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Administrative detention and the Inhumane and unlawful treatment of Palestinian Prisoners

Prior to the 25th November, the issue of Palestinian prisoners was largely invisible to the world at large. No one spoke about them, wrote about them or cared about them. Apart from a few human rights organisations and human rights solidarity activists from Belfast to Bontehuewel, the international powers have turned a blind eye and looked the other way. Now with the temporary truce and the release of Palestinian youth from Israeli prisons, this issue has forced its way into the public discourse as the kids speak about the horrors endured in Israeli prisons.

As part of its system of structural violence, Palestinians have as a matter of policy been brutalized in Israeli Zionist prisons. Some have been beaten to death. Others suffered inhumane torture and humiliating violence at the hands of the Zionist captors.

Administrative detention is simply sugar coated legalism to dilute the actuality of kidnapping. It is a process where settler soldiers of the Zionist state capture Palestinians and detain them without charge. Detention without trial or charge, with often no access to legal representatives and family members. The “evidence” is kept secret and neither the detainee nor their lawyers can have access to them. The leaders from the Global North who preach to the rest of us in the global south about democracy and human rights looked away from these gross human rights violations perpetrated by their surrogate and ally in the Zionist State. Biden did not bat an eyelid while these poor Palestinians experienced horrors in Israeli prisons. Since October 7, Israeli authorities have increased the persecution of Palestinian prisoners with vicious beatings and various forms of inhumane and degrading treatment. In one Israeli prison it is reported that the authorities removed a shower curtain so as to prevent prisoners from bathing in privacy.

Before October 7, the number of Palestinians held by Israel under administrative detention was already at a 20 year high.  According to Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem there were 1310 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention without charge or trial at the end of September 2023 and this number included 146 minors.  In 2022 Amnesty International released a comprehensive report citing administrative detention as just one example at how the Israeli state subjugates Palestinians and cracks down on dissent.  The report outlined an “intentional Israeli policy to detain individuals including prisoners of conscience, solely for the non-violent exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association and punish them for their views”.

Amnesty International’s report mentions that “Since the 7th October, Israeli forces have detained more than 2200 Palestinian men and women according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club”.  Amnesty goes on to describe the torture and suffering experience by Palestinian detainees which include severe beatings, the humiliation of detainees including forcing them to keep their heads down, to kneel on the floor during inmate count and to sing Israeli songs.

On October 24th, Arafat Hamdan, a 25 year old Palestinian with diabetes was declared dead in Israeli Ofer prison, just 2 days after he was arrested. According to Al Jazeera and Palestinian Prisoner groups, Hamdan was mercilessly beaten by Israeli authorities and refused medication. He was apparently placed in the sun with a bag over his head for hours before he died. Amani Sarahneh spokesperson for the Palestinian Prisoners Society says “The situation inside the prison is horrific. We are receiving information of daily mass beatings of the prisoners”.

Fouad Hassan was detained only because his brother did not surrender himself to Israeli authorities. Fouad committed no crime but was unlawfully detained. Fouad who was initially detained in the Huwwarra Military camp said that the Israeli soldiers beat them severely and mercilessly. Fouad goes on to explain about his experience in prison. “The guards hold the Israeli flag and order every Prisoner to kiss it so that they could photograph them. When my turn came I refused to do so, the guard kicked me very hard in the chest breaking my ribs. He then picked me up and put my head next to the flag and took a picture”.

On October 12th in the West Bank village of Wadi al Saeeq, Israeli settlers detained three Palestinians and abused them for hours.  According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Palestinians were stripped down to their underwear, blindfolded and photographed. They were beaten with knives and iron pipes and cigarettes were put out on their bodies. They were even urinated upon. The incident at Wadi Al Saeeq was analysed by Amnesty International Crisis Evidence lab.  One of the Palestinian detainees told amnesty “One of the Israeli officers who came hit me on my head, sides, then jumped on my head with his two legs”

The Israeli Occupation is using administrative detention as a punitive measure to criminalize the peaceful political expression of Palestinians. Ahed Tammimi who was put under administrative detention by the Zionist authorities when she was a 16 year old girl was again detained this month on the ridiculous allegation of “inciting terror”.  Aside from this issue of administrative detention where no charges are brought against the prisoners, in situations where the Palestinian detainee is charged, they are almost always tried in a military court. Israeli’s however are treated differently and are always tried in civil courts which again speaks to the issue an Apartheid legal system that discriminates against Palestinians.  Israel routinely puts Palestinian children on trial in military courts and is the first country to have established a juvenile military court. Ahed Tamimmi is now currently under administrative detention.

