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Rights Campaigners and Doctors Face Off With Israel Over Force-Feeding

As Palestinian hunger striker Mohammad Allan falls unconscious, physicians and advocates say only way to save his life is to release him

Maazouzeh Allan, mother of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allan, protests on Sunday against threats to force-feed her son. (Photo: AMIR COHEN / Reuters)

Maazouzeh Allan, mother of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allan, protests on Sunday against threats to force-feed her son. (Photo: AMIR COHEN / Reuters)

Just weeks after the Israeli government passed a widely-opposed law allowing the force-feeding of prisoners, administrative detainee Mohammad Allan, who has been on hunger strike for 60 days, slipped into a coma on Friday morning while shackled to his hospital bed.

Now, the unconscious 30-year-old Palestinian attorney from the village of Einabus, who has been incarcerated in Israeli custody for nearly a year without charge or trial, finds himself at the center of a growing controversy. The Israeli government is threatening to make Allan a test case for the country's new force-feeding laws and Israeli doctors are so far refusing to carry out the controversial practice, which is considered torture by United Nations experts.

Meanwhile, rights campaigners in Palestine and Israel say that if authorities are truly interested in saving Allan's life, they will release him.

Allan, currently on life support in Barzilai hospital in Askalan, reportedly suffered seizures and breathing difficulties before losing consciousness Friday morning. The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council, the Arab Association for Human Rights, Adalah, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said in a statement that Allan confirmed as recently as August 12 that "he seeks to live, but a life of dignity and freedom."

In a statement released last week, United Nations experts affirmed Allan's right to make this choice: "Hunger strikes are a non-violent form of protest used by individuals who have exhausted other forms of protest to highlight the seriousness of their situations. The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental human right."

The case is also pitting doctors against the Israeli state, whose lawmakers directly cited the U.S. practice of force-feeding people incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay when justifying the legislation. The Israeli Medical Association has opposed the legislation from the beginning—denouncing the force-feeding as torture, urging physicians not to participate, and currently challenging the law in the courts.

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Over the past week, Allan has been transferred to two hospitals, where ethics committees authorized a forced examination. But in each case, doctors refused, according to the Associated Press. At the intensive care unit at Soroka Hispital in Beersheva, doctors reportedly refused to force-feed Allan.

However, Israeli authorities have not yet turned to the courts to seek approval of force-feeding of Allan, and it is not yet clear what will happen in the likely event they take that route.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said in a statement released Friday: "Once Allan lost consciousness, medical ethics requires that his doctors act in accordance to their understanding of the patient's will and their discretion."

"The situation we are now facing could have been avoided," the group continued. "It is time for the Israeli political leadership to reach a decision to release Allan from administrative detention and enable his doctors to concentrate in fighting for his life."

Hunger strikes are a common tactic used to protest Israel's use of administrative detention, in which Palestinians are detained without charge or trial under a system of military law. According to Palestinian human rights organization Addameer, in April 2015 there were 5,800 political prisoners in Israeli jails, including 414 people in administrative detention.

Palestinian rights campaigners are closely watching Allan's case, with many charging that Israel has implemented the force-feeding law to further repress one of the few tools of protest these prisoners have left.

Meanwhile, Palestinian rights group Addameer warned Friday that Israel has escalated a crackdown on numerous prisons, declaring a state of alert and banning Palestinians from holding their Friday prayer amid growing outrage at Allan's treatment.

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