RAMALLAH, West Bank — “They’ve kidnapped my husband,” said the wife of Mohammed al-Qeq, a Palestinian journalist who has been on a hunger strike in an Israeli hospital for three months.
“He is dying,” she said.
Qeq, a reporter for a Saudi TV network, was arrested by Israeli security forces in November at his home in Ramallah and taken to an Israeli prison, where he was placed under “administrative detention,” a tool employed by Israeli military courts to hold Palestinian suspects without charges.
Such detainees, arrested in the occupied West Bank and assumed to pose an immediate danger to the state, can be jailed indefinitely. Proceedings are held before military tribunals out of the public eye and often involve secret evidence shown to judges but not defendants.
Some 660 Palestinians are being held under administrative detention in Israeli prisons — about 10 percent of the more than 6,800 incarcerated Palestinians.
In protest of his incarceration without trial or charge, Qeq has refused food, including salt and vitamins, for almost three months. His wife said he accepts only water.
Today Qeq is wasting away on a hospital bed at the Emek Medical Center in Afula in northern Israel. Video taken by supporters this week shows the emaciated 33-year-old with a scraggly beard and bony chest muttering to himself, his eyes vacant and glassy. No attempt has been made to force-feed him.
Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, said in a statement that Qeq is “a Hamas activist who had been imprisoned several times in the past in light of his activities for the terror group.”
“In view of the information gathered about him, it was felt he was a security threat to the region,” Shin Bet said. “With no ability to prosecute him criminally, he was taken into administrative detention.”
On Wednesday, speaking at a news conference in Berlin beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Believe me, we do not arrest journalists. As I can personally attest to you, the press in Israel is robust, free, very energetic and free to say anything that it wants. And you know what? It does. That’s not the case in our neighborhood, but it is the case in Israel and will continue to be the case in Israel.”
Qeq is not a resident of Israel but a Palestinian in the West Bank. Last month, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, drew a sharp rebuke from Israel after the American diplomat made the observation that the law is applied differently to Palestinians and Israelis in the occupied West Bank.
Qeq has worked for the Saudi-owned TV satellite news outlet Almajd for the past six years, his family said. He reports via telephone or Skype to the network, which presents news, religious broadcasting and entertainment. The media outlet is viewed as mainstream conservative in the Arab world.
His attorneys said that when Qeq was arrested and interrogated, authorities accused him of inciting Palestinians toward violence.
“If he was inciting the people, let them bring charges and prove it,” said his brother, Islam al-Qeq, a lawyer.
Netanyahu has accused Palestinian leaders and media of encouraging violence and hatred of Jews and Israelis. Israeli troops have shut down at least three Palestinian news, radio and Internet stations in Hebron after accusing them of incitement.
Qeq’s family denied that he was a member of Hamas, the Islamist militant movement that controls the Gaza Strip and has been officially labeled a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.
His family said that Qeq had been arrested while he was a student at Birzeit University in Ramallah, where he got a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in Arabic studies. “He is not a member of any political faction, including Hamas,” said his wife, Fayha al-Qeq.
A senior Israeli official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security protocols, said: “His detention has nothing to do with him being a journalist. That is rubbish.”
The Israeli official said administrative detention, while “problematic,” was necessary because covert intelligence sources of information sometimes cannot be revealed in open court, “or the terror groups can act against those sources.”
“I wish we never had to use this tool,” the official said. “But we will remind readers of The Washington Post that this is legal under international law.”
Mohammed al-Qeq was arrested on Nov. 21 and began his hunger strike four days later. On Feb. 4, the Israeli Supreme Court made an unusual ruling: It “suspended” the prisoner’s administrative detention, for medical reasons, but the authorities refused to let him leave the Israeli hospital where he is being treated and remains under guard.
Qeq’s attorneys demanded that he be freed and allowed to be taken for treatment in Ramallah in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has civil and security control. The high court refused. Israeli authorities countered with an offer to allow Qeq to go to a hospital in a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control. He refused.
“He told me, do not be fooled by this trick,” his wife said. She has not seen him since the night of his arrest and has spoken with him on the telephone only once. “He wanted to hear his children’s voices,” she said.
Israeli and international human rights groups have condemned Qeq’s incarceration. “Israel is holding hundreds of people without trial, without them knowing what they are suspected of, without being able to defend themselves,” said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. “The only people familiar with evidence against the detainees are military and civil court judges who consistently approve these measures.”
“In their response, the Israeli authorities say that this is a necessary evil. They say that even though they think it’s unacceptable to deny freedom without due process, they have to do it because of security,” she said.
Michaeli said the Qeq case does not interest the Israeli public. Only if he dies and there is unrest as a result — revenge attacks or rocket fire — will people here react, she said.
Sufian Taha in Ramallah and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.