Hunger striker in Israel still unconscious as court duel looms over his fate

Supporters of Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike, rallied Sunday outside Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, Israel, Sunday. Protests were repeated on Monday in Tel Aviv.
Supporters of Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike, rallied Sunday outside Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, Israel, Sunday. Protests were repeated on Monday in Tel Aviv. AP

Israeli doctors are keeping a hunger striking Palestinian prisoner at the edge of life while his lawyers and the government prepare to square off before the Israeli Supreme Court over his continued detention without charges.

On Friday, doctors in the Barzilai Medical Center in the southern city of Ashkelon anesthetized Mohammad Allan and connected him to a respirator after he suffered convulsions and fainted following two months of self-starvation to protest his administrative detention – an Israeli practice of arresting terrorism suspects without presenting specific charges or evidence.

Allan, a 31-year-old lawyer from the West Bank village of Ainabus, stopped eating in mid-June. He remained under anesthesia and was breathing through a respirator on Monday.

Two teams of Israeli doctors have declined to force-feed him, saying the practice, allowed by an Israeli law passed in July, violated medical ethics.

Allan’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court to order him released immediately due to his failing health. The Israeli government offered Monday to release Allan on the condition he leave the country for four years, a condition Allan has refused previously. The Supreme Court will hear the case Wednesday

According to Israeli authorities, Allan is a member of Islamic Jihad, a virulently anti-Israel organization that is on the terrorist list of the United States, Israel and several other countries. His attorney, Jamil Khatib, said Israeli state prosecutors claim Allan undertook militant activity, but have provided no specifics during the nine months he’s been held. Allan served a 30-month sentence beginning in 2006 for militant activities.

Khatib said he doctors expected to try to revive Allan on Tuesday and that the prisoner will decide then on how best to request release, and whether to continue his hunger strike should Israel refuse to release him.

A senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the issue publicly, hinted that force-feeding remains an option in the case of Allan.

“We are committed to preventing prisoners in our custody from committing suicide,” the official said.

Hunger strikes are a common tactic among Palestinian prisoners in Israel, who have won early release or better conditions via prolonged fasting.

The law passed in July was intended to reduce the bargaining power of prisoners; however, in the case of Allan, doctors in two hospitals in Israel refused to perform blood tests that Allan had refused, a first step in force-feeding. It was only after Allan lost consciousness that physicians took blood samples and pumped sodium and potassium into his body.

“This was a test for us,” said Dr. Tami Karni, a Tel Aviv surgeon and the ethics chairwoman of the Israeli Medical Association, whose 22,000 members comprise almost all doctors in Israel.

Allowing Allan’s health to deteriorate poses long-term risks, Karni said. The lack of vital nutrients compromised Allan’s hearing, vision and balance, and he may not fully recover his faculties, she said.

In July, Israel released administrative detainee Khader Adnan, who refused food for nearly two months to protest the measure.

Allan’s case has gathered sympathy among Palestinians in the West Bank and among Arab citizens in Israel. Arab lawmakers have visited Allan daily in his hospital rooms, first in Beersheba, then Ashkelon.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have promised retribution should Allan die while on strike.

Police arrested 15 people in Ashkelon Sunday after protesters in support of and against Allan clashed outside the hospital.

In Jaffa, the historic Arab town that is today a southern quarter of Tel Aviv, Jihad Abdalla, 25, bellowed slogans Monday with about 30 Arab and Jewish Israeli demonstrators.

“Freedom, freedom for Mohammad Allan,” Abdalla cried into his cupped hands. “Mohammad on the 60th day did not surrender to the jailers.”

Cheslow is a McClatchy special correspondent.