Palestinian hunger striker tests Israeli force-feeding law

AP News
|
Posted: Aug 17, 2015 3:41 PM
Palestinian hunger striker tests Israeli force-feeding law

EINABOS, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian hunger striker Mohammed Allan spent his college years as an activist and leader in the student wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group at a West Bank university. Now unconscious and shackled to a hospital bed, the lawyer accused of affiliating with terrorists has focused attention on Israel's controversial detention and force-feeding policies.

Allan was arrested in November 2014 and held for two six-month periods under administrative detention, which allows authorities to imprison suspects for months or years without charge. Israel defends the practice as a necessary tool to stop militant activity.

He began his hunger strike in June, 63 days ago, to protest his incarceration without charge and has been unconscious since Friday at the intensive care unit of the Barzilai hospital in Israel's southern city of Ashkelon. Doctors say he has organ damage because of the fast and his condition remains precarious.

Palestinian prisoners have used hunger strikes before to draw attention to their detention without trial or charges. Fearing that a fasting detainee's death could spark unrest among Palestinians, Israel has at times acceded to hunger strikers' demands. In June, it freed Khader Adnan, a 36-year-old senior activist in Islamic Jihad, after a 55-day hunger strike protesting his detention without charge.

Allan's fast is the first to test Israel's law, passed narrowly in July, that allows a judge to sanction force-feeding or medical treatment if an inmate's life is threatened, even if the prisoner refuses.

It is still unclear if the procedure will be carried out in Allan's case. On Monday, Israel's Supreme Court delayed a decision on releasing him. Israel's medical association has urged doctors not to comply with force-feeding, denouncing the act as inhumane.

Israel has accused the 31-year-old Allan of ties to Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that has staged countless attacks against Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli defense official said Allan was an Islamic Jihad operative who in recent years "became known as someone who identifies with the global Jihad ideology." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case with the media.

"My son is not dangerous," said Allan's father, Nasser, denying any links to militant activities.

Allan was born to a conservative family of 10 children in Einabos, a West Bank village of 4,000 people. Many of the older residents harvest olives and farm the land, while younger generations have often sought better opportunities in nearby cities like Nablus. Relatives said that as a lawyer in Nablus, Allan was the main breadwinner for the family. He was known to work long days on his cases, but recently had expressed interest in finding a wife and having children, his father said.

Odai Allawi, a longtime friend and colleague, said he knew Allan at Arab American University in the West Bank city of Jenin, where he was a known political activist and elected to represent Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the university's student union.

It was during Allan's last term at the university that Israel first arrested him in 2006 and jailed him until 2009 for enlisting suicide bombers for Islamic Jihad and helping wanted persons, according to the defense official.

Allawi said that Allan's original arrest was punishment for his student activism, but after his release he shifted gears and threw himself into his work as a lawyer. He defended Palestinian political detainees, among other cases. Clients included Palestinians accused of links to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, Allawi added.

Allan had also been under the eye of the Palestinian Authority — Hamas' rival that governs the West Bank — and forces held and interrogated him for 50 days in 2011, according to his father.

Then, on Nov. 6, 2014, authorities came to Allan's house at night and took him away, said his mother, Maazouza. They searched his office and sifted through his documents, according to Addameer, a group that advocates for Palestinian prisoners.

The Israeli defense official said the arrest came after Allan had allegedly been in contact with Islamic Jihad operatives "in order to carry out harsh attacks."

Allan's mother has been the only family member to see him, after being permitted entrance to Israel from the West Bank.

On Aug. 9, she was able to see her son briefly. He was shaking, she said, but remained resolute. Allan tried to reassure her, telling her that Israel had no case against him, she added.

"I know that my son did nothing. This is injustice," she said. "He said, 'Either I will be released or I will die.'"

Since Allan fell unconscious Friday, doctors have tried to stabilize him. He is sedated, receiving vitamins and saline through an IV. His condition remains precarious because of organ damage from his prolonged fast, said Dr. Hezy Levy, the hospital's head.

While Allan is receiving medical treatment, including fluids, it is not considered force-feeding, according to Bettina Birmanns, a member of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. In his current state, a patient like Allan "cannot declare what he would want at this specific point," and that all treatment up to now had been in keeping with Israel's medical ethics and patient's rights policies, Birmanns said.

Force-feeding requires restraining a conscious and shackled prisoner and inserting a tube into the stomach.

Jamil al-Khatib, one of Allan's lawyers, said no force-feeding had occurred or was expected to occur, because Israel's doctors have largely rejected the idea as unethical. Allan made no request before falling unconscious as to whether he wanted to receive life-saving treatment, al-Khatib said.

In postponing a decision on Allan's release, Israel's high court called on the sides to reach a compromise. Israel offered to release Allan if he remained in exile for four years, but his lawyer rejected the offer.

While Israeli authorities worry that Allan's death could lead to Palestinian unrest, they also insist that his release would only encourage other Palestinian prisoners to begin hunger strikes to demand their freedom as well.

"I don't think he should be released," Yaakov Peri, an Israeli lawmaker and former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, told Israel Radio.

"If we are talking about saving a life, then we need to do what Israel must do, which is to protect the detainees it arrests. It will not be pleasant if a prisoner dies in prison, and we need to do our duty. Release is not an option," he said.

___

Berger reported from Jerusalem.