When a Terrorist Turns Defeat into Victory
It really will not just disappear. Just like most crises, this one seems to have passed into the newspaper archives and probably not many people think about it anymore. However, the issue raised by Hisham Abu Hawash will not go away and a tactic that works will be used over and over again.
When I wrote the article, Why is Israel letting a hunger-striking Palestinian terrorist die on 3 January 2022, it looked like Hisham Abu Hawash preferred to die rather than accept anything less than a full and immediate release from administrative detention. Later that same day, the New York Times wrote:
On Tuesday night his protest came to an end with sips from a cup of tea after Israeli and Palestinian officials reached a deal to release him next month. After days of protests calling for his release and mounting fears in Israel of widespread unrest if he died in custody, the government capitulated.
The NYT got it wrong. The government did not capitulate.
And we can begin to piece together the whole story by reading between the lines in a paragraph from an article in Haaretz:
Abu Hawash is expected to remain in the Israeli hospital he is currently kept it for medical follow-up until February 26, after which he will be released to his home . . .
There are two issues here: Firstly, a medical doctor informed me that hospitalization after beginning refeeding should be about one week in duration and a medical journal article suggested up to ten days. The only time longer hospitalization is required would be in the case of what is called “refeeding syndrome”, a dangerous condition that can lead to death. Refeeding syndrome occurs when malnourished individuals are reintroduced to food too quickly. I doubt that would happen in this case since Israel has acquired a great deal of experience in refeeding hunger striking political prisoners and we have not heard reports of any of the dozens of hunger striking prisoners over the past years ever suffering from refreeding syndrome.
Secondly, is it not coincidental that they are saying that he will need hospitalization until the exact date his detention order ends? How can they know in advance that suddenly, on that particular date, he will be well enough to be released from hospital? Besides, Abu Hawash was starving himself until he would get immediate and unconditional release. This is not what is happening now.
An article in the Hebrew ynetnews states that Israel has already extended his detention order once but that is not strictly accurate — his detention was extended once after he began his hunger strike in August 2021 but that is the third extension since his detention in October 2020. It is small errors like these and inconsistencies in reporting on the case, as I noted in my previous article, that make it difficult for the casual reader to make sense of what is happening.
Did Israel let him go out of fear?
Ynetnews writes (my translation):
Israel agreed to notify Abu Hawah that he will be released — and to give him a legally binding promise that his detention order would not be renewed. Apparently, the reason for that is that Jerusalem was apprehensive that there would be an eruption of violence in the south.
While it may be true that Jerusalem is anxious not to provide a convenient excuse for renewed hostilities in the south (from Gaza) aside from those excuses they have already used, it is not reasonable that this would be the motivation behind getting Hawash to eat again. For example, Israel finally went ahead with building the accessibility elevator at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in spite of threats of violence should this happen. No violence erupted. The USA moved the embassy to Jerusalem in spite of threats of violence — and no violence ensued.
Anti-Israel terrorists in Judea-Samaria (aka The West Bank) and in Gaza have their own timetables for attacking Israel and lone wolf attacks are planned independently of any particular act on Israel’s part. Sometimes something Israel does will be used as a justification for an attack that had already been planned long before it was actually carried out. A convenient excuse.
Another False Claim
Ynetnews contends that Israel does not give advance notice to political prisoners when they do not intend to ask the court to extend their detention order. This is not true, not in general, and as we can see from previous cases, not for hunger strikers. A list of recent hunger strikers who agreed to begin eating when Israel agreed not request further extention of their current term includes Khaled al-Fosfus, Ayad al-Harimi, Miqdad al-Qawasmi, and Alaa al Araj who began their strikes together with Abu Hawash, Maher Akhras in September 2020, Mohammed al-Qiq in 2017, brothers Muhammad and Mahmoud Balboul, and Malik al-Qadi in 2016.
Moreover, a source familiar with administration detentions told me that, in general, “it is not unusual to inform a lawyer that there will not be a future court case coming up because the state is not looking for an extension.”
Why does Israel release hunger strikers?
