Why Are We Ignoring the Plight of Palestine's Bobby Sands?

By Hasan, Mehdi | New Statesman (1996), February 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Why Are We Ignoring the Plight of Palestine's Bobby Sands?


Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)


"His calls for freedom deserve to be heard. His valiant efforts should not go in vain. The president calls on all supporters of human rights and freedom, and the United Nations, to take up [his] case." Those were the laudable "words of the White House press secretary, commenting on the hunger strike of the Iranian dissident and detainee Akbar Ganji in 2005.

Seven years later, the White House has issued no such statement on Khader Adnan, the detained Palestinian father-of-two who decided to end his remarkable 66-day hunger strike on 21 February as doctors warned he was "in immediate danger of death". Perhaps, just perhaps, the US is silent because his jailers are Israelis, not Iranians. Adnan is being held under Israel's "administrative detention" laws - inherited from the British Mandate era - which allow the military to detain prisoners indefinitely, without charging them or making them stand trial.

The 34-year-old baker from Jenin, who is accused by Israel of being a member of the militant group Islamic Jihad and of undefined "activities that threaten regional security", began his hunger strike on 18 December 2011 - the day after he was detained. He protests against what he says was a violent arrest as well as humiliating and abusive interrogation sessions.

His was the longest hunger strike yet by a Palestinian prisoner - and on 21 February it forced the Israeli authorities to agree not to renew his four-month administrative detention when it expires on 17 April. Yet this "deal" might be coming too late for him: on 17 February, the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights said he had already suffered from "significant muscular atrophy" and was near death. His pregnant wife, Randa, who visited him in hospital, told Reuters that he had lost 35 kilos in weight and had started to vomit blood. It isn't easy to survive after starving for nine weeks.

Without trial

So why did he take such extreme action? "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," Adnan wrote in a letter from his hospital bed. There are 309 Palestinians being held under administrative detention by Israel-up from 219 in 2011 - including 24 Palestinian parliamentarians and one man who has been detained without trial for more than two years.

Will Adnan's bold, if near-suicidal strategy-help draw attention to their fate, within Israel and beyond? "It's more important to talk about the issue of administrative detention than his hunger strike," a frustrated Anat Litvin, head of the detainees department at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, told me.

As is so often the case, international law is not on the side of the Israelis. Article q of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - to which the State of Israel is a signatory-makes clear that no person should be "subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention". …

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