The tactic is not new. But some backers say the campaign, which has drawn international attention, could force changes to what they deem unfair and illegal Israeli detention policies — if, that is, large numbers of detainees go as far as Adnan did.
“The new phenomenon is that these people, they are ready to die,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq.
Israel, eager to ward off the negative publicity and any possible unrest in the event of deaths, struck release deals with Adnan and a second detainee, Hana Shalabi, who fasted for six weeks. And although Israeli officials say they are not considering policy changes and express confidence that the new campaign will not last, they acknowledge that it could force them to make uncomfortable decisions.
“You can’t have a situation where everyone who goes on hunger strike, to use a Monopoly term, gets a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” said one Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.
Advocates of prisoner rights say detainees have little other option. Although those who began fasts last week are protesting various policies, including isolation, the campaign sparked by Adnan has centered on the Israeli military’s use of detention without charge or trial for terrorism suspects, which can be renewed indefinitely. Evidence is based on secret intelligence and withheld from detainees and their attorneys, limiting their ability to mount a defense.
Thousands of Palestinians have been held under “administrative detention” over the decades. There are about 320 administrative detainees, almost 50 percent more than one year ago but down from more than 800 in 2007, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.
An Israeli security official who works in the military justice system and spoke on the condition of anonymity to comply with military rules said the practice is used only in cases in which the detainee presents a “clear and imminent danger,” and when divulging evidence could expose informants or intelligence-gathering methods, jeopardizing national security. Suspects can appeal the detention orders, the official said.
“We’re fully aware of the problem, but there is no other option,” the official said. “We can’t trust this information going outside, even to a person’s lawyer.”