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Israel plans to force-feed Palestinian detainee in wake of new law

Mohammed Allan, a lawyer, began a hunger strike more than 50 days ago after being held in custody without charge since November
Palestinians hold posters with slogans and portraits of detainees during a demonstration on 10 June, 2014 outside the Red Cross building in Jerusalem in support of Palestinian prisoners who have been on hunger strike for six weeks (AFP)

BEERSHEBA - In what would be the first case since last month’s adoption of a controversial law, Israeli authorities have declared their intention to force feed a hunger-striking Palestinian, his lawyer said Saturday.

Mohammed Allan, 33, who is a lawyer, has been held in Israeli custody without charge under a policy known as administrative detention since last November. More than 50 days ago, he began a hunger strike in protest.

Despite his deteriorating conditions and his move to a heavily guarded intensive care unit at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, Allan is adamant to continue his strike, a decision supported by both of his parents.

But Jamil al-Khatib, his attorney, told MEE that Israeli judicial officials say they plan to force feed his client, using him as a test case for the new force feeding law passed last month.

In a statement published by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the group said "force-feeding violates medical ethics as it administers forceful treatment to a patient against his will, and is considered a form of torture.”

The law has been criticised by international human rights and medical organisations including Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights and the World Medical Association which expressed its denunciation of the bill when it was still discussed in the Knesset, describing it as “violent, very painful and absolutely in opposition to the principle of individual autonomy”.

Israeli officials are expected to file their request with an Israeli district court on Saturday night. At the same time, Allan’s supporters have planned a solidarity protest at the hospital where Allan’s mother launched her own hunger strike when officials initially prevented her from seeing her son.

“Even if the request of the Israeli Prison services and the prosecution is accepted by the District Court, we will issue a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice against the constitutionality of this law,” Jamil Khatib, Muhammad Allan’s lawyer, told Middle East Eye.

“Of course, since this is an issue of life and death, we will demand an injunction against force-feeding from the court. But this is not Allan’s problem alone, this is an issue that faces all Palestinian prisoners, especially administrative detainees.”

Hunger striking is the only nonviolent weapon at the disposal of Palestinian prisoners, particularly administrative detainees who are held without charges or trial and do not know what evidence has been used to incarcerate them.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the number of Palestinian held under administrative detention in Israeli occupation jails had reached 370 by the of June 2015.

In an attempt to highlight the inhumanity and danger of force feeding, artist Mos Def, also known as Yasiin Bey, simulated the procedure in a widely circulated video published by the Guardian.

The video targeted an American audience amidst the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners that was taking place in Guantanamo Bay, but Palestinian prisoner and a repeat hunger striker, Khader Adnan, told MEE that he believes there is no difference between Israel’s practices and the US.

“Israel uses the US administration’s practice in Guantanamo to put a stamp of legitimacy on its law, but this is a desperate attempt,” Adnan told MEE.

“The fact that Israel is resorting to this practice shows failure to deal with the resistance of prisoners and further exposes its injustice,” he said.

‘Tear me to shreds’

Allan was previously imprisoned by Israel in 2006 and was sentenced to three years in jail.

Soon after his release, he finished his training as a lawyer and became a member of the Palestinian Bar Association. Allan, the youngest of four sons, is supported by his parents with his hunger strike.

On Friday, Allan’s mother, Maazouza Odeh, arrived from her Nablus village of Ein Bos at Soroka Hospital, hoping to see her son, but doctors and other hospital staff initially refused her request.

“Even if you tear me to shreds, I’m not going to leave the hospital unless my son is with me,” she shouted.

In response, Odeh started her own hunger-strike and staged a sit-in outside the hospital despite the scorching desert heat amid a heat wave rocking the country.

After being threatened with arrest several times and sleeping outside the hospital, Odeh was finally allowed to see her youngest son on Saturday afternoon. Despite his critical conditions, seeing her son had given her a measure of relief.

“It was the first time I’ve seen him since June. He broke my heart but I support his strike until all his rights are guaranteed and I will never ask him to end it until he achieves his freedom,” an emotional Odeh told MEE.

Allan’s father, Nasreddine Allan, told MEE that he is frustrated by the lack of tangible actions made to help his son, despite the media attention his case has garnered.  

“Unfortunately, the media attention given to my son’s case complemented by a sufficient popular support. Much of the reaction we have seen has been largely symbolic but no actual pressure happening on the ground,” he said by phone, on his way to the funeral for Saad Dawabsha, the father of Ali Dawabsha, the toddler who was killed in an arson attack last week.

His frustration was echoed by Odeh.

“We don’t just want phone calls from journalists and people asking about my son; we are waiting for people to join us, to put pressure on the Israelis to release my son. I will not forgive anyone who has remained silent about my son’s plight,” she said.

Not all cases the same

Beyond stripping prisoners of their autonomy, Khatib, Allan’s lawyer, pointed out that force-feeding could pose a serious health risk to prisoners.

Force-feeding employed against Allan, he said, could become the norm against other prisoners. He is concerned, however, of the lack of sufficient action by Palestinian politicians and the public.

“The problem with the way we deal with prisoners is that we treat them only as individual cases. All the action is based on sporadic reactions that die down few days later. Unless our whole handling of the prisoners’ issue change, things are not going to get any better.”

He also insists that one should be wary of comparing Allan’s case to that of Khader Adnan, a repeat hunger striker who became the face of Palestinian resistance to administrative detention after achieving his freedom through lengthy strikes.

“The cases are entirely different as Allan’s case is much more difficult,” he says. “Allan is suspected of holding organisational role at the Islamic Jihad, of planning military action, and of adopting the “International’/Jihadi ideology.”

Yet Khatib said he believes that Allan’s case will be vital both in the struggle against administrative detention and force-feeding as a whole.

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