Khader Adnan: No food without freedom

Friday was the 62nd day of the Palestinian prisoner’s protest against his detention by Israel.

Khader Adnan
Protests calling for Khader Adnan’s release have been held across the occupied West Bank and in Gaza City [REUTERS]

Sixty-one days. That is how long it’s been since Khader Adnan has eaten.

The 33-year-old Palestinian was taken from his home in Arrabeh village near Jenin in the occupied West Bank at 3:30am on December 17. One day later he began his hunger strike to protest against the “humiliation and policy of administrative detention”. Adnan, like hundreds of other Palestinians, was arrested under a military order that Israel has named “administrative detention”, which allows prisoners to be held without charge or trial for periods of up to six months, spells that can be renewed indefinitely.

Sahar Francis is a lawyer with Addameer, a prisoner rights groups based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and a member of Khader Adnan’s legal team. She visited the hunger striker in Ziv hospital in Safad, Israel, on Friday.

She described her client, who remains shackled to his hospital bed, as “mentally perfect, but physically very weak”.

Francis told Al Jazeera that Adnan was being given only glucose and other sugars through an intravenous drip, but refusing anything else that would be considered a breach of his protest. Doctors told Francis that he could suffer from a heart attack or from the failure of other internal organs and die at any moment.

Adnan’s family and legal team were hoping that he would be released this week when his case went before a military appeals court. However, the appeal was denied and the court ordered that Adnan must finish the four month administrative detention, set to end on May 8.

In response to Al Jazeera’s request for an interview, the Israeli military sent a statement that read:

“Khader Adnan was arrested with an administrative arrest warrant for activities that threaten regional security. This warrant was authorised by a judicial review.”

Francis and Adnan’s legal team argue that, after losing some 40kg from more than 60 days without food, Adnan is wheelchair-bound and too weak to pose a risk to anyone.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both called on the Israeli authorities either to release Adnan or immediately charge him with criminal offences and have him tried.

Prison knowledge

For Adnan, like many Palestinians in the occupied territories, incarceration is not an uncommon experience. According to Addameer, in January there were more than 4,400 Palestinian “political prisoners” in Israeli jails. Of them, 310 were being held under administrative detention.

Adnan, who in the past was convicted of being a spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad armed group, has, according to his family, been detained nine times since his first arrest as a student activist in 1999.

It was soon after his first imprisonment that he met Mousa Abu Maria in Ashkelon prison. Abu Maria, the same age as Adnan, explained to Al Jazeera how, for many, prison is like a “university”, where prisoners teach each other about global struggles and discuss how they relate to their own as Palestinians.

“The old prisoners tell the new prisoners about history of the past and when people make hunger strike[s] and how the situation changed,” he said.

The history lessons seem to spread quickly through the prisons.

“The first time that people start to talk about hunger strike, I started to hear from them about how they [could] start. Sometime[s] they started to talk room to room about hunger strike and the goal in going on hunger strike.”

The stories, Abu Maria said, “give you power and hope”.

One of the stories commonly told among Palestinians inside Israeli prisons is of the ten republican prisoners in Northern Ireland who died as a result of their hunger strike in 1981. Most famous among them was 27-year-old Provisional IRA member Bobby Sands, who was elected to the British parliament during his fast, and died after 66 days of refusing to eat. This, and other hunger strikes and organised actions, were believed to have improved prisoners’ conditions and made gains for their nationalist cause.

Since the rise of a Palestinian nationalist movement in the late 1960s and 1970s to combat Israeli occupation, hunger striking has been a common tactic among Palestinian prisoners that, according to Addameer’s Francis, has frequenty succeeded in improving the conditions of their incarceration.

Stories such as Sands’, Abu Maria said, “made us think that hunger strike is the only way a prisoner can resist”.

Abu Maria served almost five years of his prison sentence and was released in 2003. However, like Adnan, he faced ongoing harassment from Israeli officials. Abu Maria’s home and that of his family was later raided by Israeli soldiers, and he was eventually rearrested and placed under administrative detention in 2009.

Abu Maria told Al Jazeera that not knowing what the charges against him were – and when he would be released – made being jailed all the more difficult. He said the more than 14 months he spent under administration detention was “a really bad time in my life”.  

“Now Khader is in a bad condition, and any time he can die,” Abu Maria said.

With protests in solidarity with Khader Adnan already happening both in the occupied territories and inside Israel, Abu Maria said there would be widespread rage if Adnan were to die.

“I believe, if he dies, the situation in Palestine will change very fast. We can have a third intifada [“uprising”].”

Few options left

With the military’s case against prisoners kept secret to both the defendant and legal teams, Addameer’s Francis said defending clients under administrative detention is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.  

“You don’t have any tools to build a defence,” Francis said. “This is the most serious problem for any lawyer in administrative detention cases.”

She pointed out that, while administrative detention may be considered short-term, Addameer has documented cases showing prisoners kept in jail for up to six to eight years, with their detention renewed every six months.

In 2009, the UN committee against torture expressed concern with the “inordinately lengthy periods” that Israel gives prisoners and reported that it could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

“Administrative detention thus deprives detainees of basic safeguards, including the right to challenge the evidence which is the basis for the detention, warrants are not required, and the detainee may be de facto in incommunicado detention for an extended period, subject to renewal.”

After a millitary court rejected Adnan’s appeal on Monday, Francis is hoping that Israel’s high court will agree to review his case, including its secret evidence, in the coming days – and make a decision to release him, by either cancelling his sentence or shortening it to the time he has already served. “This is the last channel [available to us] in the Israeli legal system,” Francis said.

Randa Adnan, Khader’s pregnant wife and the mother of the couple’s two young daughters, told the UK’s Independent on Thursday: “I know my husband. He will not change his mind. I expect him to die.”

With no media allowed access to prisoners, Adnan’s own words have only been available through a letter that he gave to one of his lawyers on a recent visit. The Ma’an news agency, based in the occupied West Bank, published parts of the letter translated into English:

“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.”

“Here I am in a hospital bed surrounded with prison wardens, handcuffed, and my foot tied to the bed,” the letter continued. “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.” 

Follow Matthew Cassel on Twitter: @justimage

Source: Al Jazeera