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Palestinian hunger striker wakes from coma, vows to continue protest

Mohammed Allaan has refused food for two months, demanding release from detention without charge by Israeli authorities

A Palestinian political prisoner on a hunger strike to protest his detention without charge or trial was brought out of sedation in an Israeli hospital on Tuesday and vowed to continue his fast, one of his lawyers said.

Mohammed Allaan, accused of working with the armed group Islamic Jihad, has refused food, vitamins and medical treatment for two months. His condition is being closely monitored by opposing forces in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, amid concerns that tensions may boil over into new violence if he dies.

Allaan had been sedated and given medication intravenously at Barzilai Medical Center in southern Israel since Friday, after doctors said his condition deteriorated sharply. On Tuesday, doctors at the hospital reported an improvement in his condition. They took him off a respirator and cut his sedation and said that he was conscious and communicating.

Jawad Bolus, the head of the legal department for the Palestinian Prisoner Club, which is advocating on Allaan’s behalf, said in a statement that he visited the hospital on Tuesday and heard Allaan “stress that he was pursuing his hunger strike.”

Bolus said Allaan instructed the medical staff to halt intravenous treatment but then agreed vitamins could be administered until a court hearing on Wednesday. Allaan told doctors that unless a solution was found to his plight within 24 hours, “he would stop taking anything, including vitamins and water,” Bolus said.

Confrontations erupted last week outside Barzilai between Palestinians and Israelis. Dozens of Palestinian activists in East Jerusalem have launched a sit-in at the International Committee of the Red Cross, calling for Allaan’s release, among other demands. Islamic Jihad has threatened attacks against Israel if he dies.

At a hearing in Israel's Supreme Court on Monday on his petition for unconditional release, the Justice Ministry said it would consider freeing him if he agreed to be exiled abroad for four years.

His lawyers rejected the proposal, saying Allaan poses no security threat, and the court, urging the sides to negotiate, scheduled another session for Wednesday. 

Allaan has suggested he will end his hunger strike if he is released in time for Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday likely to fall on Sept. 23, Haaretz reported one of his lawyers as saying. His current detention order, if not renewed, ends in November. 

Allaan, 30, was arrested in November in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and has since been held in administrative detention — a controversial form of imprisonment that allows Israeli authorities to detain individuals indefinitely without charge, trial or access to counsel if are deemed a security threat.

International law allows administrative detention only in the most exceptional cases, “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation,” according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Palestinians and human rights groups accuse Israel of using the measure too liberally.

Since Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, its military has placed thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention. At the end of June 2015, there were 370 Palestinians in Israeli prisons classified as such, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

A controversial law passed on July 30 in Israel’s Knesset grants authorities the legal right to force-feed Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike. However, Israel’s medical community has vowed not to participate in such actions, saying that doing so would be a breach of the Hippocratic Oath.

“Forced feeding is equivalent to torture, and every physician has the right to refuse to force-feed a hunger striker,” the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) states in its Physician’s Guide to Treating the Detainee/Prisoner on a Hunger Strike.

IMA chairman Leonid Eidelman said, “Anyone who has seen how [force-feeding] is performed on one who is conscious and one who is opposed to and fighting it” would agree it’s “torture.” 

According to the 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, which medical associations around the world heed, “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”

AJ+ sat down with Khader Adnan, a high-profile former Palestinian prisoner who repeatedly went on hunger strikes in prison to protest an Israeli policy that allows detainment without charge or trial

The Israeli government sees Allaan’s hunger strike as a powerful challenge to its continued use of administrative detentions, and it fears that his unconditional release would only encourage several hundred other Palestinian detainees to follow suit.

On Tuesday more than 200 Palestinian detainees at a Negev prison launched a mass hunger strike to protest their administrative detention, Ma’an News reported.

For Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, hunger strikes have become a popular and sometimes successful form of protest against their detention. In July, Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan, who was also held in administrative detention for alleged ties to Islamic Jihad, was freed after his 54-day hunger strike ignited protests across the Palestinian territories and garnered international attention, including pressure from various human rights groups.

Al Jazeera and wire services. Ehab Zahriyeh contributed to this report.

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