This article was originally published on Al-Jazeera English.
Arrabeh, Palestine – Randa Adnan panics every time the phone rings, and these days it never seems to stop. For now, it is mostly journalists, family, friends and supporters asking about her husband Khader Adnan, who lies shackled by his hand and feet to a hospital bed in Israel while his body wastes away.
Through sixty-three days of a hunger strike, the longest in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Randa Adnan has only been allowed to visit her husband twice, for a total of an hour, and each time surrounded by armed guards.
She speaks in a rush, a slight desperation in her otherwise resolute voice, as if time is running out and she must finish what she has to say before it is too late. Her two young daughters hang off of her, demanding much of a woman who is dealing with a problem they do not fully comprehend.
“How can I tell my girls that they cannot bring sandwiches and juice to their father in the hospital,” she says, holding four-year old Maali in her arms, who has the blue eyes of her father. The first time Maali visited the hospital with her mother she did not speak, hardly recognizing the emaciated man that lay on the bed calling her name. Now she wakes up at night often, her mother says, crying out for her dad.
Hunger as protest
Khader Adnan, 33, was arrested during the middle of the night on December 17 by Israeli soldiers while at his home in the Palestinian village of Arrabeh on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Jenin. After eighteen days of interrogation in which he claims that he was tortured and humiliated by agents of Israel’s internal security, Adnan was imprisoned without charge or trial in what is called ‘administrative detention.’ There are currently over 300 Palestinians being held in administrative detention by Israel for renewable intervals of six months, without any way of defending themselves.
“What makes the situation even worse,” says Abeer Baker, a member of the Law Faculty at Haifa University and head of the Legal Clinic on Prisoner’s Rights, “is the idea that these people have either no evidence, or no clear evidence, against them. They are not incriminated, because usually the army fails to bring any evidence. The proceedings are all secret. It is enough that the army comes and says they have evidence, or classified evidence.”
In order to protest his treatment, Adnan went on hunger strike the day after his arrest, a tactic he has used with success in the past and one common amongst Palestinian prisoners. Once, after an extended period of being in solitary confinement, Adnan went on hunger strike for twenty-eight days until the Israeli prison authorities put him back with other inmates.
In a letter released by his lawyers, Adnan said these words addressed to the Palestinian people: “I starve myself for you to remain. I die for you to live. Stay with the revolution.”
“The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey.”
A life of hardship
Randa heard about her husband’s decision from a lawyer on the second day of the hunger strike. At first she was not fully worried, but knew deep down that once he makes a decision he would never backtrack. By the thirtieth day she had become frightened and the possibility that this act of resistance might go all the way finally began to set in.
Khader Adnan had been arrested five times before he was married to Randa and three times since, largely for his political affiliation with the militant faction, Islamic Jihad. Over the years he rose to become their spokesperson in the West Bank, but was never active in their military wing, his family says, nor was he ever charged for such by Israel. At the time of his most recent arrest he was no longer an active spokesman but the Israelis, and even the Palestinian Authority, had continued to harass him with periodic detainment for years.
Before they were wed in 2005, Khader Adnan sat Randa down and explained to her the perilous future that would lie ahead if she married him.
“He told me that his life was not normal, that he might be around for 15 days and then be gone again for a long time. But I always dreamt of marrying someone strong, someone who struggles in defense of his country,” she says. “When I married him I knew I should expect anything. I am proud of him whether he is under the ground or above it.”
Since his hunger strike began Randa has become the reluctant spokesperson of his cause, fielding telephone calls and interviews all day long.
“It is twenty-four hours,” she says. “I have a duty to respond to the media because this is how we can support him. In the past he was in the media and I was always standing behind him. Now I am the spokesperson, which is very difficult for me. I don’t have these kinds of skills.”
Sources of support
Randa is also five months pregnant and has guests coming in and out of the house constantly. During our interview we are interrupted by an older woman who has three sons currently in Israeli prisons. As a woman of experience, she has come to be with Randa in her time of need.
Her mother and father-in-law, who she says Khader got his strength from, live in the same house and are also a source of support. Adnan’s father, Adnan Muhammad Musa, who dons traditional Palestinian attire, is friendly and welcoming. When he speaks about his son he becomes choked up with emotion.
“I told him [in the hospital] that he was successful delivering his message to the world and that he should come home,” he says, but Khader Adnan admonished his father for trying to get his son to betray his principles.
“President Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal (the political leader of Hamas) should have mentioned Khader Adnan in the [reconciliation meeting recently signed] in Qatar,” adds his father, bringing up the high-profile agreement signed between the competing Palestinian factions.
A dire situation
The response to Khader Adnan’s protest within Palestinian society has come very late and without the type of force someone might have expected. In a society where the people are used to the funeral of the martyr, the slow death of Khader Adnan is a bit of an anomaly.
A little over a week ago small protests began in front of Israel’s Ofer Prison, located near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The protests spread to other locales in the occupied territories and abroad, but for the most part have been marginal. Everyone is talking about it, but very few seem willing to do anything to show their support by taking to the streets.
The exception has been a group of social media activists in Ramallah that have made Khader Adnan their cause célèbre, elevating his profile via networking sites like Twitter. Over the last four days they have caused variations of his name to trend worldwide on several occasions, no small achievement on a forum that gives such honors to celebrity gossip.
The lack of action in response to Khader Adnan’s case is indicative of many changes in Palestinian society since the end of the Second Intifada. The increase in partisanship and political division has eroded general solidarity, even over the once unanimous issue of prisoners. Those who support Fatah may be less likely to rally for a member of Islamic Jihad, like Khader Adnan.
The second is the Palestinian Authority’s desire to deal with Israel behind closed doors. Fatah, the ruling party of the PA in the West Bank, has become reluctant to take anything into the street for fear of it getting beyond their control.
Indeed, even Islamic Jihad, the party of Khader Adnan, has failed to bring its people out in support of the hunger striker. Randa says that they are still helping, talking to the Egyptian Intelligence service to help negotiate a deal with Israel, but the silence is noticeable.
“I know the difficult time is yet to come,” says Randa. “His medical situation will deteriorate. It is hard to recover after this point. The doctors have told me that he could have a heart attack at any moment.”
“I still have hope that he will be released and come back home healthy,” she says wearily, although later she admits that the reality of the situation is dire.
She recollects back to the first question he asked when she was able to visit him on the 56 day of his hunger strike.
“He asked me how the baby was doing, and at that exact moment the baby kicked inside of me,” she says. They both believe it will be a boy. “I felt like it was a sign.”
When asked what she will tell the child about his father. “I will tell him that his father was a hero.”