‘Release or death’: Palestinian in Israeli jail stops medication

Amin Shweiki, 61, refuses to take insulin injections in protest against months-long detention without trial or charge.

Palestinian prisoner Amin Shweiki, 61, suffers from diabetes and takes three insulin injections every day [Courtesy of Hanaa Shweiki]

Beit Hanina, Occupied East Jerusalem – For the past week, Palestinian prisoner Amin Shweiki, 61, has refused to take his insulin injections in protest against his months-long imprisonment without trial or formal charges.

Israeli forces arrested a diabetic Amin on May 17 from his home under the administrative detention law, as part of a campaign of arrests (PDF) in the city following protests against the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and the bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Amin, a UK graduate in civil engineering, is one of the 520 Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention, a policy that allows the Israeli police and military to imprison Palestinians indefinitely, on “secret information”, without presenting them with formal charges or allowing them to stand trial – laws that originate from the British occupation of Palestine.

A day before his expected release on September 16, an Israeli court extended Amin’s administrative detention order for an additional four months, prompting him to declare a strike in the country’s southern Naqab prison where he is being held.

“Either I am released, or I die here,” he told his wife and lawyer.

The father of seven usually takes three shots of insulin every day, as well as heart, cholesterol and kidney medication, according to his wife. He is a tradesman in glass and owns a well-known glass shop near the Old City of Jerusalem.

“I’m worried about him,” his 59-year-old wife, Hanaa Shweiki, told Al Jazeera from the garden of their home in Beit Hanina.

“He feels exhausted and says he can no longer do any real exercise as he always does,” she said, adding that he is reporting experiencing frequent urination, intense thirst, and bitterness in the mouth.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS), Amin is also one of the five prisoners with various illnesses – including chronic ones – who are resisting their administrative detention by refusing to take their medication across different prisons. The other four, who hail from the occupied West Bank, are Ayed Dudin, Yousif Qazzaz, Ahmad Abu Sundus, and Yasser Budrusawi.

Hanaa Shweiki, 59, drives for five hours to see her jailed husband once a month in the Naqab prison [Zena al-Tahhan/Al Jazeera]

Over the past month, the issue of Palestinian prisoners has taken centre stage after six prisoners managed to break out of Israel’s high-security Gilboa prison through a tunnel in the country’s north at dawn on September 6.

The jailbreak was widely hailed as a victory by Palestinians, most of whom view detainees in Israeli prisons – numbering 4,650 Palestinians, including 200 children – as political prisoners who are in detention because of the Israeli military occupation or their resistance to it.

Since then, prisons have witnessed heightened tensions due to claims of abuse against the six escapees who were later rearrested, as well as Israeli collective punishment policies against Palestinian prisoners, who have continuously threatened to go on a mass hunger strike.

At present, six other Palestinian prisoners – Kayed Fasfous, Miqdad Qawasmi, Hisham Abu Hawash, Rayeq Bisharat, Alaa al-Araj and Shadi Abu Aker – are undergoing an open-ended hunger strike against their administrative detention.

Fasfous and Qawasmi – who have been jailed for two months – are suffering from serious deterioration to their health and have been hospitalised, according to prisoners’ groups.

Israel’s renewed mass arrest campaign against hundreds of Palestinians in Jerusalem came after nearly two months of political upheaval in April and May that saw Palestinians in occupied territories as well as inside Israel protest against forced displacement of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and days of deadly bombardment of Gaza Strip.

Amjad Abu Asab, head of a committee of the families of Jerusalem’s prisoners, told Al Jazeera 14 Palestinians from Jerusalem arrested in May remain in administrative detention.

“They were all interrogated in a shallow manner, and given administrative detention orders,” which he said was part of Israel’s strategy to “instil a fear factor in hope of regaining its control over the lives of Palestinians in Jerusalem” following the mass protests in April and May.

Violent arrest 

Back in Beit Hanina, Hanaa recalled the moment of her husband’s arrest just before noon on May 17 while they were having breakfast in the garden, describing it as “extremely violent”.

“They arrived at our home with a very large force – about 25 people – including female officers and a dog,” said Hanaa. “They entered and started walking around the house – they didn’t even give time for my daughters to get dressed, and didn’t want to listen to us.”

“They were searching the house in a very provocative manner – like they were doing it for amusement. My daughter was filming, but they surrounded her, took her phone and deleted the video. When I tried to defend her, the female officer directed the dog at us,” she said.

“Amin started shouting at them, and then they held him and hit his head on the table.”

According to Hanaa and Abu Asab, Amin suffered a broken arm and breakage in several of his ribs during his arrest, which he later discovered at the al-Mascoubiyeh Detention Center in Jerusalem where he was transferred upon his arrest.

In a short video taken towards the end of his arrest, Amin is heard telling Israeli forces: “Show me one thing you have against me!”

His lawyer Mahmoud Mohammad told Al Jazeera Israeli forces informally accused Amin of “being active in Jerusalem with Hamas”, the armed movement that administers the Gaza Strip, but have not interrogated him or presented him with any evidence.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Hanaa. “Amin is getting old, he’s always at home with me – we’re stuck to each other, and our sons have taken over most of the work he used to do – he only sometimes goes to the shop and the factory.”

“What can we expect from them? Only injustice,” added Hanaa, referring to the Israeli occupation.

In 2013, Israeli forces demolished their home in Beit Hanina on the pretext of “lacking a permit”, despite having applied for one, according to Hanaa. She said Israeli authorities gave them 20 minutes before the demolition. They rebuilt their home again in 2016 after obtaining the permit.

Activists and Palestinian residents in occupied territories say they find it difficult to obtain building permits due to discrimination by Israeli authorities. Israel rejected 98 percent of Palestinian building requests in the West Bank’s Area C between 2016 and 2018, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Restricting Palestinians in Jerusalem 

Amin is a former prisoner who was released in 2009 following two years in jail. According to his wife, he was sentenced at the time on the basis of “giving gifts to children at the Al-Aqsa Mosque”.

Prior to his imprisonment, he served as treasurer for the Islamic Heritage Committee at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, considered the third holiest site in Islam. The Committee was shut down in 2003 after 11 years in operation, according to Waqf officials.

Israel outlaws all Palestinian political parties – including Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – as “terrorist groups”. It regularly sentences many Palestinians on the pretext of “membership in an illegal organisation” or “providing services to one” due to their political affiliations, or any kind of peaceful activity.

In Jerusalem, since the 1993 Oslo Accords, this has materialised into a war against Palestinian institutions, research centres, charitable organisations and even community events, which Israeli forces have systematically raided, outlawed and shutdown, and arrested many of the employees, as part of an effort to constrict Palestinian voices or mobilisation in the city, in the absence of Palestinian leadership there.

In June, Israeli forces preemptively shut down a market in the residential neighbourhood of Beit Hanina organised as part of Palestine Economic Week, which included local markets across the country, threatening the organisers against holding it and claiming Hamas affiliations.

“There is not one home in Palestine without a prisoner, a martyr, or a demolished home,” said Hanaa.

Amin’s lawyer, Mohammad, told Al Jazeera a hearing will be held next week on his appeal against the renewal of the detention order. The judge may decide to either keep Amin in custody for the rest of the four months, which can go on for an indefinite period, or to lessen the period.

In the case of a negative outcome, the lawyer intends to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Head of the families’ prisoners’ committee, Abu Asab, said prisoners in administrative detention “live in the unknown”.

“They see no horizon, and do not know when their pain will end.”

Source: Al Jazeera