Israeli Deal to Release Islamic Jihad Prisoner on Hunger Strike May Quiet Threat of Renewed Escalation
A Palestinian prisoner on Tuesday agreed to end a nearly five-month-long hunger strike after Israel agreed not to extend his detention, amid concern that he might die and potentially spark an escalation and Palestinian civil unrest.
Hisham Abu Hawash, 40, a resident of Dura near Hebron, was arrested by Israel at the end of October 2020 and began his hunger strike in August, in protest of being held in administrative detention without charge or trial. Abu Hawash — a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group suspected by Israel of planning to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers — will be released as his detention period expires on February 26, according to the recent agreement.
“This is not a precedent; it happened before. It has never happened that any of the hunger strikers reached the final stage. Israel and other side find a way out,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, director of the project on regional affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Algemeiner.
“Some time ago, the Israeli government already decided to release Abu Hawash on Feb. 26 and not April 26,” Kuperwasser said. “The question was not whether he is going to be released in February, but whether the government would be able to extend the detainment for some additional time — and on that, the government has given up.”
Israel says it mainly uses administrative detention as a preventive policy against Palestinians suspected of terror activities against Israelis without exposing sensitive intelligence sources that could jeopardize national security.
After Abu Hawash was transferred to an Israeli hospital in December as his medical condition worsened, Palestinians took to the streets across the West Bank and Gaza in a wave of protests, threatening renewed violence.
Meanwhile, the PIJ had threatened military action if Abu Hawash should die in Israeli custody. The militant group is reportedly believed to be behind Saturday’s firing of two rockets from the Gaza Strip that caused an explosion off the shore of Tel Aviv.
That rocket fire came after months of relative quiet along the Israel-Gaza border since the 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in May.
“We hail Hisham for his forceful will, his family, Palestinian people, and people around the world who raised their voices in solidarity,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh posted on Twitter. “Thanks to countries that pressed Israel to release him next month.”
The PIJ held a military parade in Gaza in honor of Abu Hawash ending his hunger strike.
Kuperwasser assessed that the Abu Hawash deal would have some calming effect on the recent uptick in violence, saying, “I think some of it was based on their [Palestinian] commitment to show solidarity with Abu Hawash. I think there is going to be less affinity to use violence from the street.”
“However, since this is not the only reason why there are protests, resolving the Abu Hawash issue is not a guarantee of ending recent tensions,” he added.