(Reuters) – A Palestinian held without trial ended a 66-day hunger strike Tuesday after Israeli authorities promised to release him in April in a deal that avoided judicial review of its detention policy.
Khader Adnan, a 33-year-old member of the militant group Islamic Jihad, had been refusing food since mid-December and doctors had voiced fears about his deteriorating health.
“There is a deal,” a spokeswoman for Israel’s Justice Ministry said. “They will not extend his administrative detention and he will be free on April 17.”
The Israeli hospital tending to Adnan said he had begun intravenous feeding and would be examined later Tuesday to determine whether he could take food by mouth.
Supporters of Adnan welcomed the deal as a symbolic victory over Israeli occupation of the West Bank and handed out candy in the streets of its administrative capital, Ramallah.
“He got all the world to stand in solidarity with the detainees through his heroic strike,” said a neighbor, Mohammed Jaber. “He won against Israel and scored an achievement for Palestinian detainees.”
Human rights activists said the outcome would not change Israel’s practice of “administrative detention” which allows it to hold suspects indefinitely.
Concern had been mounting that Adnan was on his deathbed, raising the prospect of a violent backlash against Israel.
Student blogger Jalal Abu Khater said that by Day 50 of the hunger strike the story “exploded especially on Twitter and Facebook” and followers numbered Adnan’s days without food.
But there were few demonstrations of support for him in the West Bank, bloggers say, because Adnan is with Islamic Jihad and not Fatah, the secular, mainstream Palestinian movement.
A Reuters photographer who managed to enter Adnan’s hospital room Tuesday saw him sitting up on his bed looking around, apparently fully aware and talking with his lawyer.
Hundreds of Palestinians cheered at a news conference held outside Adnan’s village home by lawyer Jawad Boulos.
“Khader confounded the Israeli court and security systems and forced the attorney’s office to agree to the deal we proposed,” Boulos said. “His hunger strike was launched to achieve freedom and not to die.”
West Bank officials said Adnan’s hunger strike was the longest staged by a Palestinian detainee. Jihadist supporters had warned of violent reprisals against Israel if he died.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman decried the deal.
“There was a wrongful decision today, to release this Jihad activist,” Lieberman said, calling Adnan a “terrorist.”
Israel has not accused Adnan of direct involvement in attacks by Islamic Jihad, which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.
He was not charged with any crime. The reasons for his detention were kept secret, other than a brief Israeli army statement saying he was arrested on December 17 for “activities that threaten regional security.”
As the deal for his release was announced, Israel’s High Court cancelled at the last minute an appeal hearing, avoiding a high-profile examination of the controversial practice of detention without trial.
The court has upheld the procedure for decades, siding with the government’s argument that detention without trial is a necessary security measure that can be used to avoid exposing confidential information in trials.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement Saturday repeating “the EU’s long-standing concern about the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention without formal charge.”
Ayman Karaja of the Palestinian Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association said Israel was currently holding 310 Palestinians without trial. Some were detained under the measure even after serving prison terms of several years.
“The end of Khader Adnan’s case, regardless of the outcome, obviously will not end Israel’s policy of administrative detention because it is part of Israel’s bigger policy of punishing the Palestinian detainees,” Karaja said.
Hunger striker shines light on Israeli detention policy
”MY DIGNITY is more precious than food,” said a Palestinian prisoner, Khader Adnan, as he started the 53rd day of his hunger strike. That was 11 days ago; he is now perilously close to death.
Shackled to his hospital bed by both legs and one arm, the 33-year-old has lost at least 30 kilograms and doctors from Physicians for Human Rights who are monitoring his health each day say his condition has deteriorated so significantly that he may die at any time.
Mr Adnan was arrested by Israeli security forces at 3.30am on December 17 at his home in the village of Arrabeh, near the West Bank city of Jenin. He is one of the more than 300 Palestinians being held by Israeli authorities under ”administrative detention” (detention without charge), rights groups say.
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As he entered his 64th day without food on Sunday, there is mounting international and Palestinian pressure on Israel to either release him or charge him.
To date Israel has not yet revealed what, if anything, he will be charged with or why he was arrested. Under the country’s much-criticised military court system, prisoners can be held for up to six months without charge, and that period can be renewed over and over again.
Israeli prison authorities said in a statement that Mr Adnan is being treated in compliance with the policies of administrative detentions, ”with special attention given to his humanitarian situation”.
He started his hunger strike one day after his arrest to protest his detention without charge and Israel’s refusal to reveal evidence against him, accusing his interrogators of subjecting him to abuse and degrading treatment.
This is his seventh period of detention, local media reported. Israel has in the past alleged he acted as a spokesman for the Iran-backed militant group Islamic Jihad.
Mr Adnan’s wife, Randa, who is six months pregnant with their third child, denied her husband was involved in any violent activities. She said despite previous arrests, Israel has never produced evidence he was a senior figure within the Islamic Jihad.
Randa, their two daughters, Maali and Bissan, and his father were permitted to visit Mr Adnan on Wednesday, although his mother, sister and brother were refused access.
An appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court last week against his detention was denied. The court ruled that Mr Adnan must finish the four-month administrative detention which, if it is not extended, will end on May 8, reports indicated.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is the latest to voice her ”great concern” at his deteriorating condition. She reiterated ”the EU’s long-standing concern about the extensive use by Israel of detention without formal charge”.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and local rights groups such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Haq have all raised serious concerns about Mr Adnan’s case. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights was scathing in his criticisms of Israel’s actions in this and other administrative detention cases.
”From the outset of his brutal arrest in the middle of the night … he has been subject to the sort of inhumane and degrading treatment that is totally unlawful and morally inexcusable,” Richard Falk, an American, wrote in an opinion piece for Al-Jazeera.
”Its only justification is to intimidate, if not terrify, Palestinians who have lived for 45 years under the yoke of an oppressive occupation [which] continuously whittles away at Palestinians’ rights under international humanitarian law.”
Israel’s reliance on administrative detention was ”totally unacceptable from the perspective of the Geneva Convention”, Mr Falk said, especially when authorities had not disclosed any exceptional circumstances that warranted the use of such an extra-legal form of imprisonment.
Reports in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth indicate security officials fear if Mr Adnan does die, it could prompt prison riots and unrest across the West Bank and Gaza.
Lawyers representing Mr Adnan submitted an appeal to Israel’s High Court of Justice protesting against their client’s continued administrative detention. The court says a hearing will be set as soon as possible.