Starved for Freedom: Palestinian Goes on Hunger Strike for 4th Time

After carrying out the longest hunger strike in Israel’s history, Khader Adnan is again denying himself sustenance, to protest his latest arrest without trial.

Alex Levac

It’s his fourth hunger strike and his 10th arrest without charges trial. Cumulatively, he has spent more than six years in Israeli prisons, almost always under the system of “administrative detention” – arrest without trial. His persecutors, the security authorities, have not presented any legal evidence in court to corroborate their suspicions. Only once was he convicted and sent to prison by a court. On all the other occasions, he was thrown into jail for months and even years. Each time without an indictment, without a trial, without being informed of the charges against him.

Three years ago, Khader Adnan became famous here and abroad when he conducted the longest hunger strike in Israel’s history: 66 days. He was protesting his arrest without trial. Hospitalized in Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed, he lay hovering between life and death, but his hands and legs were chained to the bed anyway. At that time, we visited his hometown of Arraba, near Jenin, where his wife, Randa, showed us the poster on which she kept track of the number of days of Adnan’s hunger strike.

Protests were voiced at the time in Israel and abroad against the incarceration of the hunger-striker, whom Israel continues to claim – without being obligated to present any proof that he can respond to – is active in Islamic Jihad.

His full name is Khader Adnan Musa, but for some reason his surname never appears in any of the legal documents. He was released in the wake of that prolonged strike on April 17, 2012, when fears loomed that he would die.

Khader did a “restart”: He returned to his wife and three children – now there are six, as last December his wife gave birth to triplets – to his pita bakery in the village of Qabatiyah, and to looking after his elderly parents, who live in the same building, on the main street of Arraba.

This week we visited his home again. Khader, 37, is once more an “administrative detainee” and is again conducting a hunger strike in jail. His mother, is very ill and bed- and wheelchair-ridden. His sister, Maali, who lives in British Columbia, is here on a visit. She was with her brother the last time he was arrested, on her previous visit to her homeland.

The date was July 8, 2014, during Ramadan, the holy Islamic month. Khader suggested to his sister that they go to Nablus to buy knaffeh, the popular cheese pastry soaked in sugary syrup, for dessert after the evening meal at the end of the daytime fast.

The Israel Defense Forces had set up a few surprise improvised checkpoints on the road. They were probably intended for him, Khader told his sister; they took a roundabout route. Israel was then in the process of conducting Operation Brother’s Keeper, during which security forces rounded up and arrested hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank, in response to the murder of the three teenage yeshiva students. It was also the first day of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

A few months earlier, Khader had received a summons – handed to him at a checkpoint where he was randomly stopped – to report for questioning by the Shin Bet security force, but he had refused to go.

On their way home from Nablus, shortly before the two reached Arraba, soldiers with rifles at the ready suddenly emerged from an ambush and stopped the car. Maali was holding her infant son on her knees. Her brother was pulled out of the car, bound and blindfolded. The soldiers exulted and hugged one another when they recognized him, she recalls now, “as though they had received a gift or won a prize.”

Maali and the baby were not allowed out of the car for some time. That was the last time she saw her brother. “May God protect you,” she called out to him, and then he was taken away.

Their family is very religious. Maali wears a traditional head covering; the face of her sister-in-law, Randa, is covered by a white veil, and she wears black gloves.

In July, for the eighth time, Khader was placed in administrative detention, initially for six months. His appeal was rejected. In January, shortly before he was due to be released, his term of imprisonment was extended by another six months. That’s when he launched his third hunger strike – in addition to the 66-day one, he had also conducted a week-long strike in solidarity with other administrative detainees – announcing that it would be a warning strike of just one week. Perhaps this was the reason the period of administrative detention was reduced to four months.

That period of incarceration was due to end on Tuesday last week. Khader was to be released, and Maali made the long trip from Canada again, to spend time with her brother. His family has barely been allowed to visit him; there was one visit by his father, in March, and another by his wife, in April.

Khader was an inmate in Hadarim, a detention facility in the center of the country. According to his sister, he took a course in Israel studies there, under the auspices of Al-Quds Open University, together with fellow inmate Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the first and second intifadas who was convicted of murder by an Israeli court.

Last week, a few days before the scheduled end of Khader’s latest term of imprisonment, a relative of an inmate called the family and said that Khader had told his friends that if his jail term were extended again, he would go on a hunger strike until he was released. The morning he was scheduled to be freed, the prison authorities informed him that his incarceration was indeed being extended again. Administrative detainees never know until the last minute whether they will be freed – another twist of the knife by Israel.

Last Wednesday, at 6 A.M., Khader Adnan Musa started his fourth hunger strike. This week, when we visited his family, they had no information about his condition or whether he was still at Hadarim, other than the fact that he had been placed in isolation. A lawyer was permitted to meet with him only earlier this week.

In response to a request for comment, the spokeswoman of the Israel Prison Service this week confirmed to Haaretz that Musa was on a hunger strike, adding that “conducting a hunger strike is a violation of prison rules, for which the prisoner has been tried and sentenced to solitary confinement.”

The family’s primary concern now is the health of Khader’s 75-year-old mother, Nawal. In the past they tried to arrange for her to be taken by ambulance to visit her son in prison, but it turned out that in her condition this would have required a medical escort. What they fear, of course, is that Khader will never see her again. They are certain that this time Khader will continue his hunger strike until he is released, or until he dies.