'One Man Against the State'

Khader Adnan, who is protesting his detention and humiliating treatment, is about to set a record for Israel's longest hunger strike.

A weak, starving Palestinian man lies in Internal Medicine Department B at Safed's Rebecca Sieff Hospital. His condition is deteriorating, one of his hands and both his feet are shackled to the bed, and prison wardens guard him day and night. He has been on a hunger strike for months. His life is in danger, and he is at risk of doing irreversible damage to his body and mind.

Khader Adnan, 33, is protesting the abuse and humiliation he says he suffered while being interrogated, as well as his long detention without trial. Next week Adnan, an Islamic Jihad activist from Arabeh, will set a new Israeli record for the country's longest hunger strike, longer than that of peace activist Abie Nathan (45 days ), and of a group of security prisoners who went 65 days without eating in 1970.

Adnan wife - Levac - 2.2012
Alex Levac

His hunger strike is arousing considerable interest abroad. Solidarity demonstrations have been held in places around the world, as well as in Tel Aviv - but most Israelis have heard almost nothing about this. Daily solidarity protests in the West Bank go mostly unreported in Israel, as does the fact that 14 prisoners and wardens have reportedly joined his strike.

On Monday, the 58th day of Adnan's strike, we visited his home in Arabeh accompanied by Physicians for Human Rights's mobile clinic coordinator Saleh Haj Yihyeh. At that moment, Adnan's wife Randa was updating the tally of days her husband had been not eating, displayed on a poster in the living room. "My honor is more important than my food," declares the caption at the bottom of the poster, which bears the prisoner's image. With his thick beard and round glasses, he looks like a settlement rabbi.

Arabeh is surrounded by lush green fields. Randa is raising her two small daughters, 4-year-old Ma'alia and 18-month-old Bissan, in the family home, which spans several stories. Before speaking with us, she dons a white veil that covers her face and black gloves that cover her hands.

Khader Adnan was arrested on December 17. Israeli soldiers came to this house in the middle of the night. This was his seventh detention or arrest by Israel. The first time was in 1999, when he was held for half a year without trial. After that, he spent eight months in detention in 2000; he was arrested again in 2002-2003; detained in 2004; detained for 18 months in 2005-2006 and six months in 2008.

In 2010, the Palestinian Authority arrested him for 12 days. Then, too, he went on a hunger strike, for the first time in his life. Between arrests, he worked at a pita bakery in Qabatiya and was an Islamic Jihad activist. His family says he is a political activist.

After midnight on December 17, Randa heard voices outside. Large groups of soldiers encircled the house for several hours. A bit before 3 A.M., when Adnan's father left to start his workday as a vegetable merchant, he ran into the soldiers, who burst into the house. Adnan woke up and fled to his parents' apartment on the second floor. Randa and the little girls remained in their apartment on the ground floor.

The soldiers immediately ran up to the second floor and pulled Adnan from the bathroom. He asked to get dressed, and they let him. Then they bound him and blindfolded him, and took him out from the house. Randa says an officer promised him that this time, his detention would be brief. While previous arrests had included a violently conducted search of the house, this time the soldiers simply arrested Adnan.

He was brought before a judge after being interrogated for 18 days at the Al-Jalama facility. The judge, at the military court in Salem, extended his remand. Randa came to court, where her husband told her the soldiers had beaten and kicked him after they detained him, as he lay on the floor of their Jeep. He told the court how he had been humiliated during interrogation: The interrogators had cursed at him, pulled his beard and told him his daughters were not his own.

The day after his arrest, Adnan launched his hunger strike to protest his lack of trial and the humiliation he suffered. That was two months ago. In the meantime, he has been sent to four months of administrative detention.

After the interrogation, Adnan was transferred to the Israel Prison Service's medical facility in Ramle. A few days later, when his condition deteriorated, he was taken to a hospital. In recent weeks he has been shuffled through various Israeli hospitals - Bikur Holim in Jerusalem, Mayanei Hayeshua in Bnei Brak and now Sieff Hospital in Safed.

IPS spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Adnan was being moved due to a shortage of beds. This whole time, he has been bound by one hand and both feet to his bed, and prison wardens have been guarding him around the clock.

His family says he drinks one liter of water a day, without salt. The IPS says he has agreed to accept an intravenous drip. He does not take food in any form. Last week, when his condition deteriorated, the Shin Bet and the IPS agreed to allow his wife and his daughters to visit him at the hospital, hoping they would persuade him to stop his strike. This came after a long campaign by Physicians for Human Rights.

