“We are not in search of death; we are looking for real life”
These are the words of the hunger strikers’ declaration broadcast over loudspeakers at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Today these words strike a sad pertinence.
As I write this article Samer al-Barq remains on hunger strike. He has not eaten now since 22nd May. 87 days have now passed. To put this into context, Mahatma Gandhi’s longest hunger strike lasted 21 days. By 21 days most people on hunger strike will have loss the sensation of thirst, find standing difficult or impossible and have a sensation of being always cold.
Samer has been on hunger strikes four times longer than that.
From 45 days onwards death becomes a very real possibility from cardiovascular collapse. Samer has been living with the possibility of death now for over a month.
According his lawyer, not only has Samer not received the medical care he requires he has also faced beatings. Amnesty International reported that his lawyer said that “guards have beaten and verbally abused [Samer]”.
Amnesty International has called on the Israeli authorities to “investigate allegations that Samer al-Barq has been ill-treated while in detention and ensure he is treated humanely, and not punished in any way for his hunger strike”.
Samer remains imprisoned under ‘administrative detention’ which is the “detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree”. In other words, it is being held with charge or trial. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem considers Israel’s on-going use of administrative detention a violation of International Humanitarian Law as it is only justified in use in the “most exceptional circumstances”.
Israel is currently holding 250 Palestinians under administrative detention.
Samer’s hunger strike was avoidable. In May, Samer stopped his 50 day hunger strike along with 2,000 other hunger strikers after an Egyptian brokered agreement. He resumed his hunger strike a week later however when his detention without trial was extended for a further three months.
Samer is not looking to die, but he is willing to risk death in search of real life with real freedoms. As an occupying power in Palestine, Israel dictates whether or not he and his countrymen can have these freedoms.
Israel must end its use of administrative detention.