In mid-December, Israeli authorities arrested Khader Adnan, detaining him without trial or charge. Shortly after his arrest, Adnan began a hunger strike over his treatment, and has, as of the time of this writing, gone without food for 65 days. Doctors working for the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel organization issued a report a few days ago indicating Adnan was “in immediate danger of death,” finally prompting Israel’s High Court to move forward a hearing concerning his case. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances surrounding his detention, Adnan and his lawyers have no idea what exactly he is being charged with or what evidence the government has to support its unknown allegations.
The High Court’s decision has sparked mainstream media attention to Adnan’s hunger strike, despite that it has been going on for months. The similarity of the situation with that of Bobby Sands, the IRA member who led a 1981 hunger strike from a prison in Northern Ireland, is obvious. Sands’ campaign drew a great deal of attention, enough that he was elected to the UK Parliament, and his death sparked an international outcry. While many consider Sands a martyr against Britain’s draconian treatment of Irish republicans during the Troubles, there is unlikely to be similar sympathy for Adnan, even if he too should die as Sands did. Unlike Sands, Adnan is neither Caucasian nor Christian, but an Arab Muslim accused of terrorism – and in the United States, the supposed leader of the “free world,” a majority of the population supports depriving basic rights, such as due process, to Muslims accused of even a tangential relationship to terrorist groups or activities.
As Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, the denial of rights to “enemies of the state” – however nebulous the charge, however weak the evidence – no longer riles many people in ostensibly “free” and “democratic” countries, where the defining qualities of political life have traditionally been protected freedoms and inalienable rights. We pretend that we despise bullies, that we cheer for underdogs, and that we prefer consensus and conciliation to conflict. Yet, when faced with the looming, ambiguous “terror” threat, we have no qualms about sanctioning the government’s use of violence, even when it means stepping outside the confines of legal norms and human rights conventions. We gnash our teeth about the Obama administration requiring religious institutions to cover birth control for their employees, yet we shrug off the extrajudicial execution of U.S. citizens because, the government tells us, they are a threat to our way of life. In other words, we do not trust our government to spend our taxes wisely or to administer federal programs efficiently, yet we almost blindly trust them to decide who lives and who dies.
The most galling part of this hypocrisy, however, is the thick patronizing that comes on the heels of any use of violence by a repressed people. The moment after a drop of blood is shed for the sake of resistance or even liberation, liberal and conservative pundits alike bemoan the bloodshed and construct paragraphs devoted to non-violent paragons like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. The problem with this is that, when a non-violent protester like Khader Adnan comes along, drawing attention to the brutality of the Israeli occupation through self-sacrifice, there is virtually no coverage of it. It is ignored, or in Adnan’s case, should he die, he will most likely be savaged in several circles as a terrorist sympathizer whose death will leave the world a better place.
Adding to the irony is that, despite widely being seen as an adherent of non-violence, Mandela hoped found Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, in 1961, and was influenced more by the more confrontational Nehru than by Gandhi. Classified as a terrorist by many governments before the 1980s, Mandela escaped a reputation for violence only because he was arrested before being able to lead his group into its guerilla warfare tactics, which led 130 people dead. Mandela realized that, if he allowed the South African government to brutalize the black population with impunity, it would reinforce complacency rather than invite opprobrium on the part of the international community. He also knew that the blatant injustice of the apartheid system would materialize its downfall, not merely the methods employed by those devoted to ending it. However, he was also aided by the fact that no African nationalists had, in recent memory, committed acts of terrorism against U.S. civilians, leaving thousands dead.
That the Israeli government treats Palestinians unjustly has become harder and harder to overlook, and Adnan’s hunger strike – and imminent death – serves as just one more reminder how unjust Tel Aviv can be. Unfortunately, we in this country have become numb to caring, both because we have been indoctrinated to accept a certain amount of state-sponsored terrorism against the right people, and that violence on the part of any non-state actor is reprehensible and primitive. We publicly call for a Gandhi in the Middle East, yet when we are presented with such a case, we react with cold indifference. For us, living with this double standard does not prevent us from sleeping at night. For the likes of Khader Adnan’s family, though, it may mean that a husband and father may well die in vain.