Friday, February 17, 2012

Khader Adnan’s Hunger Strike

Valiance in the Face of Cruelty


A month ago only those who had met him knew Khader Adnan. Now all of Palestine and people across the world know his name and his cause.

Before December 17, when Khader was arrested for the eighth time from his home in Jenin, he was one of thousands of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories who had entered and re-entered administrative detention.

Administrative detention allows Israel to hold Palestinian prisoners without charging them, and potentially indefinitely. There is no specification as to why each person is held and the length of the detention has no legal limits.

In its very essence administrative detention is dehumanizing; its effects are to homogenize the Palestinian population and strip each man, woman and family that encounters it of his or her singularity and personal identity. Each person who enters administrative detention is the same as the one who came before, and the one who will follow. This endless cycle of incarceration paints all those who pass through it with the same brush, rendering the Palestinian population indistinct.

“The essence of totalitarian government and perhaps the nature of every bureaucracy, is to make functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery out of men, and thus to dehumanize them.”

Hannah Arendt wrote these words after observing the trial of Nazi leader, Adolf Eichmann, in Jerusalem. What is perhaps so remarkable about this sentence is the ambiguity of whom she is speaking. Arendt’s words note that both the oppressors and the oppressed become agents of, or cogs in, a regime of totalitarianism. In this understanding, there is no room in a system of oppression for individuals.

But Khader’s unbearably long hunger strike has stopped this process, clearing the fog of bureaucracy that turns humans beings into mechanisms allowing them to disappear into the monochromatic fabric of administrated tyranny.

He told his lawyers, “I am a man who defends his freedom. If I die it will be my fate.”

Khader is a graduate student of Economics, a father of two girls, a husband to Randa, who is pregnant with their third child, and a member of Islamic Jihad. He is a political activist and a baker at a pita shop, Qabatiya, near his home in Jenin.

We cannot know the internal process by which Khader came to his decision to engage in a hunger strike that may end his life. He began the strike as soon as he was detained, so it seems certain that he was neither surprised that he was detained yet again, nor unprepared for a different and meaningful response.

In a letter he wrote from an Israeli hospital on day fifty-six of his strike, Khader stated, “The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. 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.”

But we do know that when Khader entered administrative detention on 17 December, he made the decision to interrupt the routine of administrative detention, a system whose banality defines its power.

His reaction, to go on hunger strike, marked a radical departure from obediently waiting out his sentence, as the steady stream of Palestinian detainees had done before him. After Khader refused his meal, Israeli soldiers proceeded to beat him, rip hair from his beard, smear dirt from a soldier’s shoe onto his face, force him into painful stress positions and verbally degrade female members of his family.

Even as Khader nears the end of his sixty-second day, the weakened man remains shackled to his hospital bed by both his feet and one hand—in a strange and symbolic recognition of how threatening and powerful this act truly is.

The might of Khader’s humanity and his valiance in the face of cruelty will not be met with a just response. There is no just response a master can give to a slave—for justice would see the end of the master/slave relationship. And while Khader’s strike will not and cannot lead to the end of Israeli tyranny over Palestinians, it is certainly a profound denial of its power to erase the humanity of Palestinians.

Khader has shown the face of a Palestinian. He has etched his name onto the hearts and thoughts of all who became aware of his plight, and in his quiet, agonizing determination he shows the world the man who Israel murdered with its savage weapon of “administrative detention.” That is a profound feat and for it, we owe Khader Adnan our deepest gratitude.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank and currently the editor of The Palestine Monitor. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera English, Al Akhbar English,Truthout and other publications. She can be reached at

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