Force-feeding Muhammad Allan could kill him, rights groups warn

Palestinians rally in support of Muhammad Allan in Gaza City on 8 August.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Muhammad Allan was on his 54th day of hunger strike on Monday, three days after the Israel Prison Service told his lawyer that they intended to request court authorization to force-feed him.

Allan, a lawyer from the northern occupied West Bank city of Nablus, is on open-ended hunger strike to protest his detention without charge or trial since his arrest in early November last year.

Allan was transferred from the intensive care unit in Soroka medical center to Barzilai hospital, both in the south of present-day Israel, early Monday.

Doctors in Soroka refused to force-feed Allan, but the hospital’s ethical committee authorized forced examinations on him, the human rights groups Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel stated Monday.

“Form of torture”

As of Monday, doctors at Barzilai hospital had not subjected Allan to force-feeding, though its director stated on Monday that if the hunger striker’s condition seriously deteriorated, the center may intervene “to save his life.”

The hospital director, Dr. Hezi Levy, told Israel Army Radio, as reported by the daily Haaretz, that “We are going to work according to the Israeli Patient Rights Act, and what our ethics allow.”

The patient rights act prohibits force-feeding, and the Israel Medical Association protested legislation passed last month that authorizes the procedure with a court order.

Haaretz added that the chairman of the association’s ethics division told Israel Army Radio on Monday that “Force-feeding is a brutal, forceful and invasive step that can kill the prisoner,” adding that ”You can rip the esophagus or mistakenly introduce food into his lung and cause him to die. … Force-feeding is a form of torture, and it is forbidden.”

The World Medical Association condemned the practice in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling it “a degrading, inhumane treatment, amounting to torture.”

Cuffed to hospital bed

Jawad Boulos, director of the legal unit of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, visited Allan and told the Arabic-language Quds news site that the prisoner is being detained in the intensive care ward, surrounded by six guards, and his right leg and left hand are cuffed to his hospital bed.

Boulos said that he had met with the chief of the intensive care unit and the hospital’s medical staff supervisor, and was informed that staff were not ready to force-feed Allan.

Though Allan’s health has deteriorated, Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel stated today that “there is no justification for any forced treatment or force-feeding, since he is still mentally competent, understands his condition and the implications of his situation; he is able to engage in discussion and has expressed his will not to be examined or treated.”

The rights groups added: “Any medical coercion on Allan despite his refusal may cause the opposite effect and result in severe health problems and even potentially jeopardize Allan’s life, as evident in Israel’s previous attempts to force-feed Palestinian hunger strikers during the 1980s, which resulted in several deaths.”

Wider rebellion

Meanwhile, a wider rebellion in Israeli prisons continued on Monday with three Palestinian factions — Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Islamic Jihad — vowing to escalate an ongoing campaign of disobedience in Israel’s Rimon and Nafha prisons.

“The campaign of disobedience comes after days of chaos inside the southern Israeli jails, where nearly 200 Palestinians went on hunger strike to protest their treatment at the hands of the Israel Prison Service,” the Ma’an News Agency reported.

“On Monday, after six days refusing food, around 120 Fatah-affiliated [prisoners] agreed to suspend their hunger strike for a period of two weeks following talks with the Israel Prison Service,” the agency added.

At the beginning of July, Israel was holding 5,442 Palestinian political prisoners and detainees, as well as nearly 1,000 Palestinians held for entering Israel “illegally,” according to statistics compiled by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.