Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli jails have suffered unprecedented levels of exploitation. At best, a hunger strike ends when Israel decides it can make a few concessions, and a victory is then celebrated. There is no real “win”, however, other than temporary respite for the individual hunger striker. Administrative detention orders with neither charge nor trial continue to prevail, hunger strikes go ahead, prisoners on the brink of death have become the norm, and then Khader Adnan dies. He was effectively killed by Israel’s colonial violence which permeates every aspect of Palestinian life.
Adnan was publicly affiliated to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He started his last hunger strike on 5 February this year. Despite the organisation Physicians for Human Rights Israel informing the Israel Prison Service of how imminent his death was, no action was taken to save his life. After 86 days on hunger strike, Adnan died and international headlines followed, juxtaposed against a perpetually growing normalisation of Israeli colonial violence. What happens next? A stream of insincere condolences from the international community? More vague words about “peace” and “political horizons”? What about the fact that if Israel’s colonial project is dismantled, hunger strikes and other legitimate acts of resistance would be unnecessary? What becomes of Adnan’s last resistance act? How will it be imparted, and who will exploit it?
Israel dealt a dangerous blow with Adnan’s death on its hands. It is exhibiting its impunity by stretching the boundaries of its violence. Having left Adnan to die, and knowing it cannot escape responsibility, at least rhetorically, it demonstrates its increasing contempt for international law. Meanwhile, on the streets, Palestinians have not stopped their resistance and Adnan is yet another symbol of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle. The more Israel creates violence, the more Palestinians will determine their steadfastness. In the absence of a formidable Palestinian leadership, Adnan’s death unites the resistance and the Palestinian Authority diminishes in both integrity and credibility. Palestinians know that Ramallah only eulogised Adnan because he was imprisoned in an Israeli rather than a PA jail. In terms of PA politics, Adnan would have been a difficult issue to discuss, because he represented all that the PA fails to stand for, notably the liberation of Palestine and its people.
The end of previous hunger strikes by Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, even those Adnan had embarked upon, are just temporary lulls into an existence marred by daily violence. Israel has now set a possible precedent for other hunger striking Palestinian prisoners: their death may be the ultimate price of non-violent resistance.
According to Ynet news, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir instructed the prison service to “enact a zero-tolerance policy” against other Palestinian prisoners who embark on hunger strikes or other forms of resistance in Israeli jails. “If prisoners chose to be violent, they must be dealt with decisively,” declared the far-right minister. A zero-tolerance policy against a colonised population is so dissonant that only Israel could perceive any logic in it. Since when does the coloniser tolerate those it has colonised?
Adnan’s name will remain synonymous with Palestinian resistance. Israel’s violence will not be without political consequences, not in terms of international diplomacy but how Palestinians will shape their own politics as they move forward. That will be Khader Adnan’s enduring legacy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.