TEL AVIV // A Palestinian baker from the West Bank on a 65-day hunger strike is drawing rare international attention to the Israeli policy of detaining Palestinians without charge.
Human-rights groups say Khader Adnan, held by Israel under an administrative detention order since mid-December, is near death after refusing food and living only on one litre of water a day.
Rights activists say Mr Adnan's hunger strike is the longest of any Palestinian inmate in Israeli jails - and according to Israeli media, one of the longest ever by anyone in Israel. Administrative detention aims to prevent a person from committing an offence rather than as punishment for a crime already committed and it could be repeatedly extended for six-month periods with military court orders. Activists say Israel, which rarely uses administrative detentions on its own citizens, implements the policy as a "blanket measure" against Palestinians in the West Bank. According to activists, that is contrary to international law, under which the policy should be used only in exceptional cases.
Mahmoud Hassan, a lawyer from Addameer, a Ramallah-based activist group lobbying for Palestinian political inmates, said he is holding out little hope that a petition submitted to Israel's Supreme Court on Wednesday for Mr Adnan's release would succeed.
"I had petitioned the court numerous times in the past about administrative detentions and they had always rejected my requests," Mr Hassan said in an interview. "But I won't forgive myself if the man dies and I didn't do my utmost to help him despite the almost zero chance that the petition will be approved."
The Israeli Supreme Court rarely intervenes in the decisions of the security establishment, Mr Hassan said.
Mr Adnan's hunger strike has drawn supporters at home. Rights groups say that at least 20 other administrative detainees have begun refusing food in solidarity with Mr Adnan, including one man already on his 22nd day of a hunger strike. Demonstrations calling for his release have taken place in Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron as well as in the Gaza Strip.
The United Nations' special coordinator for the Mideast peace process, Robert Serry, this month said in a statement that he was following the issue "with concern" and urged Israel to "resolve the case."
"It's a fact that Mr Adnan has raised awareness about administrative detentions," said Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli rights group B'Tselem. "Our demand to Israel is either to free him or to give him a fair trial."
Mr Hassan said that the father of two, a bakery owner in the town of Araba near the West Bank city of Jenin, was arrested on December 17 by soldiers who broke into his home and then kicked and slapped him on the way to an interrogation. The 33-year-old's interrogators "humiliated and insulted" him, ripped part of his beard off and rubbed dirt on his face, according to Mr Hassan.
Mr Adnan's family said it was the ninth time he was arrested by Israeli forces since 1999. Palestinian media have said his detention may have been a result of him being a political activist for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.
According to Mr Hassan, Mr Adnan may have been arrested because of his appointment to a committee charged with implementing prisoner releases between the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which are advancing a reconciliation pact clinched last year. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group and opposes the agreement.
Mr Adnan began the hunger strike a day after his arrest and has since been moved from the prison's medical centre to a hospital in northern Israel, where he has refused to undergo tests and is shackled to the bed. A doctor from the rights organisation Physicians for Human Rights-Israel who met the patient this week said he had lost 30 kilograms from his 90-kilogram frame, suffers from stomach aches, vomiting and "significant muscular atrophy."
Mr Adnan began accepting an infusion of liquids and salts as well as glucose to reduce the danger of a heart attack. Nevertheless, the group cited the doctor as saying that Mr Adnan still faces an "immediate" threat to his life because of risks including brain haemorrhage, internal bleeding or kidney failure.
Mr Adnan is not the first Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail to carry out a hunger strike. In 2004, hundreds of inmates jointly refused food for more than two weeks to protest prison conditions. Last September, dozens of inmates launched hunger strikes - the longest holding out for 26 days - demanding the abolishment of a prolonged solitary confinement and other incarceration measures.
A statement on Friday from Israel's prison authority said Mr Adnan will no longer be chained to his hospital bed and that he would be allowed visits from his family, religious figures and the International Committee of the Red Cross.