High Court orders release of hunger-striker from administrative detention

Doctors say Allan suffered brain damage and his Lawyer announces strike is over as prisoner returns to coma.

A handout supporting a Palestinian hunger striker. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A handout supporting a Palestinian hunger striker.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The High Court of Justice ordered the release of Palestinian prisoner and hunger-striker Muhammad Allan from his administrative detention Wednesday night due to his deteriorating medical condition, including the revelation Wednesday afternoon that his brain had been damaged.
A spokeswoman for the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, where Allan is being treated, said he had returned to a coma