A letter of solidarity to Khader Adnan from an Irish hunger striker

A letter of solidarity to Khader Adnan from an Irish hunger striker
Tommy McKearney reflects on Palestine and Ireland's shared history of anti-imperialist struggle, the occupied's spirit of resistance and the sacrifices of martyrs in the global fight for freedom and justice, from Khader Adnan to Bobby Sands.
7 min read
11 May, 2023
A mural depicting Ireland's solidarity with Palestine in Belfast, Northern Ireland. [Getty]

Another name has been added to Palestine’s long list of heroic martyrs. Khader Adnan has gone to join that legion of the fallen who have given their lives in the cause of justice for their beleaguered people. After 87 days on hunger strike in an Israeli prison, the noble patriot breathed his last.

His sacrifice has been noted in every corner of the world and has drawn the respect of freedom-loving people everywhere. Nowhere, apart from within his native land, has his death had more impact than in Ireland. A country that has a long history of hunger striking martyrs, including the iconic figure that was Bobby Sands.

Empathy among Irish republicans for the courageous struggle of our departed brother Khader is based on a profound understanding of why he followed the difficult but righteous path that he did.

His country has been occupied and colonised for decades, not just to satisfy the avaricious greed of the occupier but also to serve the interests of a global imperialist. This is a story that we in Ireland have also experienced and, as a result, continue in many ways to suffer from its outworking.

"Indeed it is often a fact that the oppressor finds the greatest threat to his power emerges from the uncompromising stance adopted by those he has imprisoned"

Not that our brothers and sisters in Palestine need reminding of the toxic influence exerted by Great Britain wherever it has projected its power. Suffice to mention the Balfour declaration and what London liked to describe as its mandate over the country. The flag of the oppressor may change over the decades, but their intent to seek global domination remains unchanged.

What also remains unchanged is the brutal nature of the administration managed by the colonial occupier. Khader Adnan spent many years in prison under what the Israeli government euphemistically described as administrative detention.

In short, this is imprisonment without trial or even a formal charge. Always and ever the oppressor’s duplicitous excuse is the same. The state conveniently claims to have secret information that cannot be disclosed for reasons of security.

In Ireland, when this procedure was implemented by Britain it was described as internment without trial. In practice internment is administrative detention with English lettering. Both are a gross violation of human rights and demonstrate a total disregard for democracy. In fact, both prison regimes share a common ancestry: that of the brutal hand of British imperialism.

And as with imperialism everywhere over the millennia, there is the carefully and systematically created policy of divide, conquer and rule, all of which are designed with the aim of leading to the deliberate creation of artificially segregated societies.

What was identified over a century ago by Irish revolutionaries as, ‘…differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority…’ has emerged today in Israel as nothing less than apartheid.

As in Palestine, so too in Ireland there has always been resistance to oppression. An unbreakable spirit that has manifested itself not only on the field of battle but quite possibly even more so from behind prison bars. Indeed it is often a fact that the oppressor finds the greatest threat to his power emerges from the uncompromising stance adopted by those he has imprisoned.

The words spoken from the prison cells of Irish republicans have resounded across the decades. In 1920, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, died on hunger strike in Brixton prison England. MacSwiney was sentenced by a court martial on the spurious grounds that he was in possession of seditious reading material.

Famously, he said while on hunger strike, “It is not those who can inflict the most, but those that can suffer the most who will prevail.” Little wonder then that an eminent historian described his sacrifice as an event that rocked the Empire. Inspirational words that continued to rock the Empire six decades later when Bobby Sands led a hunger strike in Britain’s H-Blocks, a prison situated in British occupied Ireland.

Like Khader Adnan, the Bobby Sands that I knew was uncompromisingly anti-imperialist as were so many of his comrades. Often through those long days and dreary nights, not only was Ireland’s plight discussed in depth but also the global struggle for freedom and justice.

There is a brotherhood among those who have suffered under the yoke of imperialism and an even stronger, unbreakable bond among those who resist such oppression. Ireland’s political prisoners identified with the suffering and struggle of the people of Africa, Asia, South America and were very aware of the courage and endurance of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

This brotherhood became particularly evident during the period of the 1981 hunger strikes led by Bobby Sands during which time a further nine Irish republican martyrs were to make the supreme sacrifice.

Messages of endorsement and actions in support of the Irish prisoners emanating from anti-imperialist around the globe, were a constant feature of that era.

The agony of losing a relative or comrade after a prolonged period on hunger strike is almost unbearable and the pain is enduring. Nothing can take away or diminish that suffering experienced by the martyr’s loved ones.

However, the enduring sorrow is lessened by the knowledge that the hero died in a glorious cause and having achieved recognition for his heroic deed from his peers in the anti-imperialist movement at home and abroad.

It is in this light, in this context and in this hard gained insight and knowledge that I, a former Irish political prisoner and hunger striker, recognise the contribution that Khader Adnan has made to the cause of humanity. Yes, humanity and human dignity.

His refusal to accept being treated as a second-class being, deemed by his jailers as someone not entitled to receive internationally recognised standards of justice, was a powerful statement. For 86 days he endured the slow and painful agony of a hunger strike in order to tell his captors and their supporters (and the wider world) that he was not prepared to tolerate having his humanity diminished. By so doing, his sacrifice has enhanced the human race and demonstrated that we can be elevated above acquiescence in subservience.

"There is a brotherhood among those who have suffered under the yoke of imperialism and an even stronger, unbreakable bond among those who resist such oppression"

Today there are over 4900+ Palestinian political prisoners currently imprisoned in Israeli prisons, with 1016 ‘administrative detainees’, Palestinians being imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial. Of these 4900, 160 are children under the age of 16, and nearly all are subject to psychological, physical and sexual torture at the hands of Israeli authorities. It is estimated that over one million Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces since 1967.

In the years to come, we in Ireland will speak the name of Khader Adnan along with that of MacSwiney and Sands. Well can we envision our Palestinian brother whispering words penned by the Irish martyr Bobby Sands:

It lights the dark of this prison cell,

It thunders forth its might,

It is ‘the undauntable thought’, my friend,

That thought that says ‘I’m right!’

Tommy McKearney is a former Irish Hunger Striker, who undertook 53 days of Hunger Strike in 1980 whilst he was a member of the IRA, in protest of British Occupation of Ireland. Tommy is also a Trade Union Organiser & Author of 'The Provisional IRA, From Insurrection to Parliament'.

Follow him on Twitter: @Tommymckearney

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.