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‘I refuse to be a slave to anyone’

Human Rights

Protesting by any means: a mural by the artist Banksy on a wall in Bethlehem. Eoghan Rice under a Creative Commons Licence

One week ago, violent demonstrations took place in front of Barzilai Hospital, near Ashkelon, Israel, where Palestinian citizens of Israel protested against the continued imprisonment of Palestinian prisoner, administrative detainee and hunger striker Mohammad Allan.  

Hundreds of people from around Israel arrived to attend a vigil outside the hospital, where they were met by police with pepper spray and skunk water, as well as by rightwing protesters. Several protesters suffered injuries and many were arrested.

Allan, a 31-year-old lawyer from Aynabus (near Nablus) and allegedly a member of Islamic Jihad, garnered worldwide attention when he went on hunger strike 65 days ago. His health has severely deteriorated since then.

An MRI scan has showed signs of brain damage, and it’s not clear at this point whether or not it is reversible. Pending a full diagnosis, the Israeli Supreme Court has decided to suspend his sentence while he recovers.

Allan was first arrested in 2006, receiving a 3-year sentence. In 2011, he was detained again and interrogated for 50 days. On 6 November 2014, Israeli soldiers raided and searched his home in Aynabus. His office was also ransacked.

Five days later, Allan, without being charged with anything specific, received a 6-month administrative detention order; the sentence was renewed for another 6 months on 5 May 2015.

Administrative detention permits detention without any charge or trial, with a renewal date every 6 months. International law states that it can be used only in the most exceptional cases, as the last available means for preventing danger that cannot be thwarted by less harmful measures.

Without a maximum time limit, administrative detentions can continue indefinitely. 
According to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Allan’s ‘administrative detention order was based on a secret file that was only viewed by the military judge, who claimed that the secret information clearly indicates that the detainee poses a danger’.

The judge also claimed the file was not solely based on analysis or estimations, but on specific material and data.

If that is the case, why wasn’t Allan interrogated and given the chance to respond to the accusations?

‘Mohammad Allan’s case exemplifies the use of administrative detention policy as a tool of punishment in the absence of clear evidence regarding committing a specific action. It also highlights the use of a detainee’s past against him/her for the sake of imprisonment,’ Addameer states. 

‘These practices gravely violate international humanitarian law, because administrative detention should be used only as a precautionary detention to prevent future threats, not as a punishment for a previously committed act.’

In May 2015, there were 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. In June 2015, according to data provided by the Israeli military and the Israel Prison Service (IPS), 370 Palestinians were being held in administrative detention.

Following the renewal of the administrative detention, Allan declared an open hunger strike on 16 June, and aside from water, refused any mineral supplements or salt.

Allan’s hunger strike has taken a serious toll on his health. His condition has been described as ranging from losing his vision and balance, to lack of sleep, to extreme weakness in his arms and legs, numbness in his hands and feet, and pain throughout his body.

On 30 July 2015, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, passed the Force-Feeding Law, which allows the court to order the force-feeding or administration of medical treatment if there is a threat to the inmate’s life, even if the prisoner refuses. 

Adalah, an Arab rights group in Israel, describes force-feeding as ‘a serious violation of the prisoner’s right of dignity, bodily integrity, autonomy, privacy, the right to refuse medical treatment and the right to political expression.’

Considered a form of torture, in the past force-feeding has claimed the lives of 3 Palestinian prisoners. 

The government called for the possibility of force-feeding Allan, but medical staff at Soroka Hospital, where he was admitted, refused to perform this, citing international standards governing patient autonomy. Despite his serious decline in health, he was transferred to Barzilai Hospital on 10 August.

Dr Hezi Levy, the head of Barzilai Hospital, reassured Knesset member Ahmed Tibi that they might try to convince Allan end his hunger strike or agree to medical checkups or interventions, and that the doctors will do what is necessary should he lose consciousness, ‘but will never force-feed him, since doing so violates the Tokyo and Malta Conventions’.

On 14 August, after 59 days with nothing but water, Allan went into a coma, and was placed on life support and administered minerals and nutrients. On 18 August, he came out of it, prepared to continue with his strike.

The following day, Allan ended his hunger strike after Israel’s Supreme Court suspended his administrative detention. 

Addameer’s fear is that the suspension does not necessarily mean a cancellation. When and if Allan’s medical condition improves, he can be detained once again.   

Allan’s attorney conveyed a message from the Palestinian prisoner: ‘Administrative detention returns us to slavery, and therefore I refuse to be a slave to anyone. The truth is that I currently prefer hunger as long as freedom is the goal in the absence of law in Israeli courts. So, I found myself forced to fight this battle.’

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