Khader Adnan - starving for freedom in an Israeli jail

Issue 

UPDATE: On February 21, Khader Adnan and all who support him won a big victory. Israel finally caved into pressure and signed a deal with Adnan under which he ended his 66-day hunger strike in return for Israel pledging to release him from administrative detention (that is -- without charge) by April 17.

Israel still needs to be pressured to follow through with its promise, and there are more than 300 Palestinians being held by Israel under administrative detention who have never been charged let alone tried.

But there is no doubt that, for now, Adnan's life has been saved as a result of pressure applied to Israel -- which decided it did not want the "embarassment" of allowing a man to starve himself to death because it would not back down on jailing him without any charge.

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As of February 19, Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, chained to his bed, had been on hunger strike in an Israeli jail for 64 days and was close to death. Adnan is being held despite not being charged with a crime. Protests across Palestine and the world, and solidarity hunger strikes by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, have demanded an end to Adnan's "administrative detention".

Below, Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah describes Adnan's struggle. It is reprinted from Al Jazeera.

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By the time you read these words, Khader Adnan could be dead. After 59 full days on hunger strike by February 14, his body is already well past the stage where his vital organs may cease to function at any moment. But Adnan is dying to live.

See also:
Israel court abandons Palestine hunger striker near death
Take action for Khader Adnan
More than 4000 Palestinian prisoners join hunger strike
No excuses -- Khader Adnan must be supported

The 33-year-old Palestinian baker, husband, father, and graduate student has refused food since December 18, a day after he was arrested in a nighttime raid on his family home by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. He has lost over 40 kgs and his wife Randa and young daughters have described his appearance as "shocking".

Adnan, whom Israel says is a member of Islamic Jihad, was given a four month "administrative detention" order by the Israeli military - meaning that he is held without being charged for any crime or trial, a practice continued by Israel that dates back to British colonial days.

On February 9, an Israeli military court rejected Adnan's appeal against the arbitrary detention. Having vowed to maintain his hunger strike until he is released or charged, the judge - an Israeli military officer - might as well have sentenced Adnan to death, unless there is urgent international intervention.

Though the life in his body hangs on by a thread, his spirit is unbroken.

"The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners," Adnan wrote in a letter published through his lawyer. "I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey."

According to Amnesty International, which has issued two urgent appeals on Adnan's behalf, as of December 31 last year, 307 Palestinians were in Israeli administrative detention, including 21 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council that was elected in January 2006.

"I hereby assert that I am confronting the occupiers not for my own sake as an individual, but for the sake of thousands of prisoners who are being deprived of their simplest human rights while the world and international community look on," Adnan wrote in his letter.

As well as Amnesty, Human Rights Watch has heard Adnan's message, calling on Israel to release or charge him.

Adnan's insistence on his dignity and autonomy and his unwillingness to be broken by an overwhelmingly powerful oppressor contrasts starkly with the increasingly directionless and unprincipled actions of Palestinian leaders who continue to make dubious "reconciliation" deals that go nowhere, and pursue "negotiations" with Israel that have no chance of liberating Adnan, his young daughters and millions of their countrywomen and men from Israel's occupation, colonisation and apartheid.

Adnan's fast has drawn support from people all over the world. Hundreds staged peaceful protests outside Israel's Ofer Prison - where they were met with violence and arrests by Israeli police - and other protests were held as far as Washington DC, New York and Chicago. Many others have fasted in solidarity with Adnan.

Adnan's struggle reminds us that nonviolence is not the easy choice. It is often the harder one.

Yet the world is still failing to act. The Palestinian prisoners' group Addameer undoubtedly spoke for many when it declared that it "holds the international community responsible for not taking action to save Khader’s life". It demanded "that the European Union, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross intervene with Israel immediately before it is too late".

And there has been silence too from prominent voices such Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist famous for using individual stories to draw attention to human rights abuses around the world. In a 2010 column titled "Waiting for Gandhi", Kristof scolded Palestinians for not adopting nonviolent tactics.

Of course Kristof was ignoring or simply ignorant of the rich history and present of such popular resistance in Palestine ably documented by Mazin Qumsiyeh in his recent book, Popular Resistance in Palestine: a History of Hope and Empowerment- which includes hunger strikes. Last Autumn hundreds of Palestinian prisoners spent weeks on hunger strike against punitive Israreli prison conditions, and many are on hunger strike now in solidarity with Adnan.

