Ariel Schalit / AP Photo

Palestinian detainee on hunger strike reaches 89 days

Journalist in Israeli custody surpasses previous hunger strikes by Palestinian and Irish prisoners

Palestinian detainee has entered uncharted medical territory with a hunger strike of 89 days — longer than protest fasts by other Palestinians or by prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1981, an advocacy group said Monday.

Mohammed Al-Qeq, a news reporter for Saudi channel Al Majd, is under observation at an Israeli hospital, but has refused all treatment unless he is released from Israeli custody.

A doctor who visited him earlier this month described his condition as "extremely grave" and said Qeq, 33, could barely speak or even hear.

Qeq's protest highlights Israel's administrative detention law — a controversial form of imprisonment that allows Israeli authorities to detain individuals indefinitely without charge or trial if they are deemed a security threat.

Qeq began his hunger strike on Nov. 24, three days after he was arrested without charge. Israel's Shin Bet security agency alleges that the West Bank resident and father of two has “incited” violence and is involved in “terrorist activities” linked to the armed group Hamas. Qeq has denied the allegations.

Qeq's fate was raised in recent top-level meetings, including talks Sunday between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Nickolay Mladenov, the international peace envoy to the Middle East, told the U.N. Security Council last week that he is "deeply concerned" about Qeq and demanded that all administrative detainees held by Israel — 584 as of December — be either charged or released.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, an advocacy group, said Monday that Qeq has been on a hunger strike longer than any other Palestinian detainee or any of the participants in 1981 protest strikes by Irish Republican Army prisoners held by Britain in Northern Ireland.

Ten of the Irish hunger strikers died after extended fasts, the longest lasting 73 days. The previous two longest hunger strikes by Palestinian detainees were 66 and 67 days.

Qeq is in "unknown territory" medically because of the length of his fast, said Amani Dayif of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

"All medical literature depends on experiences from the past, and in all the experiences, there is no case of any hunger striker who has taken the Irish model, only drinking water, for this long," she said.

Qeq twice received dietary supplements against his wishes or while unconscious, for a total of five days, according to his wife, Faiha. She said he refused all supplements when he regained consciousness.

She said she supports her husband's decision to continue the strike and avert the possibility of repeated open-ended detentions.

"It is true, his life is at risk, but what is the alternative?" she said.

Dr. Mahmoud Mahamid, who visited Qeq at the Israeli hospital on Feb. 4, said that day that Qeq "reiterated his refusal to be examined or treated as long as he is not released." Mahamid said they communicated by exchanging notes.

A hospital spokeswoman said she was not allowed to discuss Qeq's condition.

Earlier this month, Israel's Supreme Court suspended Qeq's detention, leaving him in legal uncertainty.

Kadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, said Monday that Qeq's lawyers demand that Israel set a firm release date of May 21, and are awaiting an Israeli response.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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