By Mohammed-Ali Abazeed, Senior at the University of Michigan. This piece was also featured in the Michigan Daily, which can be seen here.
Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old Palestinian man, just completed a hunger strike of 66 days. Israeli forces arrested Adnan on Dec. 17, 2011 in the middle of the night at his home in the Palestinian village of Arraba. Following 18 days of torture and humiliation, Adnan was imprisoned without charge or trial. Israel’s practice of administrative detention — allowing authorities to detain individuals indefinitely without any requirement to charge — stands in direct violation of international law, which states that this form of detention is allowed only in certain circumstances. However, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, states, “Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates these restrictions. It is carried out under the thick cover of privilege, which denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense.”
In protest of his treatment, Adnan began a hunger strike the day after his arrest. The group Physicians for Human Rights said after visiting him in a hospital that he had lost more than one-third of his weight, was weak and frail, but was still being shackled to his bed. After refusal to grant Adnan a court date for weeks, Israel’s high court agreed to hear his case on his 66th day of protest. His hunger strike ended when the court decided not to renew Adnan’s detention, a minimum requirement asked for by Adnan himself.
Though Western media has been nearly silent on his story, Adnan has become an international symbol of resistance to injustice through grassroots movements and social media, which have launched many campaigns to shed light on his story. Calls for release or immediate charge of Adnan and 300 other administrative detainees from human rights bodies around the world went largely unnoticed and ignored.
But the family of Adnan continued to amplify his call, even reaching out to the family of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Shalit was held by Hamas in captivity for several years and was released earlier this year following intense international pressure. Shalit was released as part of an arranged prisoner swap. His father said, “We’re concluding a long and difficult journey. We’re glad that we won our son back.” Adnan’s father recently asked, “Where are the mother and father of Gilad Shalit? Do they not feel for me in this humanitarian case?” Though moral measurements of humanity may not apply to decisions Israel makes, surely the anguish and sorrow a father feels for his son is a universal feeling. The case of Adnan exploits the hypocrisy that exists in the West between the dignity of an Israeli soldier captured in a battle and that of a Palestinian prisoner taken from his home in the middle of the night.
Yet the case of Adnan brings to the forefront the brutal reality of an ongoing occupation. The inhumane and degrading treatment of Adnan is a reality shared by Palestinians who face an oppressive occupation that continues to strip away their rights on a daily basis. While the world continues to call on both sides to re-engage in a “peace process,” Israel continues to expand its colonizing settlements — a practice even the United States deems illegal — encroaching on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. In a letter released by his lawyers, Adnan addresses the Palestinian people: “The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey.”
And so, Adnan fought using the only tool he had left at his disposal: his body. In Ireland, IRA prisoners fought back against the British Empire in 1981 by beginning hunger strikes. Bobby Sands, the man who led the charge, died after 66 days of refusing food. Nine died following him, but their actions changed the face of the conflict and set in motion the peace agreement that prevails in Northern Ireland today. A film director who portrayed their story said of their actions, “It is the final act of desperation. Your own body is your last resource for protest.”
So, Adnan continues to protest, and as he does, I’m reminded of a question I too often hear: “Where are the Palestinian Gandhis, the Palestinian Martin Luther King Jrs., who will nonviolently lead the charge to liberation and freedom?” To this I say: The Palestinian Khader Adnans are alive and they exist. They are in every block of Gaza, on every street corner of Ramallah. They exist in the bravery of Rachel Corrie, in the strength of Vittorio Arrigoni and in the courage of Mustafa Tamimi. They are in Israel’s prison cells, in every cell of every child born into occupation. They are in the hearts of all human beings of conscience, who dream of a day that the arc of the moral universe may finally set itself on the battered hills of Jerusalem.