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Palestinian hunger-striker slips into coma amid force-feeding dispute

Mohammed Allan has been detained without charge since November and has been refusing food for 59 days
Palestinians demanding the release of Allan following the Friday prayer at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem (AA)

Palestinian lawyer and alleged Islamic Jihad member Mohammed Allan, who has been on hunger strike for 59 days, has fallen unconscious and is now breathing with the help of a respirator, an Israeli hospital said on Friday. 

Allan was also receiving fluids intravenously, the sources told the BBC and there were concerns that his condition may deteriorate further with Palestinian NGOs warning that he was near death. 

Even before he fell into a coma, Allan’s lawyer, Jameel al-Khatib, warned that his client “could die at any moment” after the sharp deterioration in his health.

Allan had been slated to be the first prisoner to be force-fed by Israeli authorities after the adoption of a controversial new law allowing the practice last month.

The law, passed by a narrow majority of 46 to 40 by the Israeli Knesset, seeks to make it clear that “hunger striking is not a way out of prison,” according to the Public Security Ministry, which pushed the bill through.

Though Israeli officials had signalled their intention to have Allan force fed, staff at two medical facilities refused to carry out the procedure.

Khatib told Middle East Eye via telephone that receiving fluids intravenously was not considered force feeding under the law, which requires patients to be restrained while feeding tubes are inserted through the nose.

The Israeli Medical Association (IMA) has strongly condemned the practice, saying it was tantamount to torture and promised to “do everything to prevent its implementation”. The organisation has also urged medical professionals to not perform the procedure. 

According to Palestinian rights group the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, staff at the Barzilai Medical Centre where Allan is currently being held were also refusing to carry out medical examinations without his consent.

The IMA is challenging the law in Israel’s High Court of Justice on the grounds that it is legally and ethically flawed, and contravenes long-running international advice for medical practitioners.

In a letter to the association, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote that “the purpose of hunger strikes is to intimidate Israel into releasing terrorists”.

Allan, whom Israel accuses of membership in the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, has been held without charge in an Israeli jail since November. According to Palestinian rights groups he had lost sight in one of his eyes shortly before being hospitalised last week. 

Israeli authorities had been refusing to discuss proposals that would lead to Allan’s release from administrative detention, which his lawyer said was the worst form of custody to be held under.

Last week he refused a proposal put forward by the Israeli authorities that would see him held under administrative detention for a further 13 months.

“I can’t describe what his family is feeling right now,” said Allan’s lawyer Khatib.

“But they support his strike – nobody but him can decide what he should do.”

Khatib said on Thursday that he believed that authorities could transfer Allan to a military facility, although it remains unclear if they would be willing to do so given his rapidly deteriorating health. 

“They [Israel] want to find out how the international community will react,” he said.