The only reason that makes sense for Israel to release these prisoners is because they are no longer deemed to be a security threat. “Only in clear cut cases where the judge is convinced completely do you have 6 months being extended by 6 months each time,” my source continued, “and sometimes you have smaller extensions like 1 month or 3 months.”
Perhaps the hunger strike and potential physical weakness with which the starved prisoners will have to cope for some time after their release reduces the imminent threats they pose. Perhaps the date of an impending attack known to the intelligence services has passed. Perhaps something else. This does not mean that we will not see them recaptured and put into administrative detention again, as most of them have already demonstrated familiarity with the revolving door of recidivism.
A common claim
What is also common to all the terrorists named above is that they claimed victory over Israel in getting her to capitulate to their demands. The only difference is that Abu Hawash held on longest after he was offered the same deal as the others — the detention order would not be renewed but the current term would be completed — and, unlike them, he rejected it. He wanted a full and immediate release.
He did not get that full and immediate release and yet he did agree to begin eating once more. Apparently the agreement stated that he would continue his detention in the hospital until the date his detention expires, something that is not likely medically necessary. It remains to be seen when he will actually be sent home.
What if Hisham Abu Hawash capitulated?
He agreed to something very different from his original demand. Was this because of the pleas of his young son suffering from kidney disease? Is that why he finally decided not to continue with this “suicide mission” and cling to life?
Then how to back down from his original plan to beat Israel in a bout of arm wrestling when Israel did not seem willing to let him pin her arm on the mat? Of course, most people around the world would understand his backing down for his son’s sake and respect it. But would that have gone over well in the Palestinian Authority? After all, Arab society is an honor-driven society and shame and humiliation are unbearable. Could Abu Hawash let himself appear to have given in to Israel for any reason? Could he afford to be different from the other hunger strikers who accepted deals and seemingly humiliated Israel?
Can Israel bear to be humiliated?
Israel, of course, does not like to be humiliated but preventing humiliation and shame do not provide motive for her behaviors. It may not have been difficult, therefore, for the Israeli negotiation team to remain silent in face of the proliferation of a version of the story that says that Israel capitulated to the hunger striker out of fear of retaliation. While many individual Israelis — far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir being the most vocal among them — were enraged by the announcement, it does not affect Israeli policy and will not affect the future of administrative detentions, the purpose of which is solely to ensure that terrorist attacks do not endanger the citizenry.
Perhaps we should heed one comment leaked from the WhatApp group for Yamina Party branch leaders (my translation):
When members of the opposition say the prisoner won, it is simply not true factually and, in fact, those who say he won ensure, in my view, the true victory for them [the Palestinians] because MKs validate their narrative. That is a huge mistake and in my opinion violates all rules of statehood and harms Israeli hasbara that is difficult in and of itself when it comes to the issue of administrative detention.
Disinformation is so easily spread and it sometimes takes critical reading to parse out the complexities of situations about which we cannot obtain clear, authoritative and trustworthy information, such as issues of administrative detention and other aspects of counter-terrorist strategy. It is natural for Israeli citizens to have strong emotional responses to reports of current events. Hopefully this analysis provides some material for reflection and understanding that not all is necessarily as it appears on the surface.
That said, I am still against his having been released and I fear a future tsunami of hunger striking terrorists under detention.
Hisham Abu Hawash made the conscious decision to become a terrorist knowing that that could lead to either his own death or administrative detention. He made the conscious decision to protest the consequences of his actions by starving himself. He made the conscious decision to reject all reasonable efforts at reaching a deal until he saw he really was about to suffer irreversible physical damage.
Israel reached the point at which they perhaps had to consider the option of force-feeding him. While force-feeding has been deemed immoral by the medical profession even if Israel made it legal, there is nothing immoral, in my opinion, to letting him experience the full ramifications of the decisions he made as a rational human being who chose terrorism as a career. Apparently Abu Hawash believed Israel had come to the same conclusion and he finally backed down, asking for a cup of tea. He capitulated, not Israel.