On Sunday, the Israeli High Court in Jerusalem announced it would hear Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan’s case against his “administrative detention” on Thursday. If he survives until Thursday.
Published : The Daily Maverick, 2011-02-20
By Thursday Adnan will have been on a hunger strike for 69 days. Doctors warn “a fast in excess of 70 days does not permit survival”.
Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old Palestinian man, was arrested at his home in Arrabeh village near Jenin in the occupied West Bank at 3:30 on 17 December. A day later he began a hunger strike as a protest against the “humiliation and policy of administrative detention”. Adnan knew well what awaited him at the Megiddo prison. After all this was the seventh time he had been detained without charge by the Israeli military. This too was not his first hunger strike. After an extended period of solitary confinement during a previous incarceration, Adnan went on hunger strike for 28 days. Israeli prison authorities eventually relented and removed him from solitary confinement.
This time Adnan was protesting against the draconian decree that repeatedly forced him into Israeli custody without evidence or charge. In a letter he handed to his lawyers for public release, Adnan explained why he was on hunger strike:
“The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. 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… The only thing I can do is offer my soul to God, as I believe righteousness and justice will eventually triumph over tyranny and oppression. 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. It is time the international community and the UN support prisoners and force the State of Israel to respect international human rights and stop treating prisoners as if they were not humans.”
The “administrative detention” decree allows prisoners to be held without charge for up to six months, and for these six-month spells to be renewed indefinitely. Adnan was interrogated for 18 days at the Al-Jalameh interrogation centre. He would later claim he was subjected to torture and humiliation by his captors. Israeli authorities are yet to deny this. It was not until 10 January that Adnan was given a four-month administrative detention order signed by a military commander.
The International Committee for the Red Cross defines administrative detention as, “the deprivation of a person’ s liberty based on an initiative or order from the Executive Authority and not the judiciary and without criminal charges being brought against the detainee or the person who has been administratively detained”. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International says, “Under administrative detention, detainees’ rights to a fair trial as guaranteed by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are consistently violated.”
Administrative detention has amounted thousands of men, women and children being held indefinitely in detention centres. Under administrative detention, hundreds of other prisoners, predominantly Palestinian, but some Israelis as well, are not provided with adequate medical care, food, clothing or access to their families. They are caught in limbo between a definite imprisonment and the restricted freedoms afforded to Palestinians outside of the prison’s walls.
Adnan is one of 309 Palestinians currently held in administrative detention by Israeli authorities. Among them is a man who has been in administrative detention for more than five years. Mousa Abu Maria is a Palestinian activist from Beit Ommar in the southern West Bank who was imprisoned with Adnan during his first detention 13 years ago. Like Adnan, Abu Maria also recently served nearly 16 months in administrative detention. “It was a bad time. When we ask for better food, better medical care, better conditions, we were told ‘You are in prison, you are not in a hotel’,” he said. For Abu Maria, Adnan is a friend but his hunger strike has inspired conflicting emotions. “When I see his picture, I am overcome with anger and sadness,” he says.
Except for being a member of the Islamic Jihad Party, little is known of what incriminating intelligence or evidence Israeli authorities have against Adnan. Adnan works as a baker and owns a produce store. He also holds a Masters degree in Economics. The Israeli military however see him as a threat to regional security.
In a statement to Al-Jazeera the Israeli Defence Force said: “Khader Adnan was arrested with an administrative arrest warrant for activities that threaten regional security. This warrant was authorised by a judicial review.” His imprisonment seems to hinge on a secret dossier of undisclosed evidence that neither the detainee nor his legal counsel is privy to. An Israeli military judge last week rejected an appeal by Adnan, saying he reviewed the evidence and found the sentence to be fair.
Israeli security officials fear reprisals against informants if the evidence against Adnan is publicised, but Adnan’s hunger strike has been a desperate plea to his captors, “Convict me or set me free.”
Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem notes Israel has often used a purported threat to regional security as a ruse to detain political opponents. “At certain times, Israel has administratively detained Palestinians for their political opinions and non-violent political activity. Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, for instance, Israel also administratively detained Palestinians who opposed the peace process. In this way, the authorities have greatly expanded the meaning of ‘danger to security of the region,’ in flagrant violation of the right to freedom of expression and opinion guaranteed under international law,” the organisation says.
In many cases, it appears the authorities use administrative detention as a quick and efficient alternative to a criminal trial, primarily when they do not have sufficient evidence to charge the individual, or when they do not want to reveal their evidence.
According to B’tselem, “The only legal justification for administrative detention is exceptional circumstances in which a person is deemed to pose an immediate danger and no other measure can prevent this danger. Past actions of the detainee are therefore irrelevant, except insofar as they indicate the prospective danger the detainee may pose.”
