Foreign Dispatch: Starving For Freedom

By: FOX News Radio’s Emily Wither in Jerusalem

He once sold loaves of bread at a local market. Now, he’s an unlikely hero in the Palestinian territories. In Israel’s eyes however, Khader Adnan is a terrorist.

He didn’t eat for 66 days; a member of the militant group the Islamic Jihad, he was protesting Israel’s policy of administrative detention. The 33 year-old starved his way to freedom here in Israel while drawing attention to what some call a controversial policy that is used too often. A large number of countries use forms of administrative detention for security reasons, including the United States and Great Britain; human rights groups often criticize the practice for breaching civil rights.

Khader Adnan has become something of a pin-up across the Arab World with his face blown-up on numerous posters. Thousands had marched in the West Bank and Gaza in protest of his detention. Just hours before his case was due to be heard in Israeli’s Supreme Court, a decision was reached that his detention would not be extended beyond April. Adnan agreed to start eating. Doctors had warned him that he could die soon.

Adnan was taken from his home in the West Bank, a court had ruled he posed a clear and present danger. Suspects held under administrative detention laws are imprisoned without trial and are not shown the evidence against them. His lawyer, Jawad Bolus, told me that doctors are now doing their best to bring him back to health.

The deal is being called momentous by some, as it is the first time a Palestinian has successfully challenged the detention system this way and won. Bolus says it shows the Palestinians that change can happen through peaceful protest. “I have no doubt that the case has set a precedent that Palestinians can react to some decisions in a non-violent way and still achieve some real results,” he said.

It is getting little play in the Israeli news compared to the Arab press where Adnan is being hailed as an icon. Speaking to people on the streets, one man tells me, “Israel has no choice” when it comes to detaining suspects this way. He then points out that the spot we’re standing at in Emek Refiam in Jerusalem was supposed to be bombed twice in 2002 and 2003. Another woman echoes his views, “People like Adnan don’t like us,” she says and continues that while she feels sorry for people held this way, it has to be done to protect the country.

Just a day before the case was due to be heard, the Prime Minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev defended the policy to me as a necessary tool in the fight to stop militant activity. “You have an issue sometimes where you arrest a terrorist who poses a real threat and you have intelligence information that still has to be worked on in order to bring evidence before a court of law,” he explained. He said the Government had been calling on Adnan to end his hunger strike. “We cannot have a situation where every time a terrorist that is being jailed goes on hunger strike he gets an automatic get out of jail free card,” he continued.

However, an Israeli human rights group B’itselem says while the practice is not expressly prohibited under International Law, it is an extreme measure that needs to be used more sparingly here. It should only be used in cases where is there is no other option. “Right now Israel’s use is excessive and extreme” said Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for the organization. Michaeli told Fox News Radio that 309 prisoners are currently being held under this policy, which is a sharp rise from the number held this time last year. “We believe that a democracy cannot hold such a large number of people under arrest without trial,” she added.

It’s clear Adnan’s life-risking statement didn’t go unnoticed. On the day of the hearing, activists on twitter wrote that all prisoners from Palestinian factions in Israeli jails would take part in a hunger strike in a show of support. Ahmad Tibi, an Arab-Israeli politician and member of the Knesset told me that it’s also possible that Israel might see copy-cat strikes in the future. He visited Adnan in hospital a day before the decision. “I think that they (Israeli authorities) knew that his death in jail would cause mass demonstrations and confrontations along with international protests,” he said.

Adnan’s lawyer says there is no doubt this unlikely hero will inspire others. Bolus points out that just a day after the case, prisoners being held under administrative detention agreed to boycott military courts. It’s unclear whether this sudden pressure will impact Israel’s decision-making process on future administrative detentions.

Listen HERE to some of Emily Wither’s reporting from Jerusalem:

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