Palestinian Khader Adnan dies in Israel jail after 87-day hunger strike

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  May 2, 2023

Adnan, who was affiliated with the Palestinian militant Islamic Jihad group, was found unconscious in his cell early on Tuesday.

Militants in the blockaded Gaza Strip have launched rockets at Israel in response to the death after a hunger strike of a well-known political figure affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Khader Adnan, a 44-year-old father of nine from near the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, was found unconscious in his cell in the early hours of Tuesday after an 87-day-long hunger strike during which he refused medical treatment, the Israeli prison authority said. He was transferred from the maximum-security detention facility in the central Israeli city of Ramle to a local hospital, where he was declared dead.

In a statement, Islamic Jihad said: “Our fight is continuing and the enemy will realise once again that its crimes will not pass without a response.” Shortly after news of the hunger striker’s death broke, three rockets and a mortar shell were fired towards southern Israel from Gaza, the Israeli military said. The projectiles triggered air raid sirens in Israeli communities near the frontier with Gaza, but fell in open areas.

Several Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank have declared a general strike. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli prisons were on high alert in case of riots.

Adnan, who reportedly became involved with the political wing of Islamic Jihad as a student, had been detained by Israel 12 times, spent about eight years in total in jail and undertook five hunger strikes since 2004, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Association.

In 2015, he went on hunger strike for 55 days to protest against his arrest under “administrative detention”, in which suspects are held without charge or trial on secret evidence for renewable six-month periods on the grounds they pose a security threat. The measure, which is also practised by the Palestinian Authority, has been roundly criticised by human rights groups.

Adnan was arrested again on 5 February after being indicted for incitement and membership of a terrorist organisation, and began the hunger strike a few days later.

Dr Lina Qadem-Hassan, the chair of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), visited Adnan on 23 April, after which the organisation issued an urgent call for the prisoner to be transferred to hospital for monitoring and emergency intervention. An Israeli court recently rejected two PHRI petitions demanding Adnan be transferred to a hospital, and that his family be permitted to visit him.

“His cognitive function was good enough to talk to me but he was very weak, losing consciousness regularly. He was clearly dying,” she said. “He said he wanted to live. It doesn’t matter what medical colleagues thought about him or that he refused help, their job is to save lives. The guidelines for dealing with hunger strikers are clear: he should have been taken to hospital after day 45.”

There have been several high-profile cases of prolonged hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails in recent years, usually in protest at administrative detention. Although deaths are rare, many hunger strikers have suffered severe medical problems as a result.

Israel is holding more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees in administrative detention – the highest number in 20 years – according to the Israeli human rights group, HaMoked.

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian