The month was marked by two events that called attention to Israel’s systematic attack on Palestinian civil society. Khader Adnan, a widely popular Palestinian activist and member of Islamic Jihad, died in the Magen-Nitzan prison in Ramla on 2 May after an 87-day hunger strike launched to protest his arbitrary imprisonment under the Israeli administrative detention scheme. One week later, Israel attacked Gaza.
The frequency with which Palestinians held by Israel on administrative detention embark on painful and dangerous hunger strikes to protest their arbitrary imprisonment shows how determined they are to end this cruel, commonly used Israeli practice. Currently more than 1,000 Palestinians are held in administrative detention, a practice whereby individuals can be detained without charge for six-month periods that can be renewed indefinitely. Adnan was the first Palestinian detainee to die while on hunger strike since 1992. The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society had warned on 16 April that Adnan was at risk of death due to his debilitated condition. Adnan became an icon of the resistance for his 66-day hunger strike in 2012, which at the time was the longest a Palestinian prisoner had been on hunger strike; that strike ultimately resulted in his release. In 2022, Khalil Awawdeh suspended a 172-day hunger strike after Israel promised not to extend his administrative detention. However, Israel reneged and kept him in administrative detention until 19 March 2023, when he was sentenced to 16 months in prison for using a smuggled phone while on hunger strike.
In response to Adnan’s death, rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza. Israeli airstrikes killed 1 Palestinian man and injured 5 others in Bayt Hanun and caused widespread damage elsewhere. Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, publicly complained that the Israeli government’s attack on Gaza had been too “lenient” and boycotted proceedings at the Knesset. A week later, on 9 May, Israel launched what it called “Operation Shield and Arrow,” by assassinating 3 members of Islamic Jihad, killing 10 others, and injuring 20. By the end of the five-day assault, 33 Palestinians were killed, including 6 children, and 4 women; 190 Palestinians were injured, including 64 children; and 1,244 Palestinians were displaced. Islamic Jihad did not respond to the Israel attacks until 35 hours after the first airstrikes while Israel continued to bomb Gaza. Ben-Gvir called the Israeli assault on 9 May “a nice start” and said that he and his party, Jewish Power, would return to the Knesset.
While previous Israeli governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu were radically far-right by normal political standards, the current government is even more extreme. Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, de facto Israeli governor of the West Bank, have made statements that support genocide of Palestinians. Settlement expansion, Israeli killings of Palestinians in the West Bank, settler attacks, and Palestinians held on administrative detention are at the highest levels since the Second Intifada. These policies, a feature of all Israeli governments, are being accelerated as the most extreme elements of Israeli society, led by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, have been given security, finance, and other important portfolios in exchange for remaining in a fragile coalition led by Netanyahu as prime minister.