On February 21, senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Khader Adnan ended his 66-day hunger strike, the longest in Palestinian history. Adnan’s hunger strike was spurned in protest of his indefinite detention by Israel, a controversial but legal mechanism also used by the United States to prevent security threats and sensitive information from leaking out in the trials of enemy combatants.
As is the nature of democratic checks and balances, Adnan’s detention received judicial approval and was waiting imminent hearing by Israel’s Supreme Court when an 11th hour deal brokered by Egypt led to Israel’s agreeing to release Adnan on April 17th baring new evidence. Others in the Middle East haven’t been so lucky.
On February 8 and as Adnan entered the final two weeks of his campaign, the father of the Arabian Gulf’s human rights movement, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, started his own hunger strike in protest of his life sentence and that of others handed down by an absolute monarchy’s military court for involvement in Bahrain’s ongoing struggle for democracy. By this time, Adnan’s case was receiving daily international attention, culminating in a statement of concern by Catherine Ashton.
When it comes to hunger strikes, such statements of concern from the EU’s highest foreign policy office have been exceedingly rare. The plight of Cuban human rights activists is a prime example. Catherine Ashton held off on commenting until after Cuban dissident and winner of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought Guillermo Farinas ended his 135-day hunger strike, despite the fact that the European parliament passed a resolution calling for Ashton to take action.
The resolution also mentioned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on the 85th day of his hunger strike. Another Cuban dissident, Wilmar Villar Mendoza, died on his 56th day. Only after their deaths did Ashton respectively address their individual struggles.
More recently and in Iran, activist Mehdi Khazali reached his 71st day of hunger strike without word from Ashton. There are rumors of his release, but certainly not thanks to public scrutiny from the EU’s highest foreign policy office.
Press EU to replace Ashton
Not surprisingly, the first month and-a-half of al-Khawaja’s hunger strike passed without Ashton’s notice, and time is running out. Unlike Adnan, al-Khawaja was underweight when he began his hunger strike, and already doctors cannot find a vein sufficient for an IV. He was also been the victim of severe torture, resulting in head trauma and a shattered jaw bone requiring intensive surgery.
These injuries have resulted in lifelong health complications. He barely escaped rape by four prison guards by repeatedly banging his already injured head against the concrete floor, making his captors risk the repercussions resulting from a critical injury. There have been no repercussions, and especially no European scrutiny, just blanket statements to the plight of all Bahrainis.
Apparently, Palestinian terrorists are worthy of individual support; one of the most renowned Arab human rights activists isn’t.
Ashton’s continued silence demonstrates her characteristic and persistent use of a double standard against Israel, which hasn’t been so blatantly exposed since she criticized Israel’s making domestic calls for boycott a civil offense despite the fact that Europe’s own court of human rights has upheld stricter legislation in France.
Even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which have disproportionately focused on Israel using flawed methodologies and interpretations of international law, have actively advocated on behalf of al-Khawaja. If largely discredited organizations can come equally to the defense of a terrorist and human rights activist, there is no reason that Ashton cannot do so as well.
Of course, al-Khawaja is worthy of exponentially more support than Adnan. He is an internationally recognized human rights activist and served as the director of Irish human rights organization Frontline’s Middle East division. Khader Adnan is a leading member of a terrorist organization. Al-Khawaja has led a textbook campaign of non-violent civil disobedience against the oppression of Bahrain’s Shia majority. Adnan’s Islamic Jihad has deliberately killed and maimed hundreds of Israeli civilians.
Catherine Ashton has shown once again that that she is not a fair arbitrator for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is instead party to the international campaign to isolate Israel via disproportionate attacks.
While Israel’s leaders are unlikely to directly challenge the EU, iconoclasts like Avigdor Lieberman and Danny Dannon can name and shame. Organizations like Im Tirtzu can also play a role by organizing protests when Ashton visits Israel. Behind the scenes, supportive EU states like Poland and Greece can be lobbied to push for Ashton’s ouster. Whatever course of action Israel and its supporters take, one thing is clear: they must pressure the EU to start considering a more balanced alternative to Ashton.
The writer is a policy analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs