Mohammed Al-Qeeq: A Casualty Of Israel’s War On Journalists
UNITED NATIONS — As a Palestinian journalist nears his third month of an indefinite hunger strike, supporters say his administrative detention – incarceration by order of the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank, without defined charges or a legal process – reflects broader Israeli attempts to impede reporting by Palestinians.
“Mohammed al-Qeeq, like many before him, is being silenced by administrative detention measures in order to quell the Palestinian narrative,” Abbas Hamideh, director of the Global Campaign for Palestinian Political Prisoners, told MintPress News.
“Journalists have a powerful voice with the outside world via social media,” Hamideh said. “This, in particular, Israel tries to crush.”
Al-Qeeq, a 33-year-old husband and father of two children, was captured by Israeli forces inside his Ramallah home at 2:00 a.m. on Nov. 21.
“A large number of Israeli occupation forces raided Mohammed’s house, shackled him, blindfolded his eyes and took him to Beit El settlement near Ramallah,” the Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association said in an online profile of al-Qeeq.
MOHAMMAD AL-QEIQ | Addameer
“Mohammad was left there for 20 hours in the open air.”
Israeli forces had detained al-Qeeq three times before, once holding him for 16 months over charges stemming from his student activism at Birzeit University.
On Nov. 25, he launched a hunger strike to protest Israeli interrogation practices his supporters describe as torture.
“The interrogation sessions lasted for seven hours a day,” Addameer reports. “He was forced to sit in stress positions on the interrogation chair with his hands shackled behind his back.”
After transferring him to an isolation cell at Megiddo Prison, Israeli forces issued him a six-month administrative detention order authorizing his continued imprisonment.
These orders can be renewed indefinitely, often with little notice before a detainee’s scheduled release.
In isolation, al-Qeeq continued his hunger strike, now to demand his freedom.
‘We know how to stop you’
Like 660 other administrative detainees held by Israel at the end of December, al-Qeeq has no access to the charges against him, which are kept in classified files by Israeli forces.
Israel’s broad use of administrative detention against Palestinians has drawn wide scrutiny and harsh criticism from global agencies like Amnesty International, the European Union, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Human Rights Office.
Critics note that many administrative detainees have been activists, community leaders and journalists like al-Qeeq, seemingly imprisoned to prevent them from speaking publicly and engaging in other political activities.
“Administrative detention is used by the Israeli occupation as a weapon against the emerging leaders and political voices of the Palestinian people under occupation,” Charlotte Kates, international coordinator of Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, told MintPress.
“Time and again, we see youth organizers, activists in the refugee camps, journalists, teachers, swept up and targeted under administrative detention, often repeatedly,” she said. “It is very directly a method of repression aimed at suppressing Palestinian political organizing and activism.”
Israel has issued administrative detention orders to dozens of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, at one point holding 37 of them to prevent the seating of an elected government.
At other times, it has used them to weaken the meager protections afforded to West Bank Palestinians who, unlike Jewish settlers, face its military courts, which boast a 99.74 percent conviction rate.
International pressure forced Israel to limit its administrative detention of Palestinian feminist and PLC member Khalida Jarrar, instead placing her on military trial. When a judge threatened to release Jarrar due to lack of evidence, a prosecutor warned that the military would simply renew her administrative detention order, continuing her imprisonment without even the pretense of justice.
Jarrar, whose charges stemmed from political activities like speaking to journalists and visiting released Palestinian prisoners, ultimately accepted a 15-month plea agreement, with a suspended sentence of 12 additional months and a $2,600 fine, on Dec. 6.
Others have been charged under Israel’s West Bank system of military laws and regulations that criminalize every Palestinian political faction, many of which have affiliated media.
The overall number of Palestinian journalists in Israeli detention currently stands at 17, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Palestine Office of the Islamic Radio and Television Union.
“Israel is sending a message to all Palestinian journalists,” Yousef Aljamal, a researcher at the Gaza-based Center for Political and Development Studies, told MintPress. “If you speak up, we know how to stop you. We don’t have to charge you. Administrative detention is there.”
‘A form of torture’
Beyond imprisoning large numbers of Palestinian journalists, Israeli forces have at times attacked them ruthlessly, making theirs one of the world’s most dangerous professions.
During its 2014 offensive against the Gaza Strip alone, Israel killed seven journalists, six of them Palestinians, and a media worker on the job.
Another eight journalists died in the bombardment, mostly from strikes on their homes.
The grisly toll made Palestine the world’s second-deadliest country for journalists that year.
Israeli raids and closures of Palestinian media still occur frequently, often accompanied by claims of journalistic “incitement” against the occupation, and reporters face regular injuries from Israeli fire.
Last year, 574 attacks resulted in around 190 injuries to journalists, as well as the deaths of two cameramen, while Israeli forces closed or threatened to close 21 Palestinian media agencies.
“The best treatment they might get from Israel is being tear-gassed,” Aljamal said. “The worst treatment is shooting them to death.”
Meanwhile, al-Qeeq’s hunger strike, during which he has reportedly refused even routine supplements like salt while drinking only small amounts of water, had reached its 57th day as of Wednesday.
Palestinian and Israeli attorneys who were able to visit him at HaEmek Hospital in Afula on Monday reported that medical personnel had resorted to gruesome measures to counter its effects.
Tel Aviv-based Physicians for Human Rights – Israel reported that the hunger striker was “hooked up against his will to an infusion of salts and vitamins, and blood was taken with the permission of the hospital’s ethics committee.”
“Al-Qeeq was tied to the bed and forcefully held down by prison wardens while a member of the medical staff made the infusion,” the group said in a statement. “For four days al-Qeeq remained tied to the bed, hooked up to the IV drip, while pleading for its removal, to no avail.”
Addameer confirmed the report, adding that “some of the doctors pushed him to end his hunger strike, through attempting to convince him to consume Ensure, milk, and chocolate, but he refused.”
Both groups criticized this forcible treatment, calling it a breach of medical ethics.
Despite Israel’s apparent eagerness to keep al-Qeeq alive, its Supreme Court delayed a hearing on his detention Tuesday, postponing it until Feb. 25.
Also on Tuesday, al-Qeeq’s wife, Fayha Shalash, told supporters gathered in Beirut that he was determined to continue his hunger strike until release or death.
Supporters think the nature of al-Qeeq’s detention leaves him with little to lose, his brutal treatment notwithstanding.
“Being imprisoned indefinitely without charges is a form of torture,” Hamideh, of the Global Campaign for Palestinian Political Prisoners, said. “The occupying entity of Israel has no rules that it follows when imprisoning Palestinians.”
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