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Khader Adnan’s Death Sheds Light on the Plight of Palestinian Prisoners

Khader Adnan’s Death Sheds Light on the Plight of Palestinian Prisoners

On May 2, 2023, Khader Adnan, a prominent Palestinian activist, passed away in Israel’s Ramleh prison on day 87 of his hunger strike. His death reveals the harrowing ordeals that Palestinian detainees, young and old, face in Israeli prisons.

Khader Adnan’s Death Sheds Light on the Plight of Palestinian Prisoners

On May 2, 2023, Khader Adnan, a prominent Palestinian activist, passed away in Israel’s Ramleh prison on day 87 of his hunger strike. His death reveals the harrowing ordeals that Palestinian detainees, young and old, face in Israeli prisons.

Writer: Fiza Raza | Copy Editor: Zainabrights | Design: Fatima El-Zein

On May 2, 2023, Khader Adnan, a prominent Palestinian activist, passed away in Israel’s Ramleh prison on day 87 of his hunger strike. Adnan, 45, was arrested by Israeli forces on February 5, 2023 and began his hunger strike shortly afterward to protest his administrative detention, a highly criticized Israeli practice in which prisoners are detained without trial or charge for a duration of up to six months, which can be renewed indefinitely.

On April 23, 2023, Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) urged the Israeli authorities to immediately transfer Adnan to a hospital for emergency medical care, warning that Adnan faced imminent death. However, the Israeli authorities refused to release Adnan despite his deteriorating physical condition. Palestinians have called Adnan’s death an ‘act of assassination’ by Israel due to the Occupation’s deliberate medical negligence.

Adnan, father of nine, was arrested by Israeli forces thirteen times since 2004 and spent a total of eight years in Israeli prisons. He rose to prominence in 2012 when he went on a 66-day long hunger strike to protest his administrative detention. Adnan staged five hunger strikes during his life to protest the Israeli Occupation’s illegal and inhumane penal practices.

Weeks after Adnan’s death, Israel still holds and has refused to release Adnan’s body for a funeral. Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh said, “We stress – and as we have informed all the mediators who intervened – the necessity of handing over the body of the martyr Khader Adnan to his patient family.”

Ataf Alyan, a released prisoner who has spent a total of fourteen years in Israeli prison herself, has announced a hunger strike and is staging a sit-in in front of the Red Cross headquarters in Al-Bireh in the occupied West Bank to demand the return of the deceased icon’s body.

UN experts have called Adnan’s death a “tragic testament to Israel’s cruel and inhumane detention policy and practices, as well as the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable in the face of callous illegalities perpetrated against Palestinian inmates” and have demanded that the Israeli government be held accountable for its prison policies, which are inseparable from “the colonial nature of its occupation, intended to control and subjugate all Palestinians in the territory Israel wants to control.”

Israel’s Inhumane Treatment of Palestinian Prisoners

Israel’s illegal incarceration of Palestinians, including minors and females, and its brutal and inhumane treatment of Palestinian prisoners has drawn widespread condemnation from international bodies like the UN, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, there are currently 4,900 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel. Around 1,000 of these prisoners are administrative detainees, held without a fair trial or no trial at all. Forty prisoners have been in Israeli detention for more than twenty-five years and 554 prisoners are serving life sentences.

Prisoners are subject to torture, denied medical care, refused family visits, and put in solitary and collective confinements. The horrible conditions in which the Palestinian prisoners are forced to live do not meet international standards. They often battle extreme weather conditions in overcrowded prisons infested with rats, insects, and bedbugs. Over 200 Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons since 1967. These tragic deaths highlight the plight of Palestinian prisoners at the hand of the Israeli occupation.

Freed Palestinian prisoners recount tales of unimaginable physical and psychological torture, which include food and sleep deprivation, harsh interrogative practices, confinement in uncomfortably small prison cells, and prolonged and painful handcuffing. 

The past few months have witnessed a rise in Israeli aggression upon Palestinian prisoners due to Israeli raids in Palestinian territories and retaliatory resistance operations. Female prisoners were dragged with headscarves and bans were placed on canteens and family visits. Some one hundred prisoners were also put in solitary confinement.

Israel’s Deliberate Medical Negligence Policy Toward Prisoners

Khader Adnan is the second prominent activist to die in Israeli jails during the past five months as a result of medical negligence. On December 20, 2022, Nasser Abu Hmeid, one of the founders of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, succumbed to lung cancer while serving a life sentence in Israeli detention after he was refused necessary medical care. 

Nasser’s terminal cancer diagnosis came after Israeli authorities finally allowed him to take medical tests following months of chest pain.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society described Nasser’s delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment—and eventual death—as a “slow death operation” that “all the prisoners are exposed to” as a result of systematic Israeli policy to deny prompt medical care to Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli authorities refused to release Nasser despite widespread calls and protests from Nasser’s family and prisoner rights groups in mid-September. The cancer had spread throughout his body, including his brain, and according to a medical report by Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tel Aviv, Nasser’s critical condition required him to be immediately released from the prison. However, Israeli authorities moved Nasser to Ramleh prison clinic where he was held until his death.  

