Khader Adnan and Theodore Herzl

Israel/Palestine
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Khader Adnan and Theodore Herzl

“A lot of the hair on his face and head has fallen off,” The Aljazera article quoted Randa, Khader Adnan’s wife, as saying.

I had been alarmed by the evidence of Khader’s deteriorating health because of his hunger strike, now approaching the two-month mark. He is protesting his arrest by the Israeli occupation authorities with no trial or specific charges and of the attendant humiliation. He has declared his readiness to sacrifice his life in defense of dignity, his personal dignity and that of Palestinians under occupation in general. After all, fully one fourth of all Palestinians under occupation have experienced incarceration by Israel’s armed forces. In fact Palestinians everywhere have proclaimed Khader as their representative in the face of injustice. I have signed letters initiated by Physicians for Human Rights, a group I am proud to have participated in founding in Israel, asking for his immediate release on humanitarian and medical grounds. And I have read the few reports from Khader’s few visitors. Had I been back home, I would have agitated to visit him as a physician on behalf of one concerned group or another. But at my current location in New York I have to be satisfied with what I can glean about his health from second hand sources.

Something about the statement from Khader’s wife interested me beyond my real concern for his life. I knew that the loss of hair was a sign of advanced malnutrition. And I knew that starving for over fifty days is staring death in the face. But the man’s exceptional valor was not the only source of my intrigue at this point. There was something I saw the previous day that struck a deep note in my soul. I scrolled back in my email list and found the link to the article by “the great Amira Hass” as my source had written. Here it is, and I want you to take a look.

“Khader Adnan has already broken a Palestinian record for the longest solo hunger strike,” she wrote. But I had known that already without going back to the article. I studied it in detail without discovering my source of enchantment with it. I leaned back in my chair and looked at the screen from a distance in total disappointment. Suddenly it leaped at me: By God, Khader in this cropped picture has an uncanny resemblance to the young Theodore Herzl! Somehow I had managed to suppress the thought on the first round and needed to search deep in my subconscious for it. Not only would both parties scoff at the thought in contempt and be mad at me, I imagined. But also I had not envisioned Herzl as a human being before. He has always been the image behind a specific polity and way of thinking, representing an attitude and a worldview that negates my very existence. Instead of a face, the name evokes such forceful but foreboding images as Mephisto, the Greek Apollyon or the Islamic Azrael to name a few. Or the Archangel Gabriel if you are a Zionist.

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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