It is a great relief to those millions around the world who were moved to prayer and action by Khader Adnan’s extraordinary hunger strike of 66 days that has ended due to Israel’s agreement to release him on April 17. We who were inspired by such a heroic refusal to accept humiliation and arbitrary arrest can only hope that for the sake of his family, for the cause of Palestinian resistance, and for the struggle to achieve a just peace that Mr. Adnan will fully recover to resume his personal and political life. We can not take for granted that there will be a full recovery given Mr. Adnan’s critical condition confirmed by examining doctors, just prior to his decision on February 21 to resume eating in a normal manner.
While it is appropriate to celebrate this ending of the strike as ‘a victory’ there are several disturbing features that deserve comment. To call an arrangement that saved someone’s life a ‘deal,’ as the media consistently put it, is itself demeaning, and reveals at the very least a failure to appreciate the gravity and deep dedication of purpose that is bound up with such a nonviolent form of resistance. Similarly, the carelessness of the initial reactions was notable, often referring to Mr. Adnan’s ‘release’ when in fact he will be still held in administrate detention for several more weeks, and could conceivably be confined much longer, should Israeli military authorities unilaterally decide that ‘substantial evidence’ against him emerges in this period immediately ahead.
It should also be noted that on matters of policy and principle Israel did not retreat even an inch: in relation to Mr. Adnan, he will be remain in captivity and will be subject to the ‘legal’ possibility that his period of imprisonment could still be extended indefinitely; beyond this, Israeli authorities express no willingness whatsoever to review the cases of the 309 other Palestinians who are presently being held under the administrative detention procedure.
These Palestinians being held include one prisoner detained for more than 5 years, and 17 others for periods of 2-4 years. Israel did not even agree to a review of their misapplications of this administrative procedure within their own frameworks of claims about addressing imminent security threats. The general justification of administrative procedures by governments that rely upon it is to insist that its use is reserved for true and credible emergency situations. But as Mustafa Barghouti points out in the New York Times (February 22, 2012) such a claim strains credulity past the breaking point in the Israeli case. Barghouti writes tellingly that it is worth observing “that among..[those] Palestinians now held in ‘administrative detention’ are 21 of the 120 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, most of whom have been held for years for no apparent crime other than being democratically elected in 2006, in an election universally regarded as free and fair, as candidates of the party which won a clear majority of seats but which Israel does not like.” In other words, the Israeli claims of exceptional circumstances taking precedence over due process protections do not exist in many of the evident political uses of administrative detention as a means of weakening all forms of Palestinian resistance, including nonviolent opposition politics.
It should also be noted that Israeli commentary treated the arrangement ending the standoff produced by the hunger strike with measured cynicism if not disdain. Even those Israeli who supported the agreement justified it as a practical way of avoiding trouble down the road should Khader Adnan have died while held by Israelis, given the breadth and depth of support his extended hunger strike was receiving among Palestinians and sympathizers from around the world. Keeping Mr. Adnan alive was also seen by Israelis as a means to avoid a wider scrutiny of the institution and practice of administrative detention as it has been used by the Israeli military ‘justice’ system.
Also the timing of the announcement of the arrangement is significant. It was made an hour before an emergency session of the Israeli Supreme Court that was scheduled to hear Mr. Adnan’s petition for release, and there is speculation that although this highest judicial body in Israel has in the past consistently supported the military position in such instances, the situation was so extreme that it might prove embarrassing for Israeli military authorities. There were even some worries on the Israeli side that the extremities of this case could produce an adverse result and even a repudiation of the manner in which Israeli authorities used administrative detention as a procedure allegedly for security, but seemingly for the harassment and intimidation of militant opponents of an oppressive occupation that has continued for 45 years and is aggravated by continuously appropriating Palestinian land and water for the benefit of settlement expansion while disrupting and cleansing long-term Palestinian residency.
What was entirely absent from the Israeli public discourse was some expression of compassion, even if only for the family of Mr. Adnan, which consists of two daughters of four years or less and his articulate pregnant wife, Randa. There was not even the slightest show of respect for the dignity of Mr. Adnan’s long hunger strike or sympathy for the acute suffering that accompanies such a determined foregoing of food and speech for an extended period. Instead, the Israeli commentary that was supportive of the arrangement stressed only pragmatic considerations from the perspective of Israel’s interests. It was one more lost opportunity for Israelis of all shades of opinion to reach across the abyss of political conflict to affirm a common humanity.
But in a contrary spirit, the spokesperson for the Netanyahu government, Mark Regev, seemed only interested in deflecting criticism directed at Israel. He parried criticism by cynically observing that other governments rely on administrative dentention in the name of security, including the United States, so why shouldn’t Israel. He also added that the legality of Israel’s use of administrative detention should not be questioned since it depended not on an Israeli law, but on a 1946 law enacted when Britain was controlling Palestine, unintentionally conceding that Israel was the ‘colonial’ successor to the British! If the legal veil is lifted from administrative detention its character is one of ‘internment,’ a standard practice of colonial powers in dealing with unruly natives.