Linah Al-Saafin, a Palestinian writer and activist from the West Bank, believes Khader Adnan has lent a new fervour to Palestinian activism. “Khader Adnan epitomises the Palestinian resistance (to) and struggle against the Israeli occupation and its arbitrary heinous policies. Our word for steadfastness, ‘sumoud’ is present in his very spirit which refuses to be broken despite the suffering and torture he underwent.” For Al-Saafin, Adnan’s political allegiances are irrelevant. His solitary act of protest against gross human rights violations is far more significant. “It doesn’t matter to which political party he belongs. His fight against Israel’s illegal administrative detention has caught the imagination and awed activists everywhere,” she says.
Adnan’s hunger strike is the longest by a Palestinian prisoner. On Monday, Adnan begins the 66th day of his hunger strike. At this stage, irreparable damage has already been done to the body. His life is under immediate threat. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, his wife, pregnant with the couple’s third child, says she panics every time the phone rings. She still hopes that he will survive, but Adnan is now at death’s door. Adnan is taking liquid infusions of salts, glucose and minerals and while still lucid his physical health has deteriorated sharply.
Bobby Sands died after 66 days on his hunger strike. The IRA’s 1981 prisoners’ hunger strike was a turning point in the conflict in Northern Ireland. With beady-eyed enthusiasm, Palestinian activists around the world hope Adnan’s hunger strike steers the Palestinian cause along a new direction.
Al-Saafin offers a more sobering account of the reality of the deeply fractured Palestinian issue. “Listen,” she says with admirable confidence, “I don’t buy the line that his hunger strike has united Palestinians everywhere or, God forbid, his death will cause a third intifada. Pundits outside of Palestine like to think so, but the reality on the ground is different. Ordinary people are still not moved to act for Adnan, either through protests or spreading media awareness. Those who are involved in protests and media awareness are the activists themselves, and unfortunately we don’t number as many as we’d like.”
Islamic Jihad has its hands tied in the West Bank because of the collaborative Palestinian Authority has trained its eyes on them. But even so, in Gaza they only called for a protest a few days ago. Hamas has also shown its hypocrisy by ignoring Adnan’s case until a few days ago.
Yossi Gurvitz, Israeli journalist and blogger for 972magazine believes Adnan’s hunger strike has brought fresh scrutiny to bear on the Israeli military’s use of the administrative detention decree. “The Israeli security apparatus does not know how to deal with Khader Adnan’s hunger strike,” he says. Israeli officials are weighing the repercussions of Adnan’s hunger strike. Gurvitz says, “The repercussions may be very severe in the West Bank.” Despite the High Court’s decision to hear Adnan’s case against his detention on Thursday, Gurvitz believes there is a reluctance in the Israeli judiciary to intervene. “Even if they hold the hearing on Thursday it may be days before they release a judgment,” Gurvitz says. By then it would be too late to save Adnan’s life. “The Israeli Defence Force cannot release him,” Gurvitz says. “They would be providing an incentive to (release) other prisoners.”
While discussion is now raging on how Adnan’s death may affect Israel’s image abroad, Gurvitz believes most Israelis are still unaware of Adnan’s protest. “It is safe to say most Israelis don’t know who Khader Adnan (is). They don’t know about his hunger strike.” He adds ominously, “This will change in the next few days.”
If a dearth of coverage of Khader Adnan’s hunger strike in the Israeli media is deplorable, albeit predictable, Palestinian activists believe the lagging coverage of the international media is unconscionable.
“It is simply despicable and downright outrageous that Khader Adnan only managed to get media attention after 50 days of hunger strikie,” Al-Saafin says. “The media goes crazy over its portrait of Palestinian resistance fighters or dissenters as bearded terrorists with a bomb strapped to their torsos. Khader Adnan has surpassed Gandhi’s hunger strike legacy. The world’s silent complicity is telling.”
Steven Friedman, director of The Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, says Adnan’s hunger strike is set to reframe the conflict in the Middle East as a fundamental human rights issue. “It is an important departure, an attempt in a dramatic and tragic movement to reframe Palestinian rights. The Palestinian issue is not widely understood as a human rights issue. It is the illegitimate exercise of power by one party over another,” Friedman says.
While Al-Saafin is scathing of the sudden burst of international media attention, saying, “It disgusts me that the media should be paying attention to his case now as opposed to the very first day or week[sic].” Friedman agrees that the lack of coverage of Adnan’s protest until now is an indictment of media practices, but adds it is unrealistic to simply expect the media to pick up human rights issues.
“There are two strands of human rights in the world,” Friedman continues. “One that the rest of the world is subject to and the other that Israel is held to.” Languishing in detention, fighting to have his humanity recognised while his life dwindles away, Khader Adnan may not see the end of this week, but he will force scrutiny on the human rights violations inherent in administrative detention in Israel