Palestine: Hunger strike reignites prisoner rights movement

March 3, 2012
Cartoon depicting Khader Adnan and Mahatma Ghandi.

Addameer is a Palestinian human rights organisation that works to support political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian jails. It offers free legal aid and works to end torture and other abuses of prisoners' rights.

The group’s 10 lawyers visit more than 500 prisoners inside Israeli jails each year. They also represent prisoners held by the Palestinian Authority (PA), representing more than 400 Palestinian prisoners arrested by PA security forces in 2009-10.

Addameer was a key player during the recent campaign to free Khader Adnan, a prisoner in Israeli “administrative detention” (without charge or trial). Adnan's 66-day hunger strike ended last month after a deal was struck to release him in April.

Asa Winstanley spoke to Addameer representative Mourad Jadallah about the struggle for the rights of Palestinian prisoners. The article is abridged from Electronic Intifada.

Read more Green Left coverage of Palestine.

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Maybe you could start by telling me what you do.

I’m a legal researcher working with Addameer, which is based in Ramallah. Addameer was created in 1991 in Jerusalem and we were forced to move to the West Bank, because we lost our Israeli permission to work in Jerusalem in 1994. It’s part of the soft transfer of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

More than 300 Palestinian “administrative detainees” are held by Israel, so why did Khader Adnan gain so much attention?

He was arrested by Israel many times before this last time, and he was arrested also by the Palestinian Authority. He got a request from the Israeli intelligence forces to meet with them seven months before his arrest on December 17 and he refused to go. We think Adnan is a special prisoner, because on the second day after his arrest he started a hunger strike.

His hunger strike went on for 66 days, refusing the torture, the ill treatment and the administrative detention. During this time, he refused to talk to the Israeli interrogator, prison director and guards. He refused to give any legitimacy to the Israeli prison services and the occupying power and Israeli military court.

So his hunger strike was a rejection of the entire system.

Exactly … He continued the hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners in September. And he said: I am not doing the first hunger strike, I’m just continuing the Palestinian resistance inside the prisons ... and I don’t want my people to be divided. So we shouldn’t leave the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine prisoners alone, because what happened after [they led] hunger strikes in September and October?

The prisoners deal happened — the deal between Hamas and Israel to release a captured Israeli soldier in exchange for 1000 Palestinian prisoners.

Yes. After the hunger strike, [Israel] arrested 150 Palestinians from the PFLP, because they want to punish all the activists who supported the hunger strike.

All of them got administrative detention [without charge], just because they supported the prisoners’ hunger strike between September 27 and October 18.

There are no charges, but have the Israelis accused these prisoners of anything in the media?

No. They arrest them and inform them that they have got an administrative detention order, which runs for three, four or six months.

You have children under administrative detention. You have journalists.

You have directors of human rights organisations in Palestine who spent many years under administrative detention, such as Shawan Jabarin, the director of Al-Haq, a human rights organisation. He was under administrative detention for a couple of years.

Ali Jaradat, a journalist, spent 19 years under administrative detention, on and off. And we have cases where people spent six years continuously under administrative detention.

A deal has now been made between Adnan and Israel for his release in April. Do you think Israel will stick to the deal or will they renege?

Adnan won his case. He forced the court to say that this administrative detention will be the first and last one.

But there is no guarantee that Adnan will not be the subject of [another] administrative detention a couple of days after his release.

But what is important is that Adnan encouraged a lot of people to go on hunger strike against administrative detention. All the administrative detainees today since Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, they boycott the military court.

This is the second push for the prisoners’ movement. The first one started with the hunger strike in September.

And now you have the hunger strike of Hana al-Shalabi [a Palestinian woman arrested under an adminstrative detention order in February].

I understand that Arrabe, Khader Adnan’s village where he was arrested, is part of Area A under the  Oslo agreement, meaning it is theoretically under the control of the Palestinian Authority forces. Did the PA have a role in his arrest?

His secret file was basically built by the information the Palestinian security forces provide. And that’s why when we at Addameer prepared his profile after 10 days on hunger strike and we sent it to the Palestinian media, they refused to publish it.

The Palestinian Authority started to talk about Adnan [only] when he was on his 34th day of hunger strike. I remember with the hunger strike in September, all the youth movements asked [Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud] Abbas to give a speech about the hunger strike, and he refused.

I think Adnan’s very clever. Because everyone, even inside Fatah, they are talking about the peaceful, popular resistance.

What do you need more than a hunger strike to support, if you are really interested in popular resistance? Why did the Palestinian media and the Palestinian Authority ignore Adnan and his hunger strike?

Because he’s [affiliated with] Islamic Jihad? Or because he’s taking the memory back to the days when the prisoners were leading the national resistance?

He’s a young man, 34, and he proved that he’s a leader. All the people in the street called him The Leader Khader Adnan. So you have a youth movement in the street, and finally they get a leader.

So during the protests and demonstrations to support Adnan, all the youth from all political parties, they were in front of Ofer jail to support him, because they saw they have identification with this leader, they said: here’s a leader. [PA negotiator] Saeb Eerekat is not a leader for the Palestinians.

Something of an international movement built up around Adnan, with people on Twitter getting it to “trend”. What difference do you think that made in bringing attention to the case?

We saw that social media has played a very important role during the Arab Spring. I think I can call the Arab Spring the third Palestinian intifada.

I think it was normal to see this lobbying for the case of Adnan on social media. We have friends who prepared every day a new poster for Adnan, counting his days [on hunger strike to take to the demonstrations].

Now the Palestinian Authority says Khader Adnan achieved this deal because they spoke to the Egyptian commanders, and the Egyptian authorities then spoke to the Israeli authorities.

Where have they been since the beginning? This is what we say in Arabic: they have one [person] responsible for the failure, but you have 100 fathers for the victory.

But we think that this victory belongs to Adnan and the youths who supported him on the street, in Ofer jail and in all the protests.

What is the future for Palestinian prisoners’ resistance?

I think Adnan [teaches] us a good lesson: that if we support the individuals, they can succeed. So now we will encourage other prisoners to use this network. This is what we want to see with Hana al-Shalabi’s hunger strike.

One thing that Adnan confused the Israelis with is [that] when they put him under administrative detention without charge, they made it easy for everybody around the world to support him, because he’s not part of the political parties; they don’t charge him [with being] part of Islamic Jihad — there’s no charge.

Exactly. This is the weak point of administrative detention. We all know very well that administrative detention is against humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions, etc. But we never succeed as human rights defenders to fight against the administrative detention the way that Adnan did.

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