Of course, Israeli ultra hardliners went further in this direction, referring to Mr. Adnan as ‘a terrorist’ despite the vagueness of official allegations that didn’t ever make such a claim, but only mysteriously contended that he constituted what an official in Tel Aviv described as ‘a threat to regional security,’ whatever that might mean. As might be expected, the notorious Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was characteristically forthright, calling his ‘release’ ‘a wrong decision’ yet accepting the outcome because it is ‘our duty to honor and respect every Supreme Court decision even when we don’t agree with it.” As we know, Mr. Adnan was not released nor did the Israeli Supreme Court make a decision. This comedy of errors by a leading government official should raise questions about Lieberman’s competence, not to mention his questionable political judgment as to policy. Lieberman’s mean spiritedness extended to attacks on Arab members of the Knesset who visited Mr. Adnan as somehow an indication that by so doing they were ‘representing terrorists.’ Similarly, MK Danny Danon ignored the context and scorned the agreement ending the hunger strike by calling it reprehensible, an instance of a ‘[capitulation] to terrorism.’
The issues directly raised by this hunger strike are ones of human rights and humane treatment, as well as reliance on administrative detention, and are quite independent of whether or not we endorse Mr. Adnan’s past and present tactics of resistance, which are not at all clear. Some apologists for Israel have tried to deflect these ethical and legal concerns by emphasizing Mr. Adnan’s association with Islamic Jihad and its record of violent attacks and extremist politics. Israelis casually refer to Mr. Adnan as a ‘terrorist’ without charges or proof. He has, in fact, been most often described in recent years more neutrally by those knowledgeable about his role and activities as a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad, but not engaged beyond this. There is no indication in his past or present that he was directly involved in violence, although an undated and unverified YouTube video has surfaced somewhat suspiciously in which Mr. Adnan is depicted as advocating violent resistance and an active recruiter of suicide bombers. Although Islamic Jihad has been responsible in the past for suicide bombings it has seemingly abandoned the practice, which is in line with the repudiation of such forms of violent resistance by Hamas more than ten years ago. Mr. Adnan’s prior arrests stemmed from militant peaceful demonstrations that landed him in Israeli jails seven times, a Palestinian Authority prison once, and induced him to undertake shorter hunger strikes on three previous occasions, one as recently as 2010. From what is known, Mr. Adnan is definitely a committed activist who has associated himself with Islamic Jihad, but works on a daily basis as a village baker and maintains a strong family role and popular community presence in his small West Bank town of Arraba.
It is important to pause long enough to take account of Khader Adnan’s achievement, symbolically, substantively, and with respect to future possibilities. We should note that Mr. Adnan’s hunger strike of 66 days is the exact length of Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in 1981 strengthening the bond between the two men, a bond that has been movingly confirmed by a number of Irish family members of their strikers. What is more, the date of Bobby Sands’ death, May 5, 1981, is generally viewed as the turning point in the Irish struggle, the time when the British Government finally started treating the IRA as a political actor with genuine grievances rather than as a terrorist organization that must be run into the ground and exterminated. We can only hope that Febuary 21, 2012 will live in history as a turning point in the Palestinian struggle. Only the future will reveal whether this is a pious wish on my part or becomes over time a historical reality.
Substantively, it is crucial to support a campaign to free the other several hundred Palestinians currently being held in administrative detention and to exert enough pressure to end reliance on the practice altogether. Mr. Adnan’s brave stand will have been mostly without effect if his compelling exposure of the cruelty and arbitrariness of Israeli reliance on administrative detention is allowed to slip from view now that his strike is over. Instead, knowing what we have come to know, it is the responsibility of all of us to do all we can to discredit and force the abandonment of administrative detention by Israel, and as well, challenge its role in the United States and elsewhere. A fitting tribute to Mr. Adnan’s hunger strike would be to put opposition to administrative detention on the top of the human rights agenda throughout the world. We should begin by refusing to use the phrase ‘administrative detention,’ rechristening it as ‘administrative torture’ or ‘lawless captivity,’ and associate with past colonial and present authoritarian tendencies of ‘democratic’ governments.
And finally, we will know the enduring significance of Mr. Adnan’s self-sacrifice by what takes place in the future. Will this event, possibly along with other influences, inspire a greater commitment to the Palestinian struggle for peace, justice, and liberation in occupied Palestine and throughout the world? Maybe ‘the regional threat’ that was being referred to by the Israeli official justifying Mr. Adnan’s detention was an indirect, and hopefully accurate reference to the growing impact of the positive sides of the Arab Spring, that is, as an occasion prompting a further awakening of self-empowerment among Palestinians both in relation to their struggle and in their renewed quest for unity among themselves. In effect, let us hope that Khader Adnan’s bravery becomes contagious and will be remembered as a charismatic event in the long narrative of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.