Israel’s Prisons Service said on Wednesday that Palestinian prisoner Hana Shalabi is not in imminent danger of dying, insisting that she has received medical treatment and is "stable."
Spokeswoman Sivan Weizman cited staff at Meir Medical Centre in Kfar Saba for this insight and asserted that Shalabi had been on hunger strike for just 31 days rather than the 35 claimed by Shalabi's supporters.
Her nitpicking over the imminence of Shalabi's death and how long she has refused food ignores the reality that this Palestinian is one of hundreds held hostage by the Israeli government to discourage resistance to its occupation of Palestinian land.
Shalabi, who is variously described as a supporter or a member of Islamic Jihad, is held under what Israelis call "administrative detention," which is similar to the internment operated by British colonial forces in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.
No charges are preferred. No legal process is operated. People are locked up by the military occupier and the decision cannot be questioned.
Shalabi is no stranger to administrative detention, having been incarcerated in HaSharon prison for two-and-a-half years prior to her release last October as part of the deal to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
She is said to have rarely left her home in Burkin near Jenin on the occupied West Bank or the company of her family since that time before being targeted again on February 16 for administrative detention, including, she says, a forcible strip-search by a male Israeli soldier.
On February 23, the army issued a six-month detention order for Shalabi, which like apartheid South Africa's 90-day and 180-day detention orders, can be renewed. A military court ruled later to reduce it to four months.
Shalabi decided on re-entry into detention to embark on a hunger strike not simply in respect of her own situation but to demand an end to this form of internment.
Although her parents are denied visiting rights, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel sent a doctor to examine her, who was eventually allowed to see her on March 8.
The doctor concluded that "she suffers from a low heartbeat rate, low blood sugar, loss of weight, weakness in muscles, yellowing of the eyes and high levels of salt in the blood which affected her kidneys, causing her pain in her sides, especially the left side, as well as pain in chest bones."
Shalabi cannot sleep because of pain and she also suffers dizziness and blurred and occasional loss of vision.
Whatever the view of the Israeli Prison Service, the description given by the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel doctor recalls the conditions of Irish republican hunger strikers 30 years ago that cost several their lives.
Shalabi is not alone in her protest. Prison spokeswoman Weizman acknowledges that 23 prisoners began refusing food about a fortnight ago in solidarity with her, while her parents too have pledged to remain on hunger strike for as long as their daughter remains under administrative detention.
Her mother Badia Shalabi says that even looking at food makes her cry, knowing the plight of her daughter.
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the groups Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association - Addameer, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Al-Haq expressed "grave concern for the health of Hana Shalabi, who is at immediate risk of death on her 34th day of hunger strike."
They added that they do not trust the quality of medical care provided by the Israeli Prisons Service.
Fellow prisoner Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike a month ago after Israel agreed, "unless new substantial evidence emerges," to release him from detention in April.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel called on Defence Minister Ehud Barak to stop the "shameful practice" of administrative detention, saying that it "violates first and foremost the right to liberty and dignity.
"The vast majority of evidence on which the detentions are based is secret and hidden from the suspects and their attorneys. Suspects are therefore denied their rights to defend themselves and confront their accusers," the statement added.
UN special rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights Richard Falk is critical of the world body's failure to raise its voice "even to take notice of Hana Shalabi's plight or of Israel's accountability."
Britain's Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which held a vigil in London's Trafalgar Square for Shalabi last night, is calling on its supporters to keep writing to the Foreign Office on its website urging ministers to put pressure on Tel Aviv.
Our government says that it is "very concerned about reports that she has been subjected to violent mistreatment and denied access to her family" and has communicated its concerns to the Israeli embassy.
It also continues "to encourage the Israeli authorities to comply with their obligations under international law, including in their policies on detention and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners."
Next Friday is Land Day, which marks the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people. Israeli troops bathed last year's protests in blood, killing 15 unarmed civilians.
How many will be shot this year and how many dumped in an administrative detention living hell?
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