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Prisoner on hunger strike faints in court; judges delay ruling

Hunger striking prisoner Bilal Diab collapsed during a High Court of Justice hearing. The Prison Service disregarded a judicial order to let MK Ahmad Tibi treat him.

Bilal Diab, an administrative detainee on the 66th day of his hunger strike, collapsed today (Thursday) during a hearing in his case in the High Court of Justice. Despite his failing health, the High Court has yet to rule on his case, and while it may still rule today, it is likely the ruling will be postponed to Sunday.

As Diab was removed from the courtroom, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said “there is a doctor in the room – MK Ahmad Tibi,” and asked Tibi to check on Diab. However, as Tibi noted in a phone interview, as he went to see Diab, followed by an officer of the Court Guard, Prison Service guards refused him access to the patient. When the Court Guard officer told them Tibi was following a judicial order, the Prison Service officer informed Tibi that he “does not take orders from judges.”

Tibi returned to the courtroom, Rubinstein reiterated his decision, and still the Prison Service officer refused to comply. Finally, Tibi returned to the courtroom a third time, and all three justices signed an order demanding he see the prisoner. The Prison Service guards reluctantly obeyed.

Tibi described Diab’s condition as “very bad.” Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) told me in a phone interview that while Diab is being treated in a hospital, three of his limbs are chained to his bed. Another prisoner on a hunger strike, Thaer Halahleh, is being held in the Prison Service’s own medical facility, which lacks the necessary equipment to deal with hunger strikers. They reported that according to Diab, when he was moved to the hospital, a doctor – which the prisoner could not identify – removed him from his wheelchair, put him on the floor, and told him, “You stay here.”

Had to ask the court three times to treat a prisoner. MK Ahmad Tibi (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

MK Ahmad Tibi had to ask the court three times to treat a prisoner (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

Both PHR-I and MK Tibi note a clear hardening in the attitude of the Prison Service following the hunger strike by Khader Adnan, whose strike ended in a deal that saw him recently released. Both note that while they had relatively free access to Adnan, they have very limited access to the prisoners currently on hunger strikes.

Tibi, again, is an MK; technically, his parliamentary status grants him access to all but the most secure military facilities. Yet this privilege is being disregarded. Tibi thinks this is a deliberate policy of the Prison Service, which is afraid that Adnan’s successful strike may encourage others, and is meant to show that the Service will not back down. He believes this may lead to death of some of the prisoners – which, in turn, will cause an explosion in the West Bank.

Yet despite the behavior of the Prison Service, one cannot escape the feeling that the real cruelty is in the inaction of the judges. Diab is on the 66th day of a hunger strike, everyone agrees he is in very bad condition and may die at any moment – and, according to PHR-I, will definitely die if he passes the 70 day-threshold. Even so, the court takes its time making its decision. The lives of Palestinians are, apparently, less important.

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    1. The prison service conduct looks awfully close to mutiny.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Does Israel not have the charge of contempt of court? Because the entire state seems to hold its courts in contempt.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Piotr Berman

      Apparently, “contempt of the court” is a concept from Anglo-Saxon common law. However, disobeying direct orders of the court would be shocking in more civilized countries. American judge could order court marshals to arrest prison guards on the spot, or to fine them.

      Callousness of the judges is more of an international norm.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Israeli law certainly does have contempt of court, in a concept that is basically a literal translation of the phrase into Hebrew.

      Reply to Comment
    5. The Israeli courts, more or less, have a oommon law from the prior jurisditions they inherited. So they have contempt power and, I think, Habeus Corpus–“present the body,” which removes said body from the authority holding it until the court decides.
      The Court will not begin to at purely for humanitarian or human rights, but to butress its own authority. The indignity will be the prison guard’s action. At some point, the Court will refuse the explaining phone call.
      I think the Court’s constitutional stand may about to begin (I, of course, weasel with “may”); but, if not now, these indignities to law will just accelerate. There will be a point of no more. And it may well begin through the defined “outsider,” acting for her/his own world. This is how human rights are articulated and imported.
      It’s not going to get cheery–but I think there is hope now.
      And a man may die.

      Reply to Comment
    6. left out a few words in the above. Tired today. Sorry.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sherri Munnerlyn

      Amnesty Intl has issued a call for urgent action, regarding 6 prisoners in imminent threat of death. Here is a letter I am sending to every member of The Knesset, by email, in regard to the prisoners and Amnesty’s call for action. We have two prisoners held in unlawful administrative detentions entering Day 69 of their hunger strike.


      Nissim Zeev


      Dear Nissim Zeev,

      I am forarding you an email I sent to PM Netanyahu this morning, and I want to try to ensure all members of the Knesset know about these Palestinian prisoners under threat of imminent death. I know you do not want their deaths on your conscience. Thank you for considering their plight and anything you can do to help improve the situation.

      Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

      I am very concerned about the safety and welfare of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under administrative detentions who are on hunger strikes, in particular six prisoners who have been identified by Amnesty International as facing imminent death, Bilal Diab and Tha’er Halahleh, who are today on Day 68 of their hunger strikes, Hassan Safadi, Omar Abu Shalal, Ja’afar Izz al-Din, and Mahmoud al-Sarsak.

      These administrative detentions Israel is holding Palestinian prisoners under, that include the six prisoners named above, violate international treaties Israel is bound to which internationally recognize rights to a fair trial for detainees and prisoners, to include the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

      Evidence heard in secret, which provides neither the defendant nor his attorney being allowed to examine the evidence or challenge it, violates the requirements of international law that mandate fair legal proceedings and due process in detentions of prisoners. These detentions are war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

      I urge you to ensure Israel abides by her obligations under international law and call on the Israeli authorities to release these six detainees in imminent danger of death, as well as all other Palestinians in administrative detention, unless they are promptly charged with internationally recognizable criminal offenses and brought to trial in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards.

      I urge you to ensure the immediate transfer of Tha’er Halahleh and other detainees on prolonged hunger strikes to a fully-equipped hospital so they can receive specialized medical care.

      I urge you to ensure that all detainees on hunger strike are allowed regular, private access to independent doctors, families and lawyers, treated humanely, and not punished in any way for their hunger strike.

      I urge you to end the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of administrative detainees, such as shackling detainees on prolonged hunger strike, that the human rights organizations and NGO’s are reporting Israel is engaging in.

      I urge you to ensure Israel abides by her obligations under international law and deals humanely with Palestinian prisoners she holds captive and in detention.


      Sherri Munnerlyn

      Reply to Comment
    8. […] Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on hunger strike. Just over a week ago, one of them collapsed during his court hearing after going for sixty-six days without food. He is Bilal Diab, and today […]

      Reply to Comment