The life and death of Khader Adnan bears testimony to the ruthlessness visited on Palestinian prisoners under administrative detention. Khader Adnan is the epitome of a freedom fighter. He lived his life in pursuit of the liberation of his people.  He was a committed cadre of the political wing of Islamic Jihad who was involved in non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation. He was imprisoned several times. Khader Adnan spent in total eight years in detention including almost six years in administrative detention without charges or trial.  On December 17, 2011, Adnan then 33 years old was arrested and tortured by Israelis for 18 days. He was then placed in administrative detention without any evidence released to him or his lawyers. He then engaged in a hunger strike for 66 days to protest against the abuse of the human rights of Palestinian Prisoners’. At the time this hunger strike of 66 days was the longest by any Palestinian prisoner. Khader Adnan was arrested and detained 12 times by the Israeli occupation. In 2014, he embarked on a 56 day hunger strike to protest against the injustice that he and other Palestinian detainees suffered at the hands of the Israeli Occupation. He speaks calmly and has a gentle demeanour. He is a university graduate. A romantic husband and a loving father. There he is in a photograph with his loving wife and tender daughters who light up in his presence. He has an energy that generates love and optimism. But he loves freedom and justice. Like Muhammad (p.b.uh) he cannot compromise with injustice. He is always anchored in the words of his prophet who as the Leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement was offered all the financial and material delights of the world only if he were to compromise with injustice and abandon the resistance. The Prophets is reported to have replied to his enemies   If you put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left I will not surrender this divinely inspired mission of truth and justice.  The Prophetic resistance is epic and grandeur. But the struggle for justice is not an easy one. Khader Adnan could easily have left occupied Palestine and went to any country of the world and lived a life of comfort and ease, securing a bright future for the children that he loved with all his heart. He also knew that his wife and children needed him and that they were the most beloved to him.  He knows that when he makes the ultimate sacrifice, his wife and daughter will have to endure hardship and live the remainder of their lives in darkness without a father and husband. But his unyielding commitment to truth and justice inspires him to make the ultimate sacrifice. He goes on a hunger strike in the Zionist Israeli prison and makes his final stand. Like Hussein, he chooses to fight for justice rather than live in servitude to Israeli occupiers and masters. Like Hussein he knows that his last stand, his final stand is the greatest and ultimate sacrifice. Like Muhammad (p.b.u.h) he refuses to bow down to his oppressors. Like Hussein, facing an enemy of overwhelming military and financial superiority, he is beautiful in his defiance. Like Hussein he says a loud NO! No to occupation! No to Colonisation! No to tyranny! No to Apartheid! No to racism! No to administrative detention! No with the sacrifice of his life. His final arrest was in this year the 5th February 2023.  This heroic act of civil disobedience against the Israeli Zionist State lasted in a hunger strike for a total of 87 days. What a warrior.  A medic from the group Physicians for Human Rights Israel who visited Khader Adnan in the week prior to his death warned that “He faces imminent death and called for him to be urgently transferred to a Hospital. The Occupation hated Khader and wanted him dead and they surely killed him in the end.  Amnesty International reported “The death of Palestinian Khader Adnan is a reminder of the deadly cost that Palestinians pay for challenging Israeli Apartheid and a military justice system waged against them”.  Amnesty International explained “Khader died after spending 87 days on a hunger strike in protest at the Israeli authorities’ systematic administrative detention of Palestinians and cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners”.  He will certainly rank as one of the greatest and most inspiring political prisoners of all time.  And his beautiful wife, an activist and a graduate in Islamic Law, a great companion to Khader who advocated for his freedom in the resistance against Israeli Occupation struggled alongside him. She is cultured and dignified during his lifetime and after his martyrdom. She has every right to hate her Israeli oppressors who abused, tortured, tormented and killed her husband.  After his killing at the hands of the ruthless Zionist state, she is not vengeful, her expression is the most dignified imaginable. She announces that she does not want an ounce blood to be spilled as a result of the martyrdom of her heroic husband Khader Adnan.

