Adnan takes aim at Israel and gives Palestinians hope
Since 1967, Israel has maintained a framework of laws and statutes to govern all aspects of life in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israel's occupation law is enforced by soldiers and administered in court rooms by military judges in uniform. Many, if not most, of the laws governing movement of Palestinians, freedom of speech and association are draconian in nature; none is more alarming than the administrative detention order. The order enables Israel to hold prisoners indefinitely without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.
By now, many in the international community are aware of a Palestinian baker from the northern West Bank who has refused food for two months in protest of his detention without trial. Khader Adnan is on his 64th day of a hunger strike that he began the day after Israeli forces raided his home in the middle of the night.
A 33-year-old father of two daughters who serves as the spokesperson for the militant group Islamic Jihad, Mr Adnan is conducting what is now the longest hunger strike in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Adnan's story is emblematic of the administrative detention experience of many Palestinians. He claims to have been beaten and humiliated by Israeli soldiers while in custody, and began his hunger strike in protest. On January 8, Mr Adnan was given a four-month administrative detention order, which can be renewed indefinitely, after a military judge reviewed classified information against him. Evidence and allegations have not been made available to Adnan or to his lawyer.
According to the Israeli military, information in administrative detention cases is kept classified in order to protect sources of intelligence. To this day, the only claim that Israel has made about Mr Adnan's detention is that he is a high risk to Israeli security.
The Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem says there was an increase in the number of Palestinian administrative detainees in 2011. Currently, Israel has over 300 detainees who have not been charged with any crime or faced trial. At the height of the Second Intifada, when Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting, the numbers of Palestinian administrative detainees reached the thousands and included children.
The use of administrative detention orders slowed as violence subsided and after heavy criticism accompanied American use of similar procedures in Guantanamo Bay. The American model of capturing suspected terrorists, and using forceful interrogation methods and detention without trial or charge, is remarkably similar to the administrative detention orders that Israel began using in the 1960s.
However, the debate concerning the use of such practices that has engulfed American society has not yet materialised in Israel. To date, Mr Adnan's hunger strike has stirred little debate in the Israeli press about the legitimacy of administrative detention.
He is a spokesman for a radical Islamist movement and has been arrested several times. But it is unclear why Israel has not yet released any evidence against Mr Adnan. Why has Israel remained quiet in the face of increasingly harsh international criticism of its legal policy towards Palestinians in the West Bank?
It appears unlikely that Israel will release evidence to explain its detention of Mr Adnan. Last week, an Israeli judge struck down an appeal, though on Monday, a spokeswoman for the Israeli courts said the Supreme Court will hear the case this week.
Mr Adnan may die before the hearing. His hunger strike has damaged his internal organs and brain; death appears imminent. Sadly, pundits and politicians the world over who argue that Palestinians need to embrace non-violence as a tactic have largely ignored Mr Adnan's non-violent act against unjust treatment.
On the eve of Palestinian elections after newly signed reconciliation agreements between Hamas and Fatah, any sort of Palestinian popular rebellion connected to Mr Adnan might spiral into a violent confrontation with Israeli forces. Exactly for this reason, Hamas and Fatah leaders have been slow to publicly embrace the hunger strike as a demonstration of Palestinian non-violent resistance.
But this is changing. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, visited Mr Adnan's family this week and expressed support for the hunger strike. A rally of 5,000 people was held in Gaza on Friday in support of Mr Adnan. And demonstrations continue at the Ofer military complex near Ramallah, the home of Israel's military courts in the Occupied Territories. After a failed statehood attempt in the United Nations last fall, the last thing that the Palestinian Authority wants is open rebellion against Israel, as any public demonstrations might challenge its own legitimacy.
Despite the slow embrace by Palestinian political leaders, activists have championed Mr Adnan as the Palestinian Bobby Sands, the Irish republican prisoner who died in a 1981 hunger strike. Details of Mr Adnan's strike were first disseminated on Twitter, and the topic has been trending globally in recent weeks as activists have expressed their frustration that the story has largely been ignored in the mainstream press.
The hunger strike might be Palestinian social media's Tahrir Square. If Israel and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza are not careful, Mr Adnan could end up as Palestine's Mohammad Bouazizi.
Joseph Dana is a journalist based in Ramallah
Updated: February 21, 2012 04:00 AM