Over 600 prisoners, including female prisoners, have been diagnosed with some form of illness and 60 of them are suffering from severe diseases that require urgent medical attention. However, Israeli authorities deliberately deny medical care to sick prisoners. If medical care is eventually offered, such treatment is often futile as the prisoners’ conditions are exacerbated.

Israeli authorities go to unimaginable lengths to inflict pain on sick prisoners. Prisoners have reported that in many cases, the sparse medical treatment sessions offered are purposely scheduled on the same day as the family visit, leaving the prisoners helpless and forcing them to choose the family visit despite their painful medical conditions.

In addition, the humiliating transportation conditions between prisons and hospitals compel around 50% of the prisoners to relinquish the available treatment. Prisoners are prohibited from using the bathroom and are denied food and drink on their way to the hospital and back. Prisoners' hands and legs are handcuffed, and a route that would otherwise span no longer than 40-50 minutes might take 60-72 hours as the prison authorities stop at different detention centers along the way.

Israel’s medical negligence policy is a flagrant violation of United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which clearly states that it is the state’s responsibility to provide the prisoners with the “same standards of health care that are available in the community” and “access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination.”

Israeli Incarceration of Minors

Perhaps the peak of Israeli oppression against Palestinians is the illegal detention, torture, and prosecution of Palestinian children and teenagers. Israeli forces arrest and incarcerate hundreds of minors every year and subject them to various forms of torture. Even mentally disabled Palestinians are subject to these abusive practices. Enjoying complete impunity, ‘Israel’  is the only country in the world which prosecutes children in military courts.

There are currently 160 Palestinian children in Israeli jails. To make the situation even more deplorable, seven of these minor detainees are held under administrative detention according to the latest statistics.

Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) collected sworn affidavits of 681 child detainees recounting their experiences in Israeli custody between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2021. The results were alarming: 97% of these children were interrogated without a family member present, 97% had their hands bound, 83% were strip searched, 75% experienced physical violence, 85% were not informed of the reason leading to their arrest, 40% were denied adequate food and water, and 23% were detained in solitary confinement for interrogation purposes for two or more days.

One of the most harrowing cases of Israeli brutality is that of Ahmad Manasra, a 21-year-old Palestinian violently arrested after being accused of attacking Israeli settlers when he was only 13 years old. Despite not being involved in the attack, he was charged for attempted murder by the Israeli court. His deteriorating mental health condition has sparked calls for his release by international bodies like the UN. However, the Israeli court has refused appeals for Ahmad’s release.

Ahmad has spent ten months in solitary confinement and has been subject to intolerable physical and psychological torture, including harsh interrogations without the presence of a legal representative. UN experts have declared Ahmad’s detention as a violation of article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Hunger Strikes: The Sole Weapon of Palestinian Prisoners

Israel’s appalling treatment of detainees and its brutal military repression of Palestinian voices have left no choice for prisoners but to use hunger strikes as their weapon. 

In 1980, three Palestinians lost their lives to hunger strikes. Two of them died as a result of dangerous force-feeding by Israeli authorities, which included pouring boiling water and salt down the prisoners’ throats using a tube. Another prominent activist named Ishaq Maragha died three years later due to the injuries sustained during the 1980 force-feedings. These prisoners were murdered by the Israeli regime simply because they  protested against the Occupation’s inhumane detention practices.

In 2012, Adnan’s 66-day long hunger strike kick-started the Palestinian prisoners’ Battle of Empty Stomachs campaign in which around 3,000 Palestinian prisoners went on a hunger strike with the aim of drawing global attention to Israel's torturous and humiliating treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

In an interview following his release in 2012, Adnan called this movement a “signal to all oppressed and vulnerable people everywhere” for securing their rights. Adnan staged several hunger strikes upon his subsequent arrests, becoming an inspiration for other Palestinian prisoners to express their resistance against Israeli violations of virtually every tenet of international law—and every tenet of humanity.

Refusal to Return Martyrs’ Bodies

A grave violation of international law, Israel routinely withholds the bodies of slain and deceased Palestinians to use them as bargaining chips. Grieving families must wait for months and sometimes years before they receive their loved ones’ bodies and hold a funeral.

While this policy has repeatedly been described as a form of collective punishment by Palestinians, the Israeli High Court issued a ruling in 2019 that allows the military to withhold what it called “bodies of slain terrorists” for the purpose of using them as “leverage in future negotiations with Palestinians.”

Currently, Israel is withholding the bodies of over 253 Palestinians martyrs, including prisoners, minors, and women. There is still an unknown number of Palestinians since the beginning of the occupation buried in the so-called ‘Maqaber al-Arqam,’ or the ‘numbers cemetery' by the Israeli regime. Four such cemeteries have been located thus far.

These cemeteries get their name from the painful reality that the graves buried there are labeled by numbers instead of by names of the victims.

Writer: Fiza Raza | Copy Editor: Zainabrights | Design: Fatima El-Zein

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