Khader Adnan, a Palestinian security prisoner who died early Tuesday morning after an 86-day hunger strike, was an icon of the struggle to resist Israel’s carceral policies and administrative detention. Now, after becoming the first Palestinian prisoner to die while on hunger strike since the 1980s, when five prisoners died as a result of Israeli force-feeding, Adnan’s status as a Palestinian symbol is only set to grow.
Adnan had been in prison since February, and launched his hunger strike shortly after his arrest. He was admitted to a prison clinic in the city of Ramle, and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) refused his repeated requests to be transferred to a hospital due to his medical condition. His wife, Randa Adnan, was prevented from visiting him throughout the entire period.
According to an IPS statement released Tuesday morning, “the detainee, who refused to undergo medical tests and receive medical treatment, was found unconscious in his cell. CPR was performed on him, after which he was transferred to Shamir Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.”
Adnan, who was from the village of Arraba near Jenin in the occupied West Bank, died aged 45; he was married, and a father of nine. Affiliated with Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, Adnan was first arrested by Israel in 1999, and by the Palestinian Authority in 2000 for organizing a protest in Birzeit University, where he was a student.
Israel arrested Adnan 12 times over the past 24 years; he spent eight years behind bars, and launched six hunger strikes. His strike in 2018 lasted almost 60 days, until he was released from jail on the basis of time served after finally receiving a one-year sentence. In 2015, Adnan’s 54-day hunger strike, which brought him to the brink of death, also ended with a deal for his release. Three years prior, Adnan went on hunger strike for 66 days, again agreeing to end his protest in exchange for his release from jail.
Adnan was convicted in the past of being the spokesman for Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, but he was never indicted for suspected armed activity. Before his last arrest, Adnan expressed support for armed militants in Jenin and Nablus, as well as for the struggle of Palestinian prisoners who launched hunger strikes against their administrative detention.
In the past, Adnan’s hunger strikes were against his administrative detention — a common method used by Israel to hold Palestinians without filing charges, telling them what crimes they are accused of, or presenting the evidence against them.
This time, Adnan’s arrest was not administrative, but came in the wake of an indictment. According to his attorney, Jamil Khatib, Adnan was indicted for membership in a proscribed organization, Islamic Jihad, which Khatib said was “not based on any evidence or even a confession, but rather on incriminations by people who do not know him.” The other charge, Khatib said, was incitement, which he argued was “based on intelligence by Israel’s cyber unit from [Adnan’s] speeches published in the media, which it claims are considered incitement.”
The indictment, which was filed with the Ofer military court on Feb. 26, contained 16 counts regarding the charge of membership in Islamic Jihad. Cited were Adnan’s participation in a range of events since 2018, including public events for prisoners, memorial ceremonies, family visits, and funerals. The indictment also claimed that he had in his home “Islamic Jihad shields of honor, featuring his photo alongside the organization’s symbols.”
There were a further 12 counts associated with the charge of “incitement and support for a hostile organization,” which cited Adnan’s social media posts and speeches at political events such as funerals, memorial gatherings for those killed, and celebrations of prisoner releases — all materials that were publicly available. The indictment referenced 20 witnesses, whose names were redacted.
‘I want to go back to my children’
Dr. Lina Qasem, who heads the board of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, visited Adnan at the Ramle prison clinic for the final time on April 23. She told +972 that Adnan’s final words to her were: “Tell everyone that I have a right to live like any human being. I want to go back to my children.”
“He had slept a lot in the past, but said he had never felt this way,” Qasem said. “He said he felt like he was going to die. ‘Write down every word,’ he told me.”
Qasem said that Adnan was weak and had lost 88 pounds and was weak after 80 days of a complete hunger strike, during which he only drank water. “He arrived in a wheelchair in poor condition, barely speaking, but very determined,” she said. “He didn’t want to cooperate with the IPS doctor. Only when we obtained permission for the doctor to stand outside with the door open did he agree to be examined. He had chronic inflammation of his stomach, which worsens from hunger strike to hunger strike, and a risk of internal bleeding due to a lack of vitamins. I’m not surprised that this happened.”
Qasem further claimed that Adnan’s death could have been prevented had the prison authorities and the Health Ministry agreed to transfer him to a hospital rather than leave him in the prison clinic. “He was alone in a cell, and every half hour a warden came in to see if he was alive or dead,” she explained. “That was the extent of the oversight. That and a button he could press in the toilet in case of an emergency. He said he doesn’t want to die, that he won’t stop the hunger strike, but requested CPR should he lose consciousness. He asked that he be taken to the hospital, where he would be under the care of doctors who could intervene. But each time they would transfer him to a hospital and release him back to the police station, under the pretext that he refuses to cooperate or receive a medical examination.”
