Hunger strike galvanises Palestine
The hunger strike of Palestinian activist Khadr Adnan has turned the spotlight on the double standards of the Israeli justice system, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
In many ways, the struggle between Khadr Adnan and his Israeli captors epitomises the enduring strife between an arrogant and manifestly callous Israel on the one hand and a helpless but defiant people longing for liberty and clinging to life on the other.
Khadr Adnan, a 44-year-old Islamic Jihad activist, was arrested by the Israeli occupation authorities on 17 December. He started an open-ended hunger strike the following day to protest his detention without charge or trial. Sixty-six days later, he has lost some 40 per cent of his body weight.
Adnan's wife Randa and his lawyer say he is now hanging between life and death. Last week, his lawyer filled a petition with the Israeli High Court, often a mere rubber stamp in the hands of the Israeli security establishment, for Adnan's release.
"Khadr's life is in danger, but he has a strong will and very high spirits. However, he is not conscious and is not able to speak," Randa told reporters. "He is fading away, and his eyes are sunken."
The petition to the Israeli court included a medical report by a doctor from the Physicians for Human Rights Foundation, which has been monitoring Adnan's condition.
"When I met the patient, he was on the 52nd day of his hunger strike. He had been shackled to his bed by both legs and one arm, and he was refusing to undergo tests or receive medical treatment," the report stated.
One unidentified doctor quoted by Ynet News said that "a fast in excess of 70 days doesn't allow survival. The infusion of liquids, salts, glucose and vitamins cannot prevent death due to such a protracted hunger strike."
During his imprisonment, Adnan was humiliated and beaten by prison wardens. Israeli law allows the employment of "moderate physical pressure" against Palestinian detainees, in many cases a euphemism for torture.
While Adnan does not want to become another Bobby Sands, the Irish activist who died on 5 May, 1981, following a similar 66-day hunger strike. However, the Israeli occupation regime does not allow honour, dignity or freedom for Palestinians, meaning that he may have little choice.
To silence the Palestinians, Israel uses "administrative detention" procedures, another name for open-ended incarceration without charge or trial. "Administrative detention," Palestinians say, hangs over Palestinian activists, even if Israeli law can find no reason to indict them.
Palestinians who may have committed no violation of Israeli laws are kept behind bars for prolonged periods, sometimes in excess of ten years, without ever knowing the reasons behind their imprisonment.
One administrative detainee, Mustafa Shawar, a Hebron University lecturer, told the Weekly that "I appealed to the Israeli military judge to let me know why I was detained, but to no avail."
"I told him, 'please let me know what I did, so that I won't do it again.' But the judge said he wouldn't give me that privilege because the evidence against me was secret."
Shawar has so far spent ten years in Israeli prisons without charge or trial, and he has no idea if he will ever be freed.
Thousands of Palestinians, including lawmakers, students, professionals and peaceful political activists, have been subjected to prolonged periods of administrative detention.
A few weeks ago, the Israeli military authorities detained Aziz Dweik, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sentencing him to six months in prison. The six-month sentence may only be the beginning for Dweik, as the Israeli authorities routinely extend such sentences many times.
The massive shows of solidarity Khadr Adnan has been receiving are unprecedented, with all the Palestinian political factions organising demonstrations demanding his immediate release.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has appealed to Russia, China and Britain to press Israel to release Adnan, and Saeb Ereikat, the PA negotiator, has said that Israel will be held responsible for "what happens to Khadr Adnan."
Similar messages have been dispatched to the Obama administration and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, warning against the ramifications Adnan's death could have in the region.
Earlier this week, Catherine Ashton, the European foreign policy chief, urged Israel to do everything possible to preserve Adnan's health. She also reiterated EU concerns about Israel's "extensive use of administrative detention without formal charge."
According to the Israeli human-rights organisation B'tselem, there has been a sharp increase in the number of administrative detainees held by Israel over the past year, from 219 in January 2011 to 309 in January 2012.
Eighty people, or 26 per cent of the detainees, have been held for six months to one year, with another 88 people, or 28.5 per cent, being held for between one and two years. Sixteen detainees have been in administrative detention for between two and four-and-a-half years.
B'tselem stressed the illegality of the administrative detention procedure because it violates the right to liberty and due process, detainees being incarcerated for prolonged periods on the basis of secret evidence without charge or trial.
Administrative detention is also reserved for non-Jews, particularly Palestinians, and is designed to punish and break the will of those who won't submit to the occupation.
While some non-Jews have been held in administrative detention by Israel, their number has been very small and the jail-time symbolic, underscoring the discrimination against non-Jews in Israel-Palestine.
Israel does not seem to be indifferent to Adnan's fate, apparently out of concern about the reactions his death may provoke among Palestinians.
The Israeli High Court decided on 21 February to free Adnan two months from now, leaving open the question of whether he will survive until then or whether he will be immediately rearrested.