TEL AVIV // The Palestinian hunger striker Khader Adnan yesterday agreed to resume eating after Israel pledged to release him from detention in April.
The 66-day protest by the baker from the West Bank town of Araba was the longest in memory and his lawyers had said that he was near death.
Mr Adnan, 33, is a member of the militant group Islamic Jihad, which Israel says is a terrorist organisation.
He was arrested in a midnight raid on his West Bank home on December 17, and refused to eat in protest at his administrative detention, the system under which Israel locks up people it says are a security risk, on the basis of evidence that it keeps secret, and without charge or trial.
Mahmoud Hassan, a lawyer from the Addameer group that campaigns for Palestinian prisoners’ rights and is representing Mr Adnan, said an agreement was reached with the Israeli state prosecution just minutes before an emergency Supreme Court hearing of Mr Adnan’s petition that he be either released or charged.
A military court rejected the petition last week and the Supreme Court has never granted one, Mr Hassan said.
The Israeli justice ministry said Mr Adnan would be released in mid-April unless new and significant evidence emerged.
The ministry said the issue had been brought before the attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, suggesting the case had reached the top levels of government amid concern that rioting could erupt if Mr Adnan died in detention.
Mr Hassan said the prosecution had agreed before to release administrative detainees but this case was unusual because a military court had ruled he remain in detention.
“This shows that the security establishment’s evidence against him was not well-based,” Mr Hassan said. “How can it be that the military court viewed him as dangerous last week but the state today no longer sees him as a danger?”
Mr Hassan said the decision was likely to affect other administrative detainees who might also consider hunger strikes. “They will see him as an example that if you press your case, and press well, then you can get results.”
Mr Adnan is one of hundreds of Palestinians in administrative detention at the request of the Shin Bet security service. An initial detention of six months can be extended indefinitely by military court order.
The policy does not punish a detainee for a crime already committed but aims to prevent a future offence.
Rights activists say Israel uses the measure widely in violation of international law, which stipulates it only be implemented in exceptional cases.
During the second Palestinian Intifada, there were times Israel had more than a thousand Palestinians under administrative detention.
Despite growing international criticism of Israel’s use of administrative detention, the country increased the number of such detainees last year to 309 in December from 219 in January, the human-rights group B’Tselem said, and more than 60 per cent had their detention extended beyond six months.
Mr Adnan’s hunger strike had become a popular cause for Palestinians and Palestinian rights activists, triggering almost daily demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
A group of organisations from the West Bank and abroad said it was campaigning for Mr Adnan’s protest to be a focus of Palestinian prisoners’ day on April 17.
It has asked supporters in other countries to demonstrate in front of Israeli embassies or consulates, campaign on university campuses and protest against companies such as Volvo and Motorola that provide services to Israel’s prison authority.
Maali Musa, Mr Adnan’s sister, said the family and their supporters were celebrating by singing, dancing and making speeches near his house.
The family plans to bring Knafeh, a Palestinian sweetened goat-cheese pastry, to Mr Adnan today if they are allowed to visit him.
“It’s a big victory for Khader and all the Palestinian people,” she said. “Khader brought life again to the prisoners’ case, especially that of the administrative detainees. He became a symbol for all of them.”