After 66 days on hunger strike, Israel succumbed to a Palestinian hero, a baker called Khader Adnan, who was protesting his ill-treatment in an Israeli jail.
He was arrested late at night, on December 17, at his home in the village of Arrabe, near the West Bank city of Jenin, where he lived with his wife and two very young daughters.
The 33-year-old Palestinian activist, a member of the Islamic Jihad, agreed to end his hunger strike last Tuesday in return for a promise from his Israeli prosecutors that they would not extend his term which theoretically ends on April 17.
Israeli policy permits the indefinite jailing of suspected Palestinian activists without having to reveal the charges. Adnan was never charged, and because of the brutal and humiliating treatment after his arrest, he went on a hunger strike the following day. (The second-ranking Palestinian to wage a long hunger strike was a woman, Itaf Alayan, also a detainee. She rejected food for 43 days before she was released in 1997.)
Adnan, who had participated in three earlier but much shorter hunger strikes, this time set a record for a Palestinian, earning from his fellow nationals the much deserved title of hero. He is now reportedly guaranteed that there will be no extension of his term after April 17, unless the Israel will come up with new allegations, which is doubtful.
For whatever reasons, the Israelis backtracked. For one, they were reprimanded worldwide, though not by governments. At the same time, Adnan’s worsening health condition prompted a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel to say publicly that the prisoner was “in immediate danger since he had lost over 27 kilogrammes, his hair was falling out, his skin had turned yellow and he was in danger of a heart attack”.
This contrasts sharply with the decision of an Israeli military judge who just a week ago said that his review of the undisclosed evidence found Adnan’s detention to be fair.
Since the Adnan case made headlines worldwide, B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, revealed that there were 307 Palestinians in Israeli administrative detention. That is a 40 per cent increase in the number of detentions from the year before, the group reported. Palestinians in Israeli jails number over 4,200.
Last Saturday, the European foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said they were following Adnan’s case with “great concern”, stressing “the EU’s long-standing concern about the extensive use by Israel of detention without formal charge” and saying that “detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention and be subject to a fair trial”.
The Israeli reaction to the deal Adnan received from Israeli prosecutors was shocking, as evidenced by the comments of Israeli right-wing leaders, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon.
The Israeli foreign minister, who is the leader of Israel Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”) criticised Arab members of the Knesset for their support of Adnan. The deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament also warned that the deal set a dangerous precedent and called for an immediate Knesset debate on the matter.
Adnan’s hunger strike, reported the CNN TV network, has meanwhile become a rallying cry for Palestinians who have staged multiple protests in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian legislator and human rights activist Mustafa Barghouthi said during a recent West Bank rally that the treatment of Palestinians by Israelis has been “a violation of every aspect of human rights”.
Zoe Lawlor, a Palestine solidarity activist based in Ireland, was quoted by The Electronic Intifada as saying that “Adnan’s humanity shines so brightly, especially in the face of Israel’s utter inhumanity”, adding: “Your soul is beautiful and free; your struggle is an inspiration.”
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights Richard Falk wrote in a column earlier this week: “Have we not reached a stage in our appreciation of human rights that we should outlaw such state barbarism? Let us hope that the awful experience of Khader Adnan does not end with his death, and let us hope further that it sparks a worldwide protest against both administrative detention and prisoner abuse. The Palestinian people have suffered more than enough already.”
Adnan is being portrayed as the Palestinian Bobby Sands, the Irish republican prisoner who died in the 1981 hunger strike — the two spent the same number of days without food, 66. It is hoped that the Palestinians will sooner, rather than later, follow in the footsteps of the Irish and gain full independence.