Palestinian hunger striker Khader Adnan dies in Israeli prison


GAZA CITY — A high-profile Palestinian militant died early Tuesday in an Israeli prison after an 87-day hunger strike, spurring the launch of three rockets from Gaza into Israel and threatening to shatter a tense quiet following spiraling violence in the occupied West Bank.

Khader Adnan, a 44-year-old father of nine, was an influential member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, a militant group based in the Gaza Strip that has, in recent years, also drawn a greater following in the West Bank, especially among young residents disillusioned by the enduring Israeli occupation and the aging and corrupt leadership of more mainstream groups.

His death comes during a period of intensifying violence and as Israel’s government — the most hard-line in the country’s history, composed of several prominent settler leaders — has vowed to crack down on Palestinian militant movements while advancing policies to deepen its control over the occupied West Bank.

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Since January, Israelis have killed at least 95 Palestinians, and at least 14 Israelis and one foreign national have died in Palestinian attacks.

“The Palestinian people will not stand silent against the killing of Khader Adnan,” Muna Qadaan, a 51-year-old former prisoner and neighbor of Adnan’s in the West Bank village of Arraba, near Jenin, told The Washington Post.

She said that Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister in charge of Israeli prisons, had for months been threatening to worsen conditions for Palestinian prisoners, prompting calls from for a new mass hunger strike among detainees. The “death of Khader Adnan will be a turning point inside the prisons,” she added.

In February, Ben Gvir, vowing to halt the “benefits and indulgences” granted to Palestinian security prisoners, ordered Israeli jails to close in-house prisoner-run bakeries and to limit their shower time to four minutes.

Security forces have also increased the use of administrative detention, in which those accused of terrorism are held indefinitely, denied trial and refused information about the charges against them.

In April 2023, there were more than 1,000 people held under administrative detention, compared to 489 people one year earlier, according to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked. It is the highest number since 2003, during the height of the second intifada, a Palestinian uprising.

Adnan, who called on his fellow militants to be “the next person to fire bullets, the next to have his body parts blown all over,” was also a leader of the Palestinian hunger strike movement. Since his 66-day strike in 2011, thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons have adopted the potentially fatal tactic to protest their incarceration.

Adnan was held 12 times under administrative detention, during which he underwent at least five hunger strikes. In several cases, the tactic worked to resulted in his release from custody, said Orit Adato, a former commissioner of Israeli Prison Service.

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The Israel Prison Service said in a statement that Adnan had been charged with involvement in terrorism and that he refused treatment under the watch of a civilian hospital, while awaiting trial. It said that he was found unconscious in his cell early Tuesday, at which point he was transferred to the Israeli hospital where he was declared dead.

Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the larger Islamist militant group that rules Gaza, both vowed retribution for Adnan’s death, though no groups have yet taken responsibility for the three rockets and one mortar shell fired into southern Israel early Tuesday. The projectiles fell in open areas, but, on Tuesday afternoon, the Israeli military said that it fired on Hamas targets with tanks and instructed residents of the southern border towns to remain near bomb shelters.

Jamal Khatib, Adnan’s attorney, told Israel’s Army Radio on Tuesday that his family and several human rights organizations had in recent days “warned that he needed to be hospitalized … All the studies into this issue show there is an actual danger of death after 75 days [on a hunger strike].”

Lina Qasem-Hassan, chairwoman of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, visited Adnan several days before his death, examined him and published a medical report regarding his life-threatening condition and the need for immediate hospital transfer for observation.

“Khader Adnan chose a hunger strike as a last resort, a nonviolent means of protest against the oppression of himself and his people,” the group said in a statement.

Hunger strikes are seen by many Palestinian prisoners as their only tool to wield power in a system designed to deprive them of legal recourse. Adnan’s death is the first such case since 1992, when Hussein Obeidat died during a mass hunger strike.

According to the Prisoners’ Information Office, a prisoners’ organization based in Gaza City, 237 Palestinians have died while in Israeli prisons since 1967.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a post on Facebook that Adnan’s death was a “deliberate assassination, made by way of refusing his request to release him, neglecting him medically, and keeping him in his cell despite the seriousness of his health condition.”

Rubin reported from Tel Aviv and Taha in Jerusalem. Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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