An official at Kaplan Hospital, which is near Ramle where Adnan was imprisoned, stated that while Adnan was sent to their emergency room on one occasion, he was not officially hospitalized there. Shamir Medical Center, also near Ramle and which is where Adnan was pronounced dead, stated that patient confidentiality prohibits them from providing details about patients.
In response to +972’s request for comment, the Shin Bet said that Adnan was “a detainee pending the end of legal proceedings following an indictment. The detainee chose to go on hunger strike and categorically refused medical examinations and medical treatment, in order to force his release upon the State of Israel, despite the fact that he was accused of terrorist activity. We emphasize that the detainee was kept at the IPS medical center, under medical surveillance and escorted by staff from a civilian hospital as is required.”
Also responding to +972, the Health Ministry said that “a decision regarding hospitalization is made based on professional judgment and medical necessity, after assessing the condition of the hunger striker. At the time [the ministry] submitted a response [to Adnan’s petition to be hospitalized], the medical judgment not to leave the prisoner in the hospital was found to be correct.
“The petition itself was deleted at the request of the petitioner.”
In a number of previous hunger strike cases, including Adnan’s, the hunger striking prisoner was hospitalized during the advanced stages of the strike, according to recommendations set out by the Israeli Medical Association.
“We said that the hospital is the right place for a person who is on a hunger strike for 80 days,” Qasem explained, “and that to claim that he ‘is not cooperating’ is no excuse, since as soon as something happens to him there is no way to save him in the IPS clinic. This is what ended up happening.
“I hold the Israeli health system responsible for Adnan’s death,” she continued. “As doctors, we swore an oath to save lives; how is it possible that a person who arrives in the emergency room after not eating for 80 days is sent back to prison?”
A vaguely defined charge
In recent years, Israel has widely cited “incitement offenses” to incriminate Palestinian political activists — a vaguely defined charge that can be brought against any Palestinian nationalist sentiment.
In previous cases involving Adnan and other prisoners, negotiations have usually taken place in the advanced stages of the hunger strike, sometimes leading to the prisoner’s detention being suspended. But in this case, it seems the Israeli authorities did not enter negotiations at all with Adnan after the indictment was filed. Adnan’s indictment following a series of administrative arrests was apparently intended to evade criticism over a further administrative detention, and also to prevent having to release him.
The judge from the Military Court of Appeals, Lt. Col. Menachem Lieberman, ruled in the last hearing held on Adnan’s case last Thursday that “Khader Adnan is master of his own body, and he must accept the possible consequences of his actions. An orderly society cannot be held hostage by a person who threatens to harm himself if his demand is not met.”
Adnan is actually the first Palestinian prisoner to have gone on hunger strike to demand his release, rather than to improve his conditions of imprisonment. His 2012 strike was the trigger for a wave of hunger strikes by prisoners over the past decade, against deteriorating conditions and administrative detention. Indeed, on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (April 17) in 2012, 1,600 Palestinian prisoners launched a mass hunger strike.
In the two weeks prior to his death, various false rumours circulated claiming that he had already died. “The prisoner Khader Adnan is of great importance on the Palestinian street, and the false news of his death has caused a great stir,” his wife Randa told +972 last week. “We are not surprised, we are used to it. I believe that the occupation is trying to prepare the Palestinian street for what may happen.
“Despite his difficult situation, he has so far refused any kind of negotiation and demands his immediate release,” Randa continued. “I am very worried for his life, and my heart almost stops every time the phone rings. We know that at any moment we may be informed of his death.”
A history of hunger strikes
According to a recent article by Ghazi Abu-Jiab published on Local Call, the first Palestinian hunger strike in an Israeli prison took place in 1970 in Shikma Prison, in protest at the harsh conditions. The strikers demanded basic rights such as an extension in the time they were allowed to be out of their cells, and allowing in stationery and clothes brought from the outside by prisoners’ families. The prison authorities apparently responded to their demands, but reverted back to the prior policies after the strike ended. During the strike, the prisoner Abd al-Qadr Abu al-Fahm died.
Since that strike did not lead to a real improvement in prison conditions, the prisoners launched another strike in December 1976. This was the first mass hunger strike in the history of Israeli prisons: nearly 400 prisoners participated, and it lasted for 45 days. It was ended in response to promises made by the prison authorities, but resumed again at the end of February 1977 because the authorities once more went back on their word.
The second strike lasted for 20 days, during which extremely harsh measures were taken to force the prisoners’ leadership to call off the strike. Those leaders were transferred to Yagur Prison near Haifa, where they were held in solitary confinement and subjected to severe abuse.
More hunger strikes were declared in other prisons during various periods, in protest of prisoners’ conditions. One of the most famous cases was in Nafha Prison in the Naqab/Negev, which opened in 1980, and to where those considered to be the leaders of the prisoners were transferred. On Aug. 4, 1980, they launched a hunger strike protesting their conditions, which lasted for 32 days. Two prisoners died during the strike: Rasim Halawa and Ali Al-Jaafari.
A version of this piece was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.