – a Palestinian on hunger strike regains agency over the one thing such forms of violence control: The Palestinian body.
“The body of the striking prisoner unsettles one of the most fundamental relationships to violence … 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 in a recent analysis.
Meanwhile, as Sami stands in limbo between life and death, his family and visitors to the prisoners’ tent discuss his decision to suspend the hunger strike. There is consensus in backing his decision to take his fate into his own hands, rather than remain in administrative detention.
According to Mahmoud, Sami’s brother, regaining control over his body is a major feat for his family of refugees. “We’ve tried to fight the occupation in every way possible. It is our legal right to fight against this occupation,” Mahmoud said. “Sami is only fighting this occupation to try to get our rights back. He is like any other Palestinian who refuses the occupation.”