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For Palestinians, hunger striker release a 'great victory'

A Palestinian boy holds a poster with an image of Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan during a news conference announcing his upcoming release outside Adnan's home in the West Bank village of Arabeh, near Jenin, on Tuesday.

ARABEH, West Bank – For a moment Randa Adnan’s dark, defiant eyes, the only part of her face visible behind a white veil, softened with tears.

NBC News was at her home for an interview Tuesday and we had just passed on the news that her husband, Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner, had agreed to end his two-month hunger strike after reaching a deal with Israel’s Justice Ministry that it would release him in April.   

Adnan, 33, had starved himself, refusing food for 66 days, to protest against Israel’s controversial policy of holding suspected Palestinian militants without charge. He was arrested in his West Bank home on Dec. 17 – but neither he, nor his legal team, were ever told the evidence against him.

The Israeli authorities would say only this of his case: “Adnan’s detention stems from involvement in actions that threaten regional security.”

In 2008, Adnan was convicted of membership of Islamic Jihad, the outlawed extremist group that has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks. But his family insists he has never been party to any violent act.

His wife was overjoyed at the news of his imminent release.

“By God’s will, I am proud of him. Not just as a husband, but as a leader of our people. This is a great victory,’’ she said.

Randa Adnan is the mother of two daughters, with a third child, a son, on the way.

“I swear I felt him kick inside when you told me the news,” she smiled.

Anti-terror tool
Over the past few weeks, Adnan’s case has become a cause célèbre – his face, in graffiti form, has come to adorn security walls all over the West Bank and has been emblazoned on dozens of flags flown at protest marches.

He is just one of some 300 Palestinians held without proper trial in Israel, on the basis of secret intelligence dossiers, a practice known as “administrative detention.” It is a highly controversial practice that is bitterly criticized by human rights groups, but according to the Israeli military, extremely effective in protecting the security of the state.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser to the Israeli government, explained one of the reasons why the legal loophole is used. “The first is that you know someone is planning an attack, but you can't prove it through a legal process. If you relied on the legal process, the suspect would go free, but the risk [to the public] would be very high.  
Alan Baker, one of Israel’s leading lawyers and a former senior legal adviser to the Israeli military, explained another reason commonly cited for administrative detention: to protect the highly sensitive sources.

“There are times when you cannot make evidence against some individual public,” said Baker.  In other words, the information is so sensitive that revealing it publicly might threaten the safety of the informant. 

Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Palestinians hold a banner with an image of Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan during a protest in his support in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday before his release was announced. The banner reads, "Freedom for Khader Adnan and for all prisoners."

But Adnan’s case, Baker said, might now make the authorities think twice about imposing detention orders. “It’ll keep them on their toes,” he said.

For his part, Adnan’s lawyer, Jawad Bulos, said the deal that will free his client is a “painful compromise.”

Asked whether he thinks the case might encourage other Palestinian detainees to starve themselves in return for freedom, he paused for a moment, pondering the personal stamina that requires. “Adnan was a special man. In all my experience of cases, I have never met anyone quite like him.’’

Adnan will probably spend the rest of his sentence in a hospital. His hunger strike has left him gravely ill. His family still fears he might not recover.