It brings to our attention the oppression and persecution of Palestinian women at the hands of Israeli Zionists. The recent 47 days of barbaric bombing of Gaza killed thousands of Palestinian women and their babies and destroyed approximately 80 percent of Gaza’s residences. It violated every fundamental human right that a woman has from her right to life, the right to life of the foetus in her womb, the right to life of her child, the right to mental health, the right to give birth, the right to privacy and the right to live in dignity. Recent reports tell us that as a result of Israels barbaric bombing, women in Gaza have been forced to take pills to delay menstruation because they do not have access to sanitary pads.  There is no access to privacy after Israel destroyed almost all of the homes in Gaza, and they do not have access to clean water and bathrooms.  They are experiencing humiliation and suffering. And in the midst of this humiliating suffering, the women have to go out and look for the broken bones of their babies under the rubble. Can there be any greater suffering for a woman to experience?  This is a disgraceful indictment on the world especially the U.S.  The right to medication, clean water, food, electricity and sanitary pads are not privileges but inalienable human rights. Anyone who denies an entire people of these rights is a barbarian. It also calls to question the silence of those who were loud in standing in solidarity with Iranian women who refused to wear headscarves but are silent at the barbarism that Israel has unleashed on Palestinian women. Palestinian women in these life and death struggles and moments know who their allies and enemies are.

Khader Adnan was martyred but the spirit of his resistance is internationally inspiring. What a great man, what a great life lived in emulation of Muhammad (p.b.u.h) what a great death in emulation of Hussein.  This brave act of non-violent resistance was virtually ignored in the mainstream and corporate media. Khaders resistance is a general expression of the psychology of the Palestinian resistance which is an indomitable commitment to liberation, freedom and justice, a willingness to die for freedom and a reluctance to kill for freedom. His passing shamed both the Israeli Zionist state and its western allies in America and Europe. The Israeli government had a duty under international law to protect the life of Khader Adnan. It elected to act in contravention of international law and rather kill Khader Adnan. According to Amnesty International “the denial of proper medical treatment to Khader Adnan was a violation of his right to life and constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment’. America and all the western powers refused to call Israel out on this gross human rights violation.

Khader has passed on but his struggle and his sacrifice inspires many. His was a pursuit of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance which by and large characterizes the larger part of the Palestinian resistance against the unjust occupation. If anything the martyrdom of Khader Adnan has shone a light so that the world can see the injustice of administrative detention and the horrors experienced by Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

The South African national consciousness is very sensitive to the rights of prisoners and political prisoners. Very recently our independent judiciary made findings proving that anti-apartheid activists like Ahmed Timol and Imam Abdullah Haroon among others did not just die in prison, they were killed by the Apartheid authorities. This is what inspires solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. This solidarity knows no boundaries. Like the martyrdom of Khader Adnan triggered the memory of the martyrdom of Bobby Sands who like Khader Adnan went on a hunger strike and was part of the heroic struggle of Irish Republican army.  David Rovics, a protest singer has written a touching tune called “Khader Adnan, Bobby Sands’ which captures the solidarity of people the world over who are opposed to injustice and Apartheid. It is the shared universal values that is connecting those who are fervent in their commitment to justice. The World Health Organisation has just reported that as a result of the Israeli bombing of Gaza, the humanitarian situation is so dire than more people may die from illness and starvation than the approximately 15 0000 that were killed by the Israeli bombing. In this context, can anyone with a compassionate heart and a human conscience allow the fighting and genocide to resume?

Iqbal Suleman

Suleman is a social justice lawyer and former head of the law clinic for Lawyers for Human Rights In Pretoria.