A Palestinian woman and her son walk past a mural depicting Khader Adnan, a Palestinian hunger striker and top figure in the Islamic Jihad group in the occupied West Bank, in Gaza City on May 2,2023. AFP
Khader Adnan, a leader in the Islamic Jihad militant group in the West Bank is the first Palestinian prisoner to die since Palestinian inmates began staging protracted hunger strikes about a decade ago. His death raises the potential for renewed violence between Israel and Palestinian militant groups as violence surges in the West Bank.
Adnan, 45, from the town of Arraba, south of the northern West Bank city of Jenin, began his strike shortly after being arrested on 5 February.
He had gone on hunger strikes several times after previous arrests. That included a 55-day strike in 2015 to protest his arrest under so-called administrative detention, in which suspects are held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Shortly after his death was announced, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a volley of rockets into southern Israel. Palestinians called for a general strike in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and protests were expected later in the day.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of deliberately assassinating Adnan.
“The Israeli occupation and its prison administration carried out a deliberate assassination against the prisoner Khader Adnan by rejecting his request for his release, neglecting him medically, and keeping him in his cell despite the seriousness of his health condition,” said the Prime Minister in a statement.
Prisoner's farewell message
Palestinian groups called for a general strike in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and in cities across the West Bank on Tuesday, with schools and business closing for what organizers called a day of “general mourning."
The Israeli military said the missiles fired from Gaza Strip fell in open territory, causing no damage. The Jihad group warned in a statement that Israel will "pay the price for this crime".
"The free hero, Khader Adnan, died as a martyr in a crime committed by the enemy in front of the world," the group said in a statement. “Our fight continues and will not stop,” the statement added.
In his final message, Adnan said he was "sending you these words as my flesh and fat has melted."
"I pray that God accept me as a faithful martyr," he wrote, in a message published Monday by the Palestinian Prisoners' Club.
A medic from the group Physicians for Human Rights Israel visited Adnan in prison earlier this week and warned that he "faces imminent death", while calling for him to be "urgently transferred to a hospital."
Israeli authorities had refused to move Adnan to hospital, according to the rights group and his wife.
Palestinian prisoners are seen as national heroes and any perceived threat to them while in Israeli detention can touch off tensions or violence. They have for years gone on lengthy hunger strikes to protest their detentions and to seek concessions from Israel. The tactic has become a last recourse for resistance against what Palestinians see as unjust incarcerations. The prisoners often become dangerously ill by refusing food but deaths are rare.
Several Palestinians have gone on prolonged hunger strike in recent years to protest being held in administrative detention. In most cases, Israel has eventually released them after their health significantly deteriorated. None have died in custody, but many have suffered irreparable neurological damage.
Israel’s occupation prison service said Adnan was found unconscious in his cell early Tuesday and transferred to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Israel is currently holding over 1,000 Palestinian detainees without charge or trial, the highest number since 2003, according to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked.
That figure has grown in the past year as Israel has carried out almost nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank in the wake of a string of deadly Palestinian attacks in Israel in early 2022.
Israel says it is not divulging incriminating material for security reasons. Palestinians and rights groups say the system is widely abused and denies due process, with the secret nature of the evidence making it impossible for administrative detainees or their lawyers to mount a defense.
In 1992, some 7,000 prisoners participated in a hunger strike that lasted for 19 days, during which the prisoner Hussein Obeidat died.
*This story has been edited by Ahram Online