Saving Khader Adnan’s Life Saves Our Own Soul
PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 20 Feb 2012
The world watches as tragedy unfolds beneath its gaze as Khader Asnan enters his 63rd day as a hunger striker in an Israeli prison being held under an administrative detention order without trial, without charges, and without any indication of the evidence against him. From the outset of his brutal arrest by scores of soldiers, featuring blindfolding, cuffing, and physical roughness in the middle of the night, a gratuitous ritual enacted the presence of his wife and young daughters Khader Adnan has been subject to the sort of inhumane and degrading treatment that is totally unlawful and inexcusable, and an assault on our moral justification. At present, 307 other Palestinians are being held in administrative detention, and Mr. Adnan has indicated that his protest is on their behalf as much for himself.
The only plausible explanation of such Israeli behavior is to intimidate by terrifying all Palestinians who have lived for almost 45 years under the yoke of an oppressive occupation that continuously whittles away at Palestinian rights under international humanitarian law, especially their right to self-determination, which is encroached upon every time a new housing unit is added to the colonizing settlements that dot the hilltops surrounding Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. While Palestinian prospects of a viable political future are continuously diminished by Israeli expansionism the world politely watches in stunned silence. Only resistance from within and solidarity worldwide can provide the Palestinians with hope about their future. They have been failed over and over again by the UN, by the EU, by their Arab neighbors, and above all by that global leader beholden to Israel whose capital is in Washinton, D.C.! It is only against this broader background that the importance of Khader Adnan’s resistance to the continuing struggle of Palestinians everywhere can begin to be appreciated as a political act as well as an insistence on the sacred dignity of the human person.
The case of Khader Adnan is a revealing microcosm of the unbearable cruelty of prolonged occupation, and the contrast that is drawn in the West between the dignity of a single Israeli prisoner held in captivity and the steadfast refusal to be attentive to the abuse of thousands of Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails through court sentence or administrative order. Mr. Adnan’s father poignantly highlighted this contrast a few days ago by reference to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas in captivity for several years and recently released in good health: “Where are the mother and father of Gilad Shalit? Do they not feel for me in this humanitarian case? Where are they?” The comparison pointedly suggests that it is Mr. Adnan who is the more deserving of such a global outpouring of concern: “My son was arrested from his house, from among his wife and children, was taken prisoner. He was not carrying any weapon. Whereas Shalit was fighting against the people of Gaza, and destroying their homes, and firing upon, and Shalit was released.” In fact, Shalit has not been personally associated with violence against the Palestinians and their property, but he was operating as a member of the IDF that has been consistently engaged in such activity, frequently in stark violation of international humanitarian law. While Shalit was being held foreign authority figures, from the UN Secretary General on down, displayed their empathy not only for Shalit but for the intense anxiety experienced by Israelis concerned for the wellbeing of Shalit, but these same personalities are notably silent in the much more compelling ordeal taking place before our eyes in the form of Mr. Adnan’s captivity seemingly unto death. It should not be surprising that surviving family members of IRA hunger strikers should step forward to express solidarity with Mr. Adnan and the compare the Irish transforming acts of resistance in 1981 (ten hunger strikers died, and Britain shifted from counterterrorism to a politics of reconciliation) to that of the Palesinians, increasingly referring to Khader Adnan as the West Bank Bobby Sands.
And who is Khader Adnan? We do not know very much about him except that he is a member of the Islamic Jihad Party, a 33-year old father of two young daughters, a baker by profession, and viewed with respect and affection by his neighbors. There are no accusations against him that implicate him in violence against civilians, although he has a history of imprisonment associated with his past activism. A fellow prisoner from an earlier period of confinement in Ashkelon Prison, Abu Maria, recalls Mr. Adnan’s normalcy, humanity, and academic demeanor while sharing a cell, emphasizing his passionate dedication to informing other imprisoned Palestinians about the history and nature of the conflict: “Prison was like a university in those times and he was one of the professors.” Commenting on his hunger strike that has brought him extreme pain, Abu Maria says he is convinced that Khader Asnan wants to live, but will not at the price of enduring humiliation for himself and others held in administrative detention: “He is showing his commitment and resistance in the only way he can right now, with his body.”
Addameer, the respected Palestinian NGO concerned with prisoner issues, “holds Israel accountable for the life of Khader Adnan, whose health has entered an alarmingly critical stage that will now have irreversible consequences and could lead to his fatal collapse at any moment.” Physicians who have observed his current condition conclude that, at most, Mr. Adnan could live a few more days, saying that such a hunger strike cannot be sustained beyond 70 days in any event. Any attempt at this stage to keep Mr. Adnan alive by forced feeding would be widely viewed as a violation of his right to life and is generally regarded as a type of torture.
Finally, the reliance by Israel on administrative detention in cases of this sort is totally unacceptable from the perspective of the Geneva Conventions, especially so when no disclosure of the exceptional circumstances that might warrant for reasons of imminent security the use of such an extra-legal form of imprisonment. Given the number of Palestinians being held in a manner similar to that of Mr. Adnan, it is no wonder that sympathy hunger strikes among many Palestinians in and out of Israeli jails are underway as expressions of solidarity. Have we not reached a stage in our appreciation of human rights that we should outlaw such state barbarism euphemistically shielded from scrutiny by the anonymity of ‘administrative detention’? Let us hope and make sure that the awful experience of Khader Adnan does not end with his death, and let us hope and do everything in our power to encourage a worldwide protest against both administrative detention and prisoner abuse in Israel, and eventually elsewhere. The Palestinian people have suffered more than enough already, and passivity in the face of such state crimes is an appalling form of complicity. We should expect more from our governments, the UN, human rights NGOs, and ourselves! It is up to each of us to fulfill the iconic potential of Khader Adnan’s hunger strike as an act of heroic witnessing.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. He is currently serving his fourth year of a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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