Starving for freedom: The hunger strike of Khader Adnan
Khader Adnan, currently on hunger strike in an Israeli prison, runs the risk of dying without international help.
|According to Amnesty International, as of December 31 last year, 307 Palestinians were in Israeli administrative detention, including 21 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council that was elected in January 2006 [EPA]|
Amman, Jordan – By the time you read these words, Khader Adnan could be dead. After 58 full days on hunger strike, his body is already well past the stage where his vital organs may cease to function at any moment. But Khader Adnan is dying to live.
The 33-year-old Palestinian baker, husband, father, and graduate student has refused food since December 18, a day after he was arrested in a nighttime raid on his family home by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. He has lost over 40 kgs and his wife Randa and young daughters have described his appearance as “shocking”.
Adnan, whom Israel says is a member of Islamic Jihad, was given a four month “administrative detention” order by the Israeli military – meaning that he is held without being charged for any crime or trial, a practice continued by Israel that dates back to British colonial days.
Yesterday an Israeli military court rejected Adnan’s appeal against the arbitrary detention. Having vowed to maintain his hunger strike until he is released or charged, the judge – an Israeli military officer – might as well have sentenced Khader Adnan to death, unless there is urgent international intervention.
Though the life in his body hangs on by a thread, his spirit is unbroken.
|Hundreds of Palestinians join hunger strike|
“The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners,” Adnan wrote in a letter published through his lawyer, “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.”
According to Amnesty International, which has issued two urgent appeals on Adnan’s behalf, as of December 31 last year, 307 Palestinians were in Israeli administrative detention, including 21 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council that was elected in January 2006.
“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,” Adnan wrote in his letter.
In addition to Amnesty, Human Rights Watch too has heard Adnan’s message, calling on Israel to release or charge him.
Adnan’s insistence on his dignity and autonomy and his unwillingness to be broken by an overwhelmingly powerful oppressor contrasts starkly with the increasingly directionless and unprincipled actions of Palestinian leaders who continue to make dubious “reconciliation” deals that go nowhere, and pursue “negotiations” with Israel that have no chance of liberating Khader Adnan, his young daughters and millions of their countrywomen and men from Israel’s occupation, colonisation and apartheid.
Adnan’s fast has drawn support from people all over the world. Hundreds staged peaceful protests outside Israel’s Ofer Prison – where they were met with violence and arrests by Israeli police – and other protests were held as far as Washington DC, New York and Chicago. Many others have fasted in solidarity with Adnan.
Khader Adnan’s struggle reminds us that nonviolence is not the easy choice. It is often the harder one.
Yet the world is still failing to act. The Palestinian prisoner’s group Addameer undoubtedly spoke for many when it declared that it “holds the international community responsible for not taking action to save Khader’s life”. It demanded “that the European Union, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross intervene with Israel immediately before it is too late”.
And there has been silence too from prominent voices such Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist famous for using individual stories to draw attention to human rights abuses around the world. In a 2010 column titled “Waiting for Gandhi“, Kristof scolded Palestinians for not adopting nonviolent tactics.
Of course Kristof was ignoring or simply ignorant of the rich history and present of such popular resistance in Palestine ably documented by Mazin Qumsiyeh in his recent book, Popular Resistance in Palestine: a History of Hope and Empowerment– which includes hunger strikes. Last Autumn hundreds of Palestinian prisoners spent weeks on hunger strike against punitive Israreli prison conditions, and many are on hunger strike now in solidarity with Adnan.
“If Kristof and others claim to be ‘waiting for Gandhi’ why haven’t they spoken up for Adnan?”
But if Kristof and others claim to be “waiting for Gandhi” why haven’t they spoken up for Adnan? After all it was Mahatma Gandhi himself who when repeatedly imprisoned by the British famously used hunger strikes to draw international attention to his people’s cause.
In more recent memory are the Irish hunger strikes by IRA and Republican prisoners in Belfast’s Maze Prison in 1980-81. Ten of the men – most famously Bobby Sands, just 27 years-old, who endured 66 days – fasted to death. During his strike Sands was even elected a member of the British Parliament – a fact murals on the walls of Belfast still commemorate by affixing the letters “MP” after his name.
The government of Margaret Thatcher refused to yield to the demands of the hunger strikers to be treated as political prisoners. Yet their sacrifice galvanised global support and greatly embarrassed the British, pressure that arguably contributed to eventual peace.
|A message of support from Tommy McKearney|
Last week Tommy McKearney, who spent 53 days on hunger strike in 1980, sent a video message of solidarity with Khader Adnan. McKearney, himself a former member of the IRA, lived to contribute to peace in his country, just as his comrades did with their deaths.
But Bobby Sands and his comrades need not have died had wiser, more humane policies prevailed at the time. And Khader Adnan need not die today or tomorrow. But it will take the world to speak out now to save him.
The determination, unflinching courage and self-sacrifice of Adnan’s hunger strike has captured the imagination and support of people everywhere. He deserves our respect, but more importantly right now, he needs us to raise our voices.
Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. He is a co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka.
Follow him at: @AliAbunimah