Khader Adnan was not “the leader of Islamic Jihad,” as so many have said and written. What he had become was a symbol of “sumud” (resilience) for his organization and all Palestinians. Most importantly, Adnan was one of the 1,000 Palestinians – out of a total of about 5,000 political prisoners – imprisoned in Israel who are not subject to any trial and who are not allowed to know the official reason for their arrest.
Khader Adnan, 45, from Arrabe (Jenin), a father of nine, died the night between Monday and Tuesday in Nitzan prison (Ramle) after a long hunger strike of 87 days.
After his death, many Palestinians had words of praise for him, calling him a hero, martyr, fighter. But Adnan will go down in history for his battle against the “administrative detention” practiced by Israel, which on February 5 had thrown him behind bars once again without trial.
Adnan spent the last years of his life fighting against this potentially indefinite form of “pre-trial detention,” a legacy of the British Mandate over Palestine (1917-48) that Israel continues to employ almost exclusively against Palestinians under military occupation. He did so using the only possible means of protest, the hunger strike, on five separate occasions: for 25 days in 2004, 67 in 2012, 54 in 2014, 25 in 2021. On Tuesday, he became the first Palestinian political prisoner to die from a hunger strike in Israel since 1992. Palestinian sources reported that six other prisoners had died under similar circumstances in 1970, the early 1980s and 1992.
To justify Adnan’s detention, Israeli authorities insist he belonged to Islamic Jihad, and Israeli media added that the detainee had publicly expressed support for armed struggle. But Khader Adnan was not being prosecuted for anything, this time or the previous ones. No specific charges were brought against him, since this is a form of detention that aims first and foremost to “take out of circulation” a Palestinian deemed inconvenient or dangerous, for months, in some cases years, without intelligence producing any evidence of his supposed “crimes.”
Over the decades, activists, jurists, prominent figures, international and local human rights centers have spoken out against this practice, which first the British and then the Israelis have employed against Palestinians – there have been very few cases of Israeli citizens placed in administrative detention – but to no avail.
Adnan’s health had deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks. His family had warned that he was dying and at risk of a heart attack because of his past hunger strikes that had brought him to the brink of death several times. Israeli authorities are accused of refusing to transfer him to a hospital in April, after his condition deteriorated, although he was in immediate need of medical treatment. They claimed the detainee “refused to undergo medical tests and receive medical treatment.” The military court in Salem had summarily extended Adnan’s administrative detention order twice and denied him bail on April 23. On May 1, the military court’s appellate judge postponed his decision for another 10 days.
After he died, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) accused the authorities of the “slow killing” and “premeditated murder” of Khader Adnan. His wife Randa Musa also attacked unspecified Palestinian parties who “did nothing concrete to stop the slow death” of her husband – words most likely aimed at the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which failed to act to get Adnan released. For his part, PNA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh accused Israeli authorities of “deliberate assassination,” and the Foreign Ministry called for an international investigation into the circumstances of the prisoner’s death.
Islamic Jihad warned that Adnan’s death would not go unpunished. Demonstrations and protest rallies were held in the West Bank and Gaza, where a general strike was called.
The hours following the detainee’s death saw a slow but accelerating military escalation. Rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel by Jihad, Hamas and other groups were sporadic at first, and then became more sustained. 22 rockets had been launched as of Tuesday night, some of which fell in Sderot and other population centers, without casualties. Israel hit Gaza with its artillery and air force, then announced through its leaders that its response would get tougher as the hours passed.
More and more, the drumbeat of war took over, and the issue of administrative detention, condemned under international law as violating human rights, was hardly mentioned anymore.