Future unclear for Palestinian hunger striker
With Mohammed Allaan in perilous condition, Israel has suspended his detention while he receives medical care.
Ashkelon, Israel – At the Barzilai Medical Center in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, Maazouzeh Allaan’s eyes filled with tears as she watched a video of a recent demonstration in support of her hunger-striking son.
“Detention robbed him of everything – his home, his work, his clients, his freedom,” Maazouzeh told Al Jazeera. “In prison, he had nothing to do and he had problems. He couldn’t see his family. How can you live this way, without dignity?”
In the several days since Maazouzeh watched that video, her son’s case has gone through a roller coaster series of developments, leading to a decision late Wednesday by Israel’s Supreme Court to suspend his detention while he receives medical care.
Mohammed Allaan, who had refused to eat for 65 days in protest against his detention without charge by Israeli authorities, officially ended his hunger strike after Wednesday’s ruling. But after suffering brain damage due to a reported vitamin deficiency, his future remains unclear. On Thursday, after slipping in and out of a coma, he was reported to be in critical condition.
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Mohammed, a 31-year-old lawyer from the village of Einabus in the occupied West Bank, had been jailed without trial for more than nine months, under a practice known as administrative detention. He was accused of having ties to Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian armed group – an accusation that he denies.
Maazouzeh said the ordeal has been difficult, especially since news of her son’s health always comes first in Hebrew, a language she does not understand.
“Sometimes it can be difficult for a mother to understand that this is something much bigger than him and her,” said Hend Salman, 36, one of the activists who has been supporting Maazouzeh at the hospital. Other members of the Allaan family did not have permits to enter Israel.
High-profile religious figures and Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset have also paid visits to Mohammed since he was hospitalised.
Last month, the Israeli Knesset legalised the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, despite ardent opposition from the medical community. Critics have described force-feeding as a form of torture, and the law has stirred much debate within Israel and internationally.
“This is the first time that the Israeli judiciary has decided to freeze an administrative detention order and postpone the decision… and the force-feeding law has failed to pass its first test,” Qadura Fares, head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, told Al Jazeera.
Over the past week, support for Mohammed has mounted, as hundreds of people took part in protests calling for his immediate release and for an end to administrative detention. Rallies have taken place on a daily basis in various cities in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.
For the most part, protests have been small and peaceful, but Israel has been aiming to avert an escalation, while also avoiding sending a message to detainees that going on hunger strike would ensure their release.
According to public comments by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Mohammed’s release “would be a prize for the hunger strike he initiated and may lead to mass hunger strikes among the security detainees, after they discover a new tool with which to extort the State of Israel”.
By choosing to go on hunger strike, and not waiting for courts, as the only and last resort, Allaan has already won.
Under international law, administrative detention can only be used as a last resort and in exceptional cases involving an immediate threat. But the Israeli government uses it routinely to imprison Palestinians without providing evidence against them.
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As of this past June, 370 Palestinians were held in administrative detention in Israeli prisons. According to prisoners’ advocacy group Addameer, only nine Israeli citizens – all of them settlers – have been held in administrative detention over the years, and are usually released within a shorter timeframe.
“In Israel, the judicial review following the issuing of administrative orders is much stricter because an officer or an agent of the Israeli security service has to be present in court to testify why they think the person should be under administrative detention. In the West Bank, there is no such obligation,” Addameer lawyer Jeanne Aouda Zbidat told Al Jazeera. The vast majority of administrative detentions end when the order expires, without the detainee or defence lawyers ever knowing the reasons for the arrest, she added.
Palestinian detainees have historically used hunger strikes to negotiate prison conditions and rights. In 2012, nearly 2,000 detainees went on hunger strike, leading to a deal meant to ease detention conditions. But since then, the number of administrative detainees has continued to climb.
“I do believe that coordinated strikes can achieve more than individual ones. But sometimes, there are divisions amongst prisoners, and sometimes when something happens outside, nothing is achieved,” said Ahmad Qatamesh, 65, a writer and former administrative detainee and hunger striker, citing a case last year in which a mass hunger strike resulted in no deal after three Israelis were abducted in the West Bank.
Khader Adnan, who was freed last month after his own 56-day hunger strike, has been taking part in many of the protests to support Mohammed.
“By choosing to go on hunger strike, and not waiting for courts, as the only and last resort, Allaan has already won,” Adnan told Al Jazeera.