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Hunger striker’s death prompts 24 hours of fighting, with Ben-Gvir pushing for more

TJI Wrap
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Published: 5 May 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Tensions exploded in Gaza following the death of Khader Adnan. A ceasefire was reached after 24 hours but longer- term implications remain.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Gaza militants exchanged fire on Tuesday following the death of a high-profile Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody.

One Palestinian was killed in the hostilities and five were injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. On the Israeli side, three people were wounded by shrapnel in the Sderot area.

The fighting ended in a ceasefire after 24 hours, with political fallout as the Right criticised Israel’s government for too soft a response. 

Khader Adnan, a political leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, died early Tuesday after an 87-day hunger strike to protest his arrest and indictment on charges of incitement and membership in a terrorist organisation. Israeli prison authorities said Adnan had refused medical intervention despite his diminishing health.

Adnan is the first Palestinian prisoner to die from a hunger strike since 1992. Hunger strikes have become an increasingly common tactic used by Palestinian prisoners to protest their arrests and detentions, and Israeli officials in the past have released prisoners undergoing hunger strikes when their health conditions became life-threatening — including Adnan himself.

Following news of Adnan’s death, militants in Gaza launched three rockets and several mortar rounds into Israeli territory. The IDF immediately responded with tank fire.

The Israeli military said during the 24 hours of fighting at least 30 rockets were fired from Gaza. Two landed in the small Israeli city of Sderot, just east of Gaza.

Israeli air raids targeted several sites in Gaza, which with a population of more than 2 million people is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.In the West Bank city of Hebron, shops observed a general strike to mourn Adnan’s death. Some protesters burned tires and hurled stones at Israeli soldiers who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them.

Reaction to the explosion of violence and its likely impacts varied. A joint statement by factions in Gaza on Tuesday, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, said the rocket fire was an “initial response” to Adnan’s death, implying that further retaliation may follow.

But Haaretz commentator Jack Khoury doubts the death of the Islamic Jihad operative will justify an escalation for Gaza factions headed by Hamas, or for Israel.

“It is doubtful that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have the stomach for a broad military campaign in the light of regional developments, particularly the Saudi-Iranian-Syrian axis. In spite of the devastating consequences, both sides realize that such a campaign will give them no military or diplomatic advantage, but rather the opposite. Therefore, they decided to exhaust all possible options to seek calm.

“Adnan's death roiled the waters in the Palestinian and Arab sphere, affecting many groups referred to as part of the "resistance axis." It was impossible to ignore the death of a veteran Islamic Jihad operative, let alone one resulting from a hunger strike.

“The rocket fire aimed at the perimeter localities was measured in range and limited in number of rockets. This message was heeded in Israel, which responded in kind: A massive bombing of installations and open land in the Strip and a minimum of harm done to civilian infrastructure. The result was one dead and five lightly wounded – a result Hamas can live with.

“Israel’s response was limited on the civilian level as well. Unlike previous rounds, where decisions such as closing crossing points and reducing the fishing zones were made, this time that did not happen. The discourse instead focused on calm and quiet, also in order to expedite Adnan's body transfer.”

The question of the return of the body remains unresolved and is another political hot potato.

The fighting also added to the internal tensions in the Israeli government. Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party threatened to boycott Knesset votes this week to protest that the response to the Gaza rockets was so contained.

Likud responded by excluding Ben-Gvir from security deliberations and declaring that if he did not like the way the government was running security, he could leave.

The dust-up was the latest in a series of fissures to emerge in Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line, Right-religious government, which has faced mounting internal pressure over its currently shelved plans to overhaul the judiciary, along with the skyrocketing cost of living, burgeoning violent crime and deepening conflict with the Palestinians.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has surged this year. In the first three months of 2023, more than 80 Palestinians died in clashes and about 14 Israelis were killed. 

Palestinian hunger striker’s death sparks Israel-Gaza violence (Foreign Policy)

Palestinian groups, Israeli forces agree to Gaza ceasefire (Al Jazeera)

Back to Normal: Khader Adnan’s Death Is Worth a Day’s Fighting – and No More (Jack Khoury, Haaretz)
After a recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, both sides have resumed routine, but the lack of a clear path towards peace ensures that the region will remain volatile.

Likud: If Ben-Gvir doesn’t like how Netanyahu runs government, he can leave (Times of Israel)
Angry response comes after far-Right Otzma Yehudit announces boycott of Knesset votes to protest ‘feeble’ reaction to Gaza rockets; party leader Ben-Gvir challenges PM to fire him.

Israel, Gaza Groups Reach Ceasefire After Night of Hostilities (Haaretz)

Likud: If Ben Gvir doesn’t like how Netanyahu runs government, he can leave (Times of Israel)

Smotrich admits Israel must demolish  unrecognised Palestinian village due to its strategic location (Haaretz)
A case filed by the right-wing Regavim  organisation is on a petition seeking to order the government to proceed with the eviction of villagers from Khan al-Ahmar.

Israel Advances Plans for Separate Road for Palestinians in Strategic West Bank Area (Haaretz)
So far, Israel has avoided construction in the so-called ‘E1’ area in the face of severe international criticism, on the grounds that building there will lead to a lack of geographic and demographic contiguity between land under the control of the PA in the West Bank.

Ex-Border Police officer convicted of assaulting East Jerusalem woman at checkpoint (Times of Israel)
Court finds Oriane Ben Kalifa used  unauthorised force in altercation with Hala Salim, pulling her hair and shaking her; defendant acquitted of obstructing justice.

Photo: A Palestinian woman and her son walk past a mural depicting Khader Adnan on Tuesday (Mohammed Abed / AFP)

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