But if Kristof and others claim to be "waiting for Gandhi" why haven't they spoken up for Adnan? After all it was Mahatma Gandhi himself who when repeatedly imprisoned by the British famously used hunger strikes to draw international attention to his people's cause.

In more recent memory are the Irish hunger strikes by IRA and Republican prisoners in Belfast's Maze Prison in 1980-81. Ten of the men - most famously Bobby Sands, just 27 years-old, who endured 66 days - fasted to death. During his strike Sands was even elected a member of the British Parliament - a fact murals on the walls of Belfast still commemorate by affixing the letters "MP" after his name.

The government of Margaret Thatcher refused to yield to the demands of the hunger strikers to be treated as political prisoners. Yet their sacrifice galvanised global support and greatly embarrassed the British, pressure that arguably contributed to eventual peace.

Last week Tommy McKearney, who spent 53 days on hunger strike in 1980, sent a video message of solidarity with Adnan. McKearney, himself a former member of the IRA, lived to contribute to peace in his country, just as his comrades did with their deaths.

But Bobby Sands and his comrades need not have died had wiser, more humane policies prevailed at the time. And Adnan need not die today or tomorrow. But it will take the world to speak out now to save him.

The determination, unflinching courage and self-sacrifice of Adnan's hunger strike has captured the imagination and support of people everywhere. He deserves our respect, but more importantly right now, he needs us to raise our voices.

[This first appeared at Al Jazeera. Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He is a co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka.]

Comments

Israel's policy of administrative detention requires scrutiny. It is difficult to justify detaining anyone without charge or trial. In Australia we do this too. If there is any legitimate place for it, it needs to be watched very closely.

However, I am concerned with reporting that says of this man "whom Israel says is a member of Islamic Jihad". That he is with Islamic Jihad appears to be very widely accepted and not the suspect allegation of a hostile military. See, for example, stories about him on electronic intafada, gazasolidarity etc. Indeed he is described as the head of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank.

This publication and others discredit themselves when they insist on painting every story about Israel and the Palestinians in simple black and white.

Israel's "administrative detention requires scrutiny"... a man is on the verge of death, and the best you can say is the policy of holding *with no charge or trial* anyone Israel wants requires "scrutiny"? The policy is outrageous and a violation of human rights. And it is a policy close to killing a man, a father and husband, in the slowest most painful way imaginable. Scrutiny does not cut it.

Israel accuses Khader Adnan of being a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad. So what? If Israel believes he has committed a crime, why do they not charge and try him? There is no justification for Israel's treatment of Adnan or many other Palestinians it holds in jail.

Whatever you may think of Islamic Jihad, there is a Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and Islamic Jihad is part of it. International law recognises the right of people to resist.

Adnan is accused of being a "spokesperson". Accused. Not charged or tried over anything, let alone of any responsibility for any act of violence.

If you want to be consistent in treating the conflict like this, you could at least say Israel has the right to kidnap and hold in terrible conditions in prison an alleged spokesperson for an armed resistance group, and that the Palestinians have the right to kidnap and hold without any charge any person it accuses of being a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Force.

That would at least be even handed.

If you want to look to where similar events have occurred before, look at Ireland.

The policy of banning the IRA's political wing Sinn Fein (even banning Gerry Adams voice from British TV) did absolutely nothing to end the conflict. Nor did the infamous policy of internment, by which the British forces rounded up and held, without charge or trial, thousands of people. It only fuelled the conflict, because such injustice always breeds resistance.

Nor did the British policy of allowing 10 men to starve themselves to death in 1981 (who were all members of armed republican groups and which the British government denounced as terrorists, but the nationalist community viewed as heroes) do anything other than fuel a determination to resist British occupation.

It was, in fact, an important turning point in that conflict that exposed the injustice of British policy and helped lay the ground work for a (partial) political solution.

Actually seeking to start resolving the issues has moved the situation, which has a long way to go, at least away from the ongoing violence of The Troubles.

You cannot say "well, it seems Adnan is Islamic Jihad, so who cares". Adnan is in prison for a reason and on the verge of death for a reason. You cannot pick and choose which injustice you oppose depending on a personal preference for those the injustice is committed against.

Adnan is being murdered by the Israeli authorities in defence of a thoroughly unjust policy as part of a thoroughly unjust occupation by a thoroughly unjust regime.