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Hunger strike puts Israel under fire to curb detention without trial

Aug. 23, 2015 11:41 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2015 3:27 P.M.)
An Israeli officer patrols Issawiya on Aug. 19, 2015, following a demonstration in support of Mohammed Allan. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli/File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- A Palestinian prisoner's hunger strike has sparked new calls for Israel to curb its use of administrative detention under which prisoners may be held without trial indefinitely.

Mohammed Allan, 31, ended his 66-day hunger strike on Thursday after Israel's top court suspended his administrative detention. He entered a coma twice before the hunger strike was through.

The lawyer, who Israel claimed was a member of the militant group Islamic Jihad, had been held since November and has reportedly vowed to resume fasting if the courts reinstate administrative detention against him.

The measure allows internment without trial for six-month intervals that can be renewed indefinitely.

Israeli officials claim it is an essential tool in preventing attacks and protecting sensitive intelligence because it allows authorities to keep evidence secret.

However, it has been strongly criticised by the international community as well as both Israeli and Palestinian rights activists.

They say that international law allows for such detention only under extreme circumstances, but that Israel uses it as a punitive measure on a routine basis to circumvent the justice system or as a crutch to avoid trial.

Activists have called on Israeli authorities to charge or release those held under administrative detention.

"Our research into the way Israel uses administrative detention vis-a-vis Palestinians concludes that Israel violates this very narrow allowance and uses it in a very wide, extensive way," said Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for Israeli rights group B'Tselem.

This is "unacceptable legally and morally", she said.

According to B'Tselem, some 370 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, compared to three suspected Jewish extremists.

The Jewish suspects were detained following international outcry over the July 31 firebombing of a Palestinian family home that killed an 18-month-old toddler and his father.

Rights groups have also criticised those moves, pressing authorities to follow due process.

Israeli officials did not respond to request for comment on Sunday, but Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon last week defended the practice.

"Administrative detention of an Arab or a Jew is a Draconian step, but when there is no choice, you need to protect yourself," he said.

"One needs to be very, very careful, but I have no doubt that we have put the right people into administrative detention."

Palestinian protesters take part in a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 19, 2015, in solidarity with Mohammed Allan, a Palestinian detainee held without charge and who went on hunger strike. (AFP/Abbas Momani/File)

'Ticking bombs'

Administrative detention dates back to British-mandated Palestine, though Israeli military law is used almost exclusively for cases involving Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The degree of its use has varied, with the number of detainees skyrocketing during the First and Second Intifadas, or Palestinian uprisings.

Detainees have been held for between six months and several years.

Many Palestinians have gone on hunger strike to protest the policy, though few have continued as long as Allan's.

In July, another Palestinian prisoner, Khader Adnan, was released after a 56-day hunger strike to protest his administrative detention that brought him close to death.

It was the second time Adnan had gone on hunger strike against the policy, after a 66-day hunger strike in 2012 that also led to his release.

Detainees are allowed to appeal to the courts, but activists say the chances of having their detainment overturned are extremely slim.

A recent example cited by rights groups is the case of Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian legislator first held under administrative detention before later being charged in military court after international outcry.

While the 12 charges against her have been criticised as well, rights groups have raised the question as to why administrative detention was necessary at all.

In the case of Allan, it is not possible to know details of the accusations against him.

Last week, Israeli security forces issued a statement saying he was arrested in November due to alleged contacts with an Islamic Jihad "terrorist" with the aim of carrying out large-scale attacks.

He was also detained between 2006-2009 for allegedly seeking to recruit suicide bombers and providing assistance to wanted Palestinians, the statement said, although it offered no evidence to support any of the allegations.

His lawyer said he was never informed of the recent allegations against him, and his friends describe him as religious, but not radical.

They have also said that's Allan's main focus was his career as a lawyer, although they noted that he may have drawn attention to himself by defending Hamas and Islamic Jihad members detained by Palestinian Authority forces.

Allan's hunger strike sparked debate among Israelis as well, with some arguing that he should have been force-fed under a law passed last month allowing for the practice.

Far-right Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel was among those who argued for force-feeding but he, too, said administrative detention was being overused, saying that the measure should only be employed in cases of "ticking bombs."

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.

A Palestinian youth walks on a concrete wall decorated with slogans and drawings in support of Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allan, who went on on a long-term hunger strike, on August 20, 2015 in Gaza City. (AFP/Mohammed Abd/File)
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