THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: “Hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners grows” by Ruth Pollard 28Mar12 March 28, 2012

by Ruth Pollard  -  The Sydney Morning Herald  -  28 March 2012

JERUSALEM: With her muscles wasting and her heart under increasing strain, 30-year-old Hana al-Shalabi is on her 41st day without food, and doctors say her condition is worsening by the day.

She has been joined by at least 29 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes in Israeli jails, as the protests against Israel’s practice of detaining people without charge gains momentum.

Most, like Ms al-Shalabi, are being held in administrative detention – that is, without charge for periods of up to six months that can be renewed indefinitely.

The Israeli Military Court rejected an appeal against Ms al-Shalabi’s administrative detention order on Sunday, ruling she must serve the full four months of the order, set to expire on June 23.

There is no indication of what led to Ms al-Shalabi’s arrest in her home in the northern West Bank village of Burqin on the night of February 16. She is thought to have an association with Islamic Jihad, an organisation banned in Israel, but neither she nor her lawyer have been told of any charges Israel plans to lay or evidence they have against her.

Attempts to get a statement from the Israel Prison Service were unsuccessful. Ms al-Shalabi was released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal on October 18 last year after spending more than two years in Israeli jails without charge or trial. She says she has faced severe abuse at the hands of Israeli authorities, but her allegations were not accepted by the Military Court.

Amnesty International condemned the court’s ruling, noting that ”the judge’s decision was based on secret evidence not disclosed to Hana Shalabi or her defence team”.

Anat Litvin, director of the prisoner’s program for Physicians for Human Rights Israel, said a doctor from the group had visited Ms al-Shalabi on Monday after her condition significantly deteriorated at the weekend. ”She has atrophy and wasting of the muscle, and this involves her heart as well – she has a heart murmur caused by the body digesting the heart muscle because it does not have any other source of energy,” Ms Litvin said.

On the advice of the doctor, Ms al-Shalabi agreed to have calcium and vitamin K added to her water, which had stabilised her condition temporarily, she said.

Two other hunger strikers have gone without food for 25 days each, while a 72-year-old prisoner had not eaten for a week, Ms Litvin said.

There are fears hospital and prison officials are preparing to initiate a force-feeding regime for Ms al-Shalabi, which would be a breach of both international law and medical ethics, she said.

There are about 320 Palestinians being held without charge in Israeli jails, including one held for more than three years and two for more than two years, says human rights group B’Tselem.

Last month, Khader Adnan, also being held on administrative detention, stopped his 66-day hunger strike, which had left him close to death, when Israeli authorities agreed to release him on April 17.

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