Over the years, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention, for periods ranging from several months to several years - Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
Khader Adnan, the 33 year old Palestinian hunger striker, went without food for as long as the Irish republican hunger striker Bobby Sands. Unlike Sands, Adnan, a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad, survived the ordeal and we are to be grateful for that. He came through not because he abandoned his fast but because the Israeli authorities moved some distance towards meeting his demands and have agreed to release him from custody in mid-April. If this is so the father of two young daughters will be able to return to both them and his pregnant wife. He had been protesting against his detention without charge, a process termed by the Israelis as ‘administrative detention’ and which was called internment when the British employed it in Ireland.
Adnan’s plight was not unnoticed in Ireland where the history of hunger striking against injustice touches a raw nerve. Former hunger striker Tommy McKearney voiced his support for Adnan while the families of some of those who died in the H-Blocks in 1981 also gave the prisoner their backing. These acts of solidarity, coupled with the length of time endured on hunger strike being exactly the same as Sands, have helped forge a shared identity and unity of purpose in the public mind.
Campaigners against the abuse of prisoners will endorse the comments of Richard Falk that:
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 cannot 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.
Yet those of us who have witnessed our comrades emerge from periods of prolonged hunger strike know that the chances of Adnan eluding bad health are slim. There is always a price to be paid for such a passive and selfless form of protest. It invariably comes back to haunt those involved.
In the view of Richard Falk, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, who has himself been on the receiving end of draconian Israeli policies the Israelis gave in to Adnan not out of humanitarian conviction but as a means to offset any wider scrutiny of the Israeli practice of administrative detention. The deeply repressive measure ostensibly employed on grounds of security is in effect used to punish political opponents of Israeli violence and occupation. It is a policy Falk prefers to term “administrative torture." Falk’s Aljazeera article should be widely read and distributed . It was flagged up to me by John Hurson who has been actively campaigning to raise awareness in Ireland about the struggle of Adnan.
As welcome as the outcome of this hunger strike has been, the fact that 31 years after the death of Bobby Sands, prisoners are still finding themselves forced to resort to this terrible form of protest against brutal governments in pursuit of their rights and dignity is dismaying. At the same time it is reassuring that the Irish experience has not been forgotten and that from it voices emerged to back Adnan. Like Bobby Sands, Khader Adnan was subject to the same state labelling strategy in a calculated thrust aimed at de-legitimising opposition to state brutality and rights infringements: he was a terrorist, this being the universal blank cheque of states upon which they scrawl ‘rights denied.’ Given the history of Israeli state terror it is certainly rich for that particular entity to term anyone a terrorist. The state was founded on terror and was subsequently led by people castigated as terrorists.
In all of this there remains, as Falk points out, the possibility that Israel will renege on its commitment to release Adnan in April. One way to help thwart this is to keep the issue very much in the public eye and poke Israel in the eye if it moves to backtrack.