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Placing Dignity Above Food

JERUSALEM, Feb 20 2012 (IPS) - JERUSALEM, Feb. 19, 2012 (IPS) – On the day Israel released some 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second half of a swap for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been held for five-and-a-half years by Hamas in Gaza, an Islamic Jihad activist started an agonising hunger strike.

Two months have passed since the 33-year-old baker and alleged spokesman for a group which killed scores of Israelis in suicide bombings and mortar attacks refused to eat in protest against his “administrative detention”.

The provision is used by Israel to detain Palestinians indefinitely, for months or years, without trial or charges.

Adnan was arrested at his home in Arabeh in the occupied West Bank, on the night of Dec. 17, hours before the prisoners’ exchange. He testified in an affidavit that he was beaten and humiliated during his 18-day interrogation.

According to a military statement, Adnan was arrested “for activities that threaten regional security.” The military court judge extended his administrative detention to four months. Defendants can be imprisoned repeatedly for up to six months. No evidence is presented before them or their lawyers.

Israeli defence attorney Tamar Peleg said in her plea: “There’s no intelligence information that warrants the arrest…the security officials don’t have the option…to put the accused on trial.” A fortnight ago, Adnan’s appeal against the sentence was rejected.

Israeli military courts generally use administrative detention against Palestinians who are suspected of constituting an imminent risk to national security.

According to the Palestinian rights group Al-Haq, the number of administrative detainees currently stands at 315. Though harming due-process rights, the measure is allowed under international law if it prevents danger that cannot be thwarted by less harmful means.

Yet, “Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates such restrictions, thus mocking the protections specified in Israeli and international law of the right to liberty and due process of defendants, and the presumption of innocence”, says the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.

This is reportedly the eighth time Adnan has been arrested. In 1999, he was held for six months without trial. He was again detained in 2000, 2002-2003 and in 2004. Then in 2005-2006, he was imprisoned for 18 months, and in 2008 for six months. In 2010, he started his first hunger strike – against his 12-day incarceration by the Palestinian Authority.

Were it not for his solo hunger strike, Adnan’s predicament would be no exception. Over the years, Israel has administratively detained thousands of Palestinians.

In 1970, a group of security prisoners went 65 days without eating. In an open letter attributed to him and released Feb. 15, Day 61 of his action, Adnan declared he doesn’t intend to enter the Guinness Book of Records but to denounce his detention.

Adnan has been transferred to an Israel Prison Service medical facility. His health deteriorating, he has been moved to various hospitals. He’s now at the Rebecca Sieff hospital in the Israeli holy city Safed.

Prison wardens guard him round the clock. Until last week, he was shackled to his bed with both feet and one arm. “The decision to use restraint on a patient in custody lies with the law enforcement authorities responsible for him,” said a hospital spokesperson. The “authorities” said the initial purpose was to preserve public safety.

Adnan has refused to be examined by hospital or Prison Service doctors. The International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated three medical visits last week, and four visits the week before.

Adnan eventually agreed to be also monitored by a doctor of the NGO Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), and to take liquid infusions of salts, glucose and vitamins.

The latest released PHR-I medical opinion reports that on Day 61 of his hunger strike, Adnan had “lost 30 kilograms and suffered from stomach aches, vomiting, sometimes with blood, and headaches.”

He was “completely lucid…his general condition is pale and very weak, his tongue is smooth, he has slight bleeding from the gums, dry skin, loss of hair and significant muscular atrophy…his pulse is weak, blood pressure 100/75. He is permanently connected to a heart monitor.”

The PHR-I statement warns that Adnan “is in immediate danger of death…it may occur suddenly, due to heart failure, or as the result of infection following the collapse of the immune system…a fast in excess of 75 days does not permit survival.”

“There’s no immediate danger to his life,” cautioned Dr. Raymond Farah, head of the hospital’s Internal Medicine Department, “but he’s at a critical point.”

Hoping to entice Adnan to stop his protest, the Shin Bet and the Prison Services agreed to allow family visits. His pregnant wife Randa, their two daughters, and his father last visited him on Feb. 15. “These are my last days,” she heard him whisper. He didn’t give up the fight.

Adnan’s lawyers submitted an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court that same day. A hearing will review his detention “as soon as possible”, a PHR-I update read. Mahmoud Hassan, one of the lawyers, says: “Adnan might die before the court hearing.”

If most Israelis haven’t heard of him, Palestinians are ‘all Khader Adnan’. In a rare display of unity, thousands of all political persuasions have rallied around their hero with the beard and round glasses. “Dignity above food,” is the chant.

Other prisoners in Israeli jails have reportedly started hunger strikes. Islamic Jihad has vowed revenge if Adnan dies. In a statement released on Saturday, Day 64, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton urged Israel to “do all it can to preserve Adnan’s health”, reiterating the longstanding EU criticism of “extensive use of administrative detention.” (END/IPS/MM/IP/HD/PI/PK/SS/12)

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