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Court rejects appeal of Palestinian hunger strikers

From Kevin Flower, CNN
updated 9:30 PM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Judges rule that two men on hunger strike remain a security risk to Israel
  • Bilal Diab, 27, and Tha'er Halahlah, 33, have been on a hunger strike for 70 days
  • They are protesting administrative detention, which allows indefinite imprisonment
  • Up to 2,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons are staging a mass hunger strike

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel's high court rejected Monday an appeal requesting the release of two Palestinian prisoners who are in the 70th day of a hunger strike, an attorney representing them said.

Judges ruled that the two men remained a security risk to Israel, and that their hunger strike was not a reason to release them from administrative detention, according to lawyer Jamil al-Khatib.

Al-Khatib said he had not yet gotten a chance to inform Bilal Diab and Tha'er Halahlah of the court's decision, but he said he expected both men would continue their hunger strike.

Diab, 27, and Halahlah, 33, are among an estimated 1,600 to 2,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons who are staging a mass hunger strike to protest prison conditions and administrative detention, a controversial Israeli military practice that allows authorities to detain people indefinitely.

The process also allows for detention based on secret evidence, and there is no requirement to charge the detainees or to allow them to stand trial.

Palestinian hunger strike, protests grow

Diab and Halahlah, members of the Gaza-based militant group Islamic Jihad, are both in custody under administrative detention. Diab has been in custody for nine months, while Halahlah has been in custody for 22 months.

On Sunday, Al-Khatib said his clients were nearing death and accused the Israeli high court of procrastinating in delivering a ruling.

"I believe what the court is doing here is trying to break the will of both prisoners so they will back down in their hunger strike," he said.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told CNN that both men "were arrested for their direct involvement in promoting terror" and suggested that administrative detention constituted "the only available means to thwart the danger" the men posed to Israel.

Looking pale and weak, both men appeared in wheelchairs before the Israeli high court Thursday while their lawyers petitioned the judges that they be released, arguing that their continued detention was illegal and that their deteriorating medical conditions should be taken into consideration.

Amany Daify, a project coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights, an Israeli group advocating on behalf of the hunger striking prisoners, said both prisoners "are in a life-threatening condition" and continued to refuse to be given minerals or liquids.

"There is no documented history of any person who survived without food or supplements beyond 75 days," Daify said.

According to a spokeswoman for the Israeli Prison Service, Diab is being held at an Israeli hospital while Halahlah is being cared for at prison medical facility.

More than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons for a variety of offenses, ranging from rock-throwing to murder. Of these, about 300 are being held in administrative detention, according to rights groups.

The vast majority of prisoners refusing to eat began their protest on April 17, while a handful have been without food for longer.

While hunger strikes are not a new tactic of Palestinian resistance, a series of recent high-profile cases have brought increased attention to the practice and served as a rallying cry for Palestinians, who have staged multiple protests in the West Bank and Gaza in support of prisoners.

Kareem Khadder and Guy Azriel contributed to this report.

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