Khader Adnan is not a Don Quixote tilting at windmills; he is a patriot

“We don’t feel desolate on a path because of the scarcity of travelers.”

Khader Adnan

Caption: Left: Sheikh Khader Adnan / Right: The Sheikh’s wife Randa Musa (Umm Abdel-Rahaman), carrying a poster of her husband that says in Arabic, Hunger striking is the key to my freedom.

When Sheikh Khader Adnan of Islamic Jihad first went on hunger strike in 2011, the term “administrative detention” entered the vocabulary of many people around the world for the first time. His action became the longest one-man strike in history. Administrative detention is when a state arrests and detains an individual without trial. Human rights groups rallied behind Sheikh Khader’s action. On the brink of death, he was finally freed as a result of local and international pressure and his own amazing will.

International law allows a state to use administrative detention “only in emergencies, and only if a fair hearing can be provided where the detainee can challenge the allegations against her or him.” Israel heeds neither injunction, claiming that it acts in this way for security. As a settler-colonial occupying state, Israel is perpetually in an emergency, because Palestinians continue to resist their dispossession. No peace for the wicked.

Today, Sheikh Khader Adnan is popularizing another term — “arbitrary arrest and detention” — i.e., ‘deprivation of liberty’ imposed inappropriately, unjustly and without predictability. In the Palestinian case, “arbitrarily” does not mean “against the law,” because the military law Israel imposes on Palestinians is unjust and an instrument of oppression. As independent journalist Jonathan Cook says in the documentary The Law and the Prophets, “The story here is an uncomfortable one for Western audiences to hear….” The discomfort comes from the realization that their conception of what Israel stands for is nothing but a staged smokescreen. Listening to what Sheikh Khader Adnan’s wife has to say about her husband, who was on his 79th day of hunger strike, is very uncomfortable but compelling.

On Monday, April 24, an online event in support of Sheikh Adnan’s current heroic hunger strike (it was his 79th day on strike) was organized by Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, which was established in 2011 as a response to Sheikh Adnan’s call during his hunger strike then. The event was titled “Khader Adnan: Free him now! With Randa Musa,” or Umm Abdel-Rahman, the Sheikh’s wife.

Randa spoke passionately about her husband’s ordeal and what he stands for. With occasional noises in the background coming from her children (she has nine, the oldest of whom is fourteen), and speaking from behind the niqāb, the face covering she wears as a religious obligation, she graphically detailed the horror her whole family was experiencing. Following are excerpts from her witness:

Randa Musa: Assalamu Alaikum; I am Randa Musa the wife of Sheikh Khader Musa. My husband has been on hunger strike for 79 days now. A short while ago we heard from the lawyer who had been visiting him. We were told that he had collapsed and was taken to Ramleh hospital. His medical condition is difficult. The prison administration refuses to send him to a civilian hospital, refuses to allow medical personnel from human rights organizations to check up on him. The Red Cross is allowed to visit and what they convey back to us are bromides like: “His medical condition is difficult,” or “We visited today, and he sends salaam to you.” — there is no effective action from the Red Cross. The organization comes across as collaborators with the Israeli regime.

We were scheduled to visit the Sheikh last Thursday, but we were denied visitation at the last moment on the grounds that the Sheikh is on hunger strike and is not allowed visitors as punishment for his action. When he was detained on May 2nd, he announced his hunger strike as a protest to his arbitrary arrest there and then before he even left the house. What is known about the Sheikh is that he was the one who had initiated the movement of individual resistance efforts through hunger strike against Israeli administrative detention, and he was followed in this action by a group of other prisoners. This time, the Sheikh knew that they would not be charging him again with administrative detention.

He was freed in 2018 and rearrested in 2023. That is four years of freedom by the grace of God as a result of the hunger strike. Before that each time administrative detention was deployed against him, he would be released for only a month or two before being rearrested. Today he is going on hunger strike against what is called arbitrary detention. He believes he is a free man and freedom suits him. We are a free people and prisons are not created for us.

Detention, as used by Israel against Palestinians, is a weapon. When a person is detained administratively, he or she is arrested or rearrested based on a secret file from Israel’s intelligence agencies. The Sheikh was arrested this time based on the confessions of others during interrogations and is charged with crimes on that basis. The Sheikh himself refuses to utter a single word from the moment they detain him to the moment he is freed. The charges are based on the confessions of others, something that is easy to come by in the West Bank, especially against an individual who is a leader, who is active and sociable in all fields. It’s easy for them to collect a bunch of confessions, which are turned into a sword against him.

