Daniella Cheslow Multimedia Journalist

Daniella Cheslow
Palestinian hunger striker defies Israeli arrest

hunger-strikerPrint and photos published by McClatchy Newspapers.

Israel released Palestinian prisoner Mohammad Allan on Wednesday after doctors said he may have suffered irreversible brain damage from lack of nutrients over two months of his hunger strike. His release scored a victory against a new Israeli law allowing force-feeding of prisoners and left relatives wondering if he would recover from a brush with death.

“The petitioner in this case does not pose a threat at this moment because of his present medical condition, and the future is clouded in mystery. At this stage therefore we are suspending the administrative detention order,” the Supreme Court judges wrote.

Doctors at Barzilai Medical Center in southern Israel anesthetized Allan Wednesday night after an MRI indicated possible brain damage following 65 days of hunger strike. Allan, 31, was arrested in early November 2014 and stopped eating food in mid-June to protest his incarceration without charges.

Israel says Allan is a militant with the Islamic Jihad movement. Revealing specific charges or evidence could risk revealing Israel’s network of informants, according to the government. In 2006, Israel sentenced Allan to two and a half years in prison for enlisting suicide bombers for Islamic Jihad, according to the Associated Press.

In July, Israel passed a law allowing for the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, aimed at reducing the leverage of detainees like Allan. Doctors at Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Beersheba and in Barzilai refused to take blood samples from Allan against his will, a first step to force-feeding.

Lawyers for Allan demanded his immediate release Friday after he suffered convulsions and lost consciousness on his 60th day of fasting. Doctors gave him minerals and salts and connected him to a respirator to keep him alive. He woke up Tuesday, but by Wednesday Dr. Chezy Levy in Barzilai said Allan was speaking incoherently and “not connecting with his environment,” hinting at possible brain damage.

After the Supreme Court ordered Allan’s release, his attorney, Jamil Khatib, said: “We are sure Mohammad Allan as a released man will return to health. We hope he returns to normal life, and I hope the courts in Israel will devote serious attention to the issue of administrative detention.”

There are 370 Palestinians under administrative detention in Israel, according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem. In recent weeks Israel also applied administrative detention to three Jewish terrorism suspects.

Far from the hospital, in the village of Ainabus, Allan’s family and friends anxiously tracked his status Wednesday afternoon by ever-present television news. They described a workaholic, a devout Muslim, and a doting uncle to 37 nieces and nephews, all of whom live in the village near Nablus in the northern West Bank. The suspension of Allan’s administrative detention will allow his relatives to visit him as a patient, not a prisoner. The judges said they will re-evaluate Allan’s detention based on whether the damage he suffered is reversible.

Allan, 31, is ninth of 10 brothers and sisters. He studied law at the Arab American University of Jenin, and when he passed the bar exam four years ago, attorney Nafez Hussein quickly offered him a job.

“Most of his decisions are based on principles and on diligent work,” Hussein said. “I immediately welcomed him in my office. He became my partner and my friend.”

Hussein said Allan handled real estate cases but devoted hours to pro bono defense of suspects arrested by the Palestinian Authority on terrorism charges.

Allan often paid court fees for defendants who could not afford them, Hussein said. Allan mostly worked in Nablus but kept a second office beneath his home. Hussein wiped away tears as he said he has not worked since Allan was arrested in November 2014, and he feared Allan might not survive his hunger strike.

Two stories above the office, Allan lived with his mother and brother on the second floor of a house surrounded by pomegranate, fig, olive and lemon trees. He slept on a single bed next to a bookshelf filled with the Quran and volumes devoted to Islam and the law. Four rubber hoses used with a water pipe were the sole sign of leisure, and Allan’s high school diploma was the only decoration aside from a wide window overlooking rolling hills covered in olive trees.

Allan’s older sisters Tahani and Kifah said they were trying to find him a bride before he was arrested. He told them he wanted to marry a pious Muslim woman who would cover her face and raise children.

In the days before he went on hunger strike, Kifah Allan said she tried to persuade her brother against it.

“We know that he is stubborn, but we never expected his stubbornness to affect his life,” she said.

Administrative detention is a key tool in fighting terrorism, said attorney Daniel Reisner, who served in the Israeli army’s international legal unit for 20 years, including nine years as its director.

He said the United States also uses administrative detention to hold terrorism suspects in Guantanamo. Reisner said the Israeli measure includes multiple legal safeguards for the detainee, including a hearing with the president of a district court within 48 hours of detention.

“We’ve faced this dilemma before and this is no good answer,” Reisner said. “If you release the person, sometimes they go out and fight you the day after. And if you don’t release him, then you are responsible for his death.”

Photo by Daniella Cheslow.