Israel Agrees To Free Palestinian Hunger Striker

Thousands of Palestinians are in Israeli jails. But one case in particular — that of Khader Adnan, a member of the radical Islamic Jihad group — has been raising tensions between the two sides.

Israel’s Justice Ministry agreed Tuesday to free Adnan, who has been on a hunger strike for more than two months and was apparently near death.

Adnan’s case has focused international attention on the Israeli practice of administrative detention, or detention without trial. It allows Israel to hold individuals for six months at a time without formally charging them or revealing evidence against them.

At a recent rally outside Israel’s Ofer prison, where Adnan is being held, hundreds chanted, “Free our prisoner” and “Don’t let our martyr die” as they held pictures of his gaunt and bearded face.

For many Palestinians, the 33-year-old Adnan became a symbol of their campaign against Israel’s justice system, particularly the practice of administrative detention.

With Adnan’s condition deteriorating due to his fast, his lawyers and the Justice Ministry reached a deal whereby he will be released in April when his current term expires. He has been promised that the detention order will not be renewed.

After the deal was reached, Adnan began receiving food intravenously at the hospital where he is being treated.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, has been closely following Adnan’s case, and the group opposes detention without trial.

“Administrative detention is an extremely draconian measure,” Michaeli says. “It’s basically denying the freedom of a person without any kind of fair hearing or due process. You don’t get a trial.”

Palestinian Detentions

Most Palestinians in Israeli prisons have been convicted by the courts. However, B’tselem says 309 Palestinians were held in administrative detention at the end of last month. Michaeli says the process is a throwback to emergency laws left over from British rule that ended when Israel became a state in 1948.

The detentions are often based on secret intelligence files that cannot be revealed, even to the detainees’ lawyer. When the six-month detention has expired it can be renewed indefinitely.

Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, defended the practice.

“It is something which is not taken lightly, not implemented without some significant judicial review here in Israel,” he says.

He says that Israeli officials felt justified in placing Adnan under administrative detention because he is a member of Islamic Jihad, a militant group that has claimed responsibility for many terrorist attacks over the years. The spokesman says Adnan poses a serious risk to Israeli society.

Larger Issues

But Mufid El-Haj, one of Adnan’s lawyers, dismissed that accusation. He says the fact that the Justice Ministry struck a deal to release Adnan shows that the detention was arbitrary.

“Adnan’s hunger strike is about something bigger: the insults, the humiliation we face in not even being able to defend ourselves and see the charges against us in a fair way. It is about a system that discriminates against us,” says El-Haj.

Israeli doctors who have been treating Adnan say they hope he will recover from his 66-day fast.

Hadas Ziv, a spokeswoman for Physicians for Human Rights, says Adnan’s campaign has already made a difference.

“Administrative detention was looked upon in the Israeli public as if it’s completely legitimate, as if it’s part of the system,” Ziv says. “And now it’s being questioned. I think this brought the issue to the public.”

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.