The Sheikh’s battle with the occupation is possibly the first of its kind, and some might find it strange. Many journalists, activists, factions, public and national figures might wonder how one individual could stand up to a military occupation. They see the charges against him and surmise that, whereas he had been able to be victorious when he went on hunger strike as an administrative detainee, this is a different type of situation, and he should let go of the hunger strike. Because no one knows my husband as I do, I tell them this: If every individual in Palestine decides to resist this occupier based on the equation that one plus one equals two, then none of us would be able to resist, to counter oppression or wield a knife and stab at a check point, or strike a bullet at an armored tank, and no one would go down to Al Aqsa to quarrel with them in hand-to-hand combat.

That’s because the balance of power is too great in favor of the occupier, as we know. Technology and capabilities are on the side of the occupier; the EU and the great powers support it — all of them are on its side. So, if we consider resistance as an equation, then we wouldn’t resist at all. We have a deep and certain faith that we are the owners of this land and our right to resist is valid; that is to say, we don’t feel desolate on a path because of the scarcity of travelers. If no one has taken this step before us, that does not mean it’s incorrect. May he be victorious this time around just as he was in the previous rounds God willing.

Yesterday there was a court appearance, an appeal to release the Sheikh on bail. It was so very painful to see him in his pitiful state. We were in and out of the courtroom within minutes. Nevertheless, the Sheikh fainted four times during the proceeding. He wasn’t physically in the courtroom; he was on a video conference. When they revived him after the fourth time, he spoke only to say he would like to speak to Umm Abdel-Rahman. Frankly it was all I could do to control myself or even to stand on my legs from the horror of what I was seeing. First, there was the way he looked! His appearance was like that of the Companions of the Cave, as if a human being had been sitting in a cave for 79 days and had just emerged. His hair was long, as were his nails. He wore a moustache and a very long beard. His clothes were filthy. The Sheikh has not changed his clothes since the day he was detained. He hasn’t bathed for 79 days; the Sheikh has not seen the sun for 79 days. The Sheikh hasn’t been out of his prison cell for 79 days despite his dire physical condition; the cell is 1 by 8 meters.

According to human rights medics who managed to visit him yesterday, his bed in the cell is crawling with bedbugs that bite him and torture him. He is especially sensitive to them and sleeps on the floor to try to avoid them. After refusing bail, the female judge in the courtroom said to the Sheikh, “There is a buzzer in your room that you can press whenever you feel in danger.” I learned later that this buzzer is near the toilet and not handy. It’s as if one who falls or is about to faint or enter a coma would know in advance when that is going to happen and then take hours or days crawling to get to the buzzer for aid. This is a disregard of human souls. Even though the cells are watched on camera all the time, prison administrators don’t care if a prisoner dies or not.

To go back to the subject of the courtroom. The situation was very difficult. When I stood up to address the Sheikh, his legs cramped and he raised up his head, which toppled his chair backwards and him along with it. It was a horrifying scene. In my whole life I have never seen such a thing or bemoaned him like this; I never feared for the Sheikh as much as I did yesterday. His fall led to his fainting again and they wheeled him out and the trial ended like this. I remained in the courthouse for an hour and a half, as I was told, lying distraught on the floor with them trying to revive me with artificial respiration. They did not call an ambulance to take me to the hospital. They waited and coordinated with a Palestinian ambulance, and I was taken to hospital where I went through a battery of examinations. I was told that I had a nervous breakdown and a mild stroke. I don’t care what my medical state is like. Once I eat and drink, my health comes back. But I return to the fear and pain we live in. The Sheikh is being between martyrdom and martyrdom at any moment. Every ring of the phone is anxiety provoking; every piece of news is anxiety provoking.

What does the occupation want of Khader? I expect they want him dead. The Israeli intelligence officer who came to arrest him said to me, “Do you think I am happy to come here to arrest him? My devout wish is to shatter his head with a bullet, because he can move a country with one wag of his finger.” The officer referred to how much trouble Khader was giving them. To the children, he said, “The Sheikh declares openly that he deals with blood, and he inspires youth to commit acts of resistance within Israel.” He said this to the children who were present in the room where they arrested Khader. How do you imagine a mother feels that her children are hearing such things about their father? Do you expect an occupation to care for the medical condition of the Sheikh who is now in their hands, who has been on hunger strike for 79 days and who is now collapsing in fainting fits? They won’t. But they will never break our resolve and sumoud (steadfastness). The Sheikh believes the occupation can and will be defeated, despite the imbalance of power. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Note: First published on Medium
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank

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