Prisoner Hunger Strike Unites Palestinian Activists

'Sheikh' Adnan Khader, who negotiated his release from Israeli prison after hunger strike last year, has begun a new hunger strike at evacuated Red Cross office in support of jailed strikers.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Khader Adnan, the former administrative detainee whose hunger strike last year signaled the start of negotiations with Israeli authorities over the release of administrative detainees, as well as the revocation of orders to place several prisoners in lengthy solitary confinement, is on hunger strike again.

This time, too, his action unites many Palestinians in support of the four detainees who have been on hunger strike for several months now: Samer Issawi, Ayman Sharawna, Jafar Ezzedine and Tarek Qa'adan. Ezzedine and Qa'adan are protesting their administrative detention without trial. Issawi and Shawarna, who were freed as part of the Shalit deal, are protesting their repeat arrest. A military decree, introduced during the negotiations for the Shalit deal, allows military authorities to imprison them again for the remainder of their original sentence, based on confidential evidence.

On February 11th Adnan informed the International Committee of the Red Cross that he would hold his hunger strike at the organization's offices in al-Bireh, next to Ramallah. Three other Palestinians joined his action, two of whom have brothers in Israeli prisons.

After Adnan and his fellow hunger strikers took their place in an outer room and the balcony, the Red Cross closed the office and halted its services in al-Bireh, which mainly involved coordinating visits of relatives of inmates in Israeli prisons. On Sunday the Red Cross staff evacuated their computers and files from the office and transferred them to Jericho, where they renewed their activity.

Adnan told Haaretz Tuesday that halting Red Cross services in al-Bireh was a form of collective punishment of the prisoners' families, and an indirect form of pressure on him and his friends to leave the place. Red Cross spokesman Ran Goldstein told Haaretz that "as a humanitarian organization we cannot agree that our offices be used for political purposes." Goldstein added that the Red Cross was doing its best to offer its services from Jericho. Red Cross staff continue to visit the prisoners on hunger strike "and continue to remind Israel of its commitments to those on strike."

Protest tents in support of the prisoners were erected next to the UN building in Ramallah and the municipality of al-Bireh as well as in other cities. But the evacuated Red Cross offices became a site of pilgrimage for hundreds of Palestinians who arrive daily to express their support of the hunger strikers.

An unending wave of students, lecturers, former prisoners, teachers and activists in Fatah and other organizations show up at the quiet street east of the Muqata - all arriving to support "Sheikh Khader" and shake his hand (at least the men do ), sit next to him for a while and listen to the interviews he grants on the telephone in his low voice to journalists in Israel, the territories and abroad.

"In this hunger strike," he told Haaretz, "people who love me visit me, while in the former one [in prison] those who entered my room hated me." The purpose of his present hunger strike is to attract the attention of the world "whose silence is killing us," and also mobilize the Palestinian street.

Adnan believes the protests in support of the prisoners will increase in the near future in the West Bank and in the prisons themselves. "The popular resistance movement is now concentrating on the prisoners," he said.

A Palestinian demonstrator campaigning for the release of prisoners jailed in Israel, near Bethlehem earlier this year.Credit: AP

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