Sheikh Khader Adnan died after refusing food for 87 days to protest his administrative detention by Apartheid Israel.
The news prompted anger and grief among Palestinians who saw him as an icon of steadfast resistance to Israeli oppression.
Sheikh Adnan is the first Palestinian to die during a hunger strike in almost 40 years.
His death brings to 237 the number of Palestinian prisoners who have died in Israeli custody since 1967.
Hailing from the occupied West Bank village of Arraba near Jenin, the 44-year-old Adnan spent some eight years in Israeli detention, mostly without charge or trial.
A baker by profession whose job was to feed others, he refused any sustenance except water and salt in pursuit of a greater cause.
Over the years, he gained his freedom or limits on his detention by undertaking several long hunger strikes.
They include 25 days in 2004, 66 days in 2011 and 2012, 55 days in 2015, 58 days in 2018 and 25 days in 2021.Those successive protests took a toll on his body, causing several long-term health problems.
One of the appalling tools that Apartheid Israel uses to maintain dominance and control over the Palestinian population, besides military rule and the military court system, is administrative detention (equivalent to Apartheid SA’s “detention without trial”).
The Israeli Prison Authority holds 724 Palestinians under administrative detention, 11 of whom are Israeli citizens.
None is Jewish.
There are currently about 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners incarcerated in Israelis jails.
Over 800,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been prosecuted in Israeli military courts since 1967.
The threat of administrative detention hangs over the head of all Palestinians who are subject to instant and arbitrary detention without charge or trial at the whim of a military commander.
The procedure for challenging these decisions makes a mockery of Israeli justice, relying on “secret evidence” that neither the victim nor their attorney is allowed to see.
This is a cruel decision that acts as a clear indictment against the court itself and its moral standing.
Hunger strikes are the only tool of resistance for Palestinian prisoners, who have used them for many years to obtain small, incremental improvements in the conditions of their incarceration and visitation rights, and to bring attention to the injustices experienced at the hands of their oppressors.
This struggle requires tremendous courage and perseverance and totally undermines the security justifications that Israel typically uses to justify its oppression of Palestinians.
Palestinians hold in high regard prisoners in Israeli jails.
This was demonstrated by the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from the maximum-security Israeli prison of Gilboa in September 2021.
It has been described as “a major security and intelligence failure” by the Israeli police apparatus.
To the Palestinians, it was a heroic feat of great proportions, exposing the vulnerability of the zionist regime and belying the invincibility of the settler colonial entity.
The martyr, Sheikh Adnan explained in an essay published in a book, A Shared Struggle—Stories of Palestinian & Irish Republican Hunger Strikers:
“Being locked in a dark dungeon, where Israeli soldiers beat my chained body was deeply humiliating and oppressing,” he wrote.
“Their punches and their weapons have left permanent scars on my body. Their barbarism itself stood before me, literally.”
“Freedom beckoned me from the moment I was first imprisoned, it haunted me. My quest for liberty also drove me to bolster the morale of my friends and brothers.”
By waging his hunger strikes, Sheikh Adnan said he was determined “to teach the occupiers a lesson in dignity and defiance.”
The oppressors failed to break his spirit!
Sheikh Adnan never lost sight of what motivated him: his devotion to his people, his land and his family.
“I demanded to go home, to my family, to my daughters, who had spent long periods of their childhood without me since I was jailed.”
He began his final hunger strike after Israeli occupation authorities arrested him on February 5, 2023 and imposed an administrative detention order.
The Palestinian Human Rights Organization's Council described Sheikh Adnan’s death as a “calculated and cold-blooded slow-killing.”
His wife, Randa Musa said his family would not open a traditional mourning tent to receive condolences, but would instead accept congratulations on his martyrdom.
“He is our pride and honor, even though we would have liked him to return to us victorious,” she said.
Randa Musa has long stood by her husband, campaigning for him, speaking to the media and celebrating with him and their children on the previous occasions when he did come home victorious.
International support is critically important to build solidarity for the Palestinian prisoners and to ensure they are not isolated or alone in their struggle for liberation.
Dr Firoz Osman is the co-author of, Why Israel? The Anatomy of Zionist Apartheid: An SA Perspective; Shattering Zionist Myths: 100 Distortions Identified, and executive member of the Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Gauteng.