Last week on Tuesday, Randa, Bissan and Ma'alia went to Safed. The wardens kept them from entering Adnan's room even though the visit had been coordinated in advance. Randa recalls that several wardens were present in the room, and that her husband told her not to come in so long as they were there. Finally they compromised, and allowed two wardens to remain. Adnan hugged his daughters with his free arm and asked what was happening outside.

After 10 minutes, the wardens said the visit was over, but when Randa asked her husband to end his strike, they gave her 10 minutes more.

Adan replied firmly: "God is supporting me. Don't request that again."

Ma'alia asked why he was shackled, and Adnan told her to ask the wardens.

Randa says her husband is being neglected. His clothing is filthy, his nails are long and his hair is falling out, she says. He is not being untied even for prayers. He has lost about 40 kilos and is very feeble and weak, she adds.

Before she said good-bye she heard him whisper: "These are my last days. I will never forgive those who did not stand by me." He was referring to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli people, she says.

He is psychologically strong, "even when you can see the tears in his eyes," she says. Her husband will agree to eat only if he is released from prison.

His lawyer, who visited him this week, told her that Adnan is already hooked up to a cardiac monitor.

"His situation is grave and very dangerous. We fear that at any moment he will become a martyr," she says from behind her veil.

Adnan's father, Mussa, is 72 and wears a kaffiyeh. For years Israel has been preventing him from visiting his son when he has been in prison.

"Israelis, Arabs, [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy, [British Prime Minister] David Cameron, [U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton and [U.S. President] Barack Obama - no one who tried to obtain Gilad Shalit's release is intervening on behalf of my son. This is a power struggle of one man against a whole state, the State of Israel," says Mussa.

"Are you Israelis in favor of a hunger strike? People are rotting in administrative detention. We fear for his life but we think he is doing the right thing. Every person must defend his honor and his freedom. No man of honor would allow his wife to be cursed the way the interrogators cursed her. The hunger strike is the prisoner's only weapon.

"Israel is a democracy? Where is its democracy when it arrests people without trial? Gilad Shalit was abducted while fighting as a soldier in Gaza. My husband was arrested alongside his wife and daughters."

The Israeli nonprofit organization Physicians for Human Rights took up Adnan's case when he began his hunger strike. PHR is fighting his imprisonment without trial and has filed numerous petitions concerning his case, asking to have a physician from the organization visit him after Adnan refused to let doctors from the hospital or IPS examine him. This request was eventually granted, and a PHR doctor has been checking in on him every day for a week now.

The organization is also calling on the prison authorities to allow him to be unshackled. Chaining down a prisoner in his condition violates the IPS's own procedures, PHR claims, and the hospitals that allow a patient to be treated this way are violating medical ethics.

"The decision to to use restraints on a patient in custody lies with the law enforcement authority responsible for him," a Sieff Hospital spokeswoman told Haaretz.

Israel Medical Association ethics committee chairman Prof. Avinoam Reches wrote to PHR that after such a lengthy hunger strike, two wardens and no shackles should be enough. The head of Mayanei Hayeshua, Prof. Mordechai Ravid, also told PHR that he opposed shackling hospitalized prisoners, but that Adnan is no longer at his hospital.

PHR also filed a petition in the Petah Tikva District Court. In response, the IPS said Adnan was being shackled to preserve public safety.

This week, hearings over his release were held in his hospital room, due to his grave condition. For previous hearings, he was brought to the court in a wheelchair.

Dr. Calin Shapira, deputy director of Sieff Hospital, told Haaretz that he could not release details about Adnan's condition in order to preserve medical confidentiality. Hospital spokeswoman Yael Shavit told Haaretz: "His condition is not good ... we fear for his health."

According to the Israel Medical Association, a person on hunger strike could die after 45 days. What will happen if Adnan loses consciousness and is about to die? Weizman, the IPS spokeswoman, said this week that the hospital's ethic's committee is responsible for deciding on treatment.

She added: "Following further examination, the Prison Service decided that the prisoner would be detained without shackles in the hospital. The service conducts frequent appraisals of prisoners' situations, and makes decisions after reviewing all the circumstances.

"In exceptional cases, for humanitarian reasons, the service allows visits by family members and clerics. In addition, we allow visits by PHR doctors and Red Cross representatives. The hospital where the prisoner is being detained was chosen based on the facilities it offers and the availability of beds in the internal medicine ward.

"For the last two weeks the prisoner has been treated at the Sieff Hospital in Safed, in conjunction with [representatives from] PHR. As far as we know, no treatment has been administered against the prisoner's wishes."