Israel suspends detention of Palestinian hunger striker

Israel suspends detention of Palestinian hunger striker
Israel suspended the detention order against Mohammed Allan in a ruling hailed as a victory by supporters, but concerns mount for his critical condition with fears of brain damage.
4 min read
20 August, 2015
Infographic: A timeline of Allan's detention [click to enlarge]

Israel's Supreme Court suspended the detention order against a Palestinian prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for 65 days, releasing him while he receives medical care in a ruling that his relatives and supporters hailed as a victory.

The decision means that Mohammed Allan will no longer be shackled to his bed and his family will be able to visit him in the hospital, where his lawyer said he remains sedated and unconscious.

     I hope that my brother will stand up, will stand up from his bed healthy, as happy as he used to be when they took him from his house
- Mohammed Allan's brother

The court's action did little to resolve a debate over Israel's practice of holding suspects without charge, known as administrative detention, or a new law that permits the force-feeding of hunger strikers.

Before he fell unconscious August 14, Allan had appeared set to be the first test of the law. Since then, he has been given fluids and nutritional supplements while the case went to court, although those treatments were not considered to be force-feeding.

After a long day of deliberations, the Supreme Court announced that Allan, who doctors say has suffered some brain damage, would remain hospitalised but that his administrative detention was suspended.

But the decision did not address what would happen to Allan if he recovers, saying only he can petition for his release if his condition improves.

"I feel very happy," said his brother, Amid Allan. "I hope that my brother will stand up, will stand up from his bed healthy, as happy as he used to be when they took him from his house."

Israel says Allan is in custody for his affiliation with Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that has carried out scores of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. He denies the affiliation.

Allan's case became a litmus test for a law that was narrowly passed in July that permits a judge to sanction force-feeding of a fasting prisoner if the inmate's life is in danger.

Critics of force-feeding see it as an unethical violation of patient autonomy and akin to torture.

The US has admitted to force-feeding detainees at its Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Britain force-fed some Irish Republican Army prisoners on hunger strikes.

The Israeli Medical Association, which has urged physicians not to cooperate, is challenging it in the Supreme Court.

Allan began his hunger strike to protest Israel's policy of administrative detention, which allows authorities to hold suspects for months without charge or trial.

Israel defends the practice as a necessary tool to stop militant attacks and argues that revealing the charges would expose intelligence networks and put lives in danger. Rights groups say the measure violates due process, is meant only for extraordinary cases, and is overused.

Brain damage

The high-profile case took a dramatic turn earlier Wednesday after the court ordered medical tests to determine the level of Allan's brain damage and said he would be freed if it was irreversible. Doctors said results of an MRI were inconclusive.

Dr Hezy Levy of Barzilai hospital in southern Israel, where Allan is being treated, said the detainee was "incoherent" and "not connecting with his surroundings."

"There is some damage in a part of the brain that was probably caused by a lack of vitamins and it is expressed in other systems of his body," Levy told a TV station.

He said Allan would be administered the substances his body is missing.

"I hope that it is reversible. I cannot predict right now to what extent it is reversible," he said.

Allan's attorney, Sawsan Zaher, said it would be days before the extent of the brain damage is known.

Zaher, a lawyer with the advocacy group Adallah, welcomed the release but said it should have come two days earlier before Allan suffered brain damage.

She said the decision showed that administrative detention is an "arbitrary and punitive tool" against Palestinians. She said he should be released even if the damage is reversible because it is still deep enough to prevent him from posing a threat.

Israel holds 340 Palestinians in administrative detention. Last month, it took the rare step of placing three young Israeli ultranationalists in administrative detention as part of a crackdown on Jewish extremism.

But Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, said Wednesday that releasing Allan would encourage more Palestinian detainees to go on hunger strikes.

Qaddura Fares, a former lawmaker who heads the Palestinian prisoners' association, said that about 20 prisoners had launched symbolic hunger strikes in solidarity with Allan in recent days. But he said none was believed to be continuing the protests.