At the height of the recent hunger strikes in Israeli jails, 16,000 Palestinians were refusing food. The protest can, however, be traced back to the individual action of one man: Khader Adnan.
Khader Adnan became a Palestinian hero after his 66-day hunger strike forced significant concessions from Israeli authorities. He was released in April 2012. The 33-year-old mathematics graduate ran a bakery in a village near Jenin in the West Bank. He was arrested by Israeli troops at his home, on 17 December 2011. He alleges they behaved violently.
"They acted very aggressively against me, they cursed me and insulted me," said Adnan. "I threatened them; I said if this aggressive action continues, I will go on a hunger strike."
Israeli authorities describe Khader Adnan as a security risk. They say he is a leader of Islamic Jihad, one of the most extremist Palestinian militant groups, which receives funding from Iran, and has carried out suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. Adnan admits he was once spokesperson for the group, but says that period of his life is now over.
"The Israeli authorities want people in the West Bank to be tourists, they don't want the West Bank to have any sort of leaders and that's why they came to arrest me."
Adnan had been arrested numerous times since his days as a student activist more than a decade ago, including once by the Palestinian Authority. When he learned that he was being held under administrative detention, he decided to go on a limited hunger strike - drinking water and taking nutrients, including infusions of salts, glucose and vitamins. Administrative detention is a controversial measure, whereby Israeli authorities have the power to jail people for up to six months, without trial and without charge. It can be renewed again every six months, without new evidence. 300 Palestinian prisoners are currently being held on administrative detention in Israeli jails.
Israeli authorities argue that administrative detention is vital for Israel's security. Israel Hasson is a politician and former deputy head of Israel's Internal Security Service, known by its Hebrew acronym as the Shin Bet. He says this form of detention is used when the Shin Bet has credible information, but the source is an informant who will be harmed if the information is released in open court.
"You can't play by the rules of bridge where everyone else is playing rugby," said Hasson.
Palestinian lawyer Fadwa Barghouti, wife of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, explains why this argument fails to satisfy Palestinian prisoners.
"Administrative detention is basically political detention, because had it not been political, the person would have been charged, and sentenced. Sheikh Khader Adnan has become a great symbol. With his empty stomach he has been able to challenge the Israeli occupation and inform the whole world about the injustice of this arbitrary detention."
At death's door
Khader Adnan spent a total of 66 days on hunger strike. During that time he drew strength from his Muslim faith. "I was caught between feeling my life was over and at the same time knowing that God will not let me down," Adnan remembers.
Slow starvation took its toll on Adnan's body. His wife, Randa, was able to visit him three times during his hunger strike: twice in jail, once in hospital.
"When I first saw him I had the shock of my life, but then he started talking and his words were clear and his mind was clear. When he started telling me, I will take you on picnics and I will take you with the girls on outings, I said forget the way he looks, the man's ok," Randa Adnan remembers.
After almost two months on limited hunger strike, with his organs in danger of failing, Adnan petitioned an Israeli court to be released from jail. Reluctantly, the Israeli prison authorities agreed to a deal. They would release him after four months, backdated to the date of his arrest, if he agreed to start eating again.
Father of a movement
Inspired by Adnan's success, other Palestinian prisoners began to refuse food, too. Within weeks, around 1,600 Palestinians - one third of the prisoners held in Israeli jails - went on a similar limited hunger strike. They included veteran Palestinian political leader Ahmed Saadat. After Adnan was released, he visited Saadat's family in Ramallah. His wife Abla Saadat explained that one focus of the hunger strike was reducing the use of solitary confinement.
"My husband has been in solitary confinement for three years, he is now entering his fourth year," said Abla Saadat, adding "but many have been in solitary confinement for years, ten years, fifteen years. It has to stop."
Whilst the practice of holding prisoners in solitary confinement hasn't been stopped completely, the Palestinian hunger strikers did manage to win significant concessions.
On May 14th 2012, the Israeli authorities agreed to reduce the implementation of solitary confinement, and to increase family visits, especially from Gaza. In return, the prisoners agreed to start eating again, and made a commitment not to organize militant operations from inside the jails.
Ending administrative detention, however, remains a battle still to be fought. When that happens, it seems more than likely that Khader Adnan will once again be at the head of the campaign.
Author: Irris Makler
Editor: Kate Laycock