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Khader Adnan: Starving Into Existence

As I type these words Khader Adnan is on the cusp of death.

Illustration by Carlos Latuff

Khader Adnan was arrested by the Israeli occupational forces on December 17 in the middle of the night. This 33-year old baker, and an activist for the popular resistance faction Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and a father and husband has not been implicated or charged in any act of violence.

He has been on a hunger strike for more than 60 days (and counting) to protest the humiliation of the Israeli military justice system, especially highlighting Israel’s use of “administrative detention” – in which an Israeli military judge can imprison Palestinians without charge for six-month periods, extendable at the end of each period indefinitely.

Starvation is a horrible way to die.

When an individual does not eat, their body gradually and painfully breaks down. The lack of food, a vital source of energy and life, results in the body eating itself so that it can expend energy to keep on functioning. The body wastes way, skin stretching over bones and ribs, and all movement utterly agonizing. Without water, the body becomes dry and cracked as dehydration kicks in. Breathing and swallowing, colossal excruciating tasks. Next, pivotal internal organs begin to collapse, exhausted. And finally, death.

Like I said, it is a terrible way for a life to wink out of existence. Yet, at the same, come into it as is the case with Khader.

Not only does Khader Adnan have the unfortunate obstacle of being born Palestinian, but his long beard (terrifying to the faint of heart), his niqab-clad wife (offensive to liberal sensibilities), and daring to be a ‘spokesperson’ for Islamic Jihad (whilst apparently baking on the side) are all deemed insurmountable barriers for the big hearts and broad minds of the ever-caring ‘West’.

It is not easy to inflict this fate on oneself, yet Adnan has been forced to go through this, in a desperate effort to force spotlight onto his plight and that of thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children who are left ignored and nameless. Starvation from a hunger strike is immolation, like the ones we’ve seen in Tunisia, in Tibet, and elsewhere.  It is the extreme form of non-violence, in the sense that the oppressor, the criminal, is not hurt. Rather, it is the victim that willingly begins to inflict pain onto themselves to reflect the collective Palestinian struggle, the societal ache, in the face of the continue ethnic cleansing and repression by the Israelis.

Remember Gilad Shalit?

Remember how European and American leaders and politicians, even UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon himself, expressed their heart-warming empathy for his fate and his family? Remember the media spectacle, the humanization, and the countless features, articles, and numerous campaigns to release this person, this soldier of an apartheid state? Remember how his adorable face was plastered in newspapers, his innocent eyes glancing, appealing to our quivering hearts? Remember how the media unceasingly told us his hopes and dreams and what color his favorite underwear was?

Understand that this leisure of being known, being seen, and being cared for is not granted for the Palestinians.

There are more than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners held within Israeli prisons.  Each year, 500-700 Palestinian children are detained by the Israelis and they are abused systematically. Imagine what adults have to face in the jails of a nation that likes to call itself ‘a light unto all others’? Not to forget, that Israeli officials tend to be kinder to Israeli criminals than they are to innocent Palestinians.

In contrast there are 0 Israeli prisoners held within Palestinian prisons. When Gilad Shalit was held, not one hair was harmed on his precious head – despite the fact that Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison, was brutally bombed and still is being strangled by an illegal blockade (collective punishment) lingering on the edge of a humanitarian crisis.

Thousands have marched within Palestine, and elsewhere, in a moment of fleeting unity in order to remind the world of this terrible plight, long forgotten and willfully ignored by the powers-that-be.

“We are all Khader Adnan,” they chanted loudly, in hopes that their unified voice is heard beyond the sophisticated, multi-layered prison of the occupied territories.  They are driven by the demands of dignity, by the need to survive against a continual process of humiliation and annihilation by the Zionist state. Their chants added to a chorus of voices, stretching over 60 years and counting.

Not only does Khader Adnan have the unfortunate obstacle of being born Palestinian, but his long beard (terrifying to the faint of heart), his niqab-clad wife (offensive to liberal sensibilities), and daring to be a ‘spokesperson’ for Islamic Jihad (whilst apparently baking on the side) are all deemed insurmountable barriers for the big hearts and broad minds of the ever-caring ‘West’.

He’s not like Gilad, whose clean shaven face gives us, the audience, a clear view of his adorable cheeks and manly chin. His family is you’re ‘average’ family, with their jeans and other ‘civilized’ garments. And he’s not a member of a ‘modern’  Western-backed armed force, with its technical wonders of war, its sophisticated methods of destruction and despair, and its humane ways to kill, maim, and hurt. And just because he isn’t like Shalit, does it justify or nullify an iota of his rights, dignity, or humanity?

Adnan is not the first person in Palestine to conduct a hunger strike nor will he be the last, as long as the Zionist state endures.

And until that fateful day is upon us, “We are all Khader Adnan.”

Can you not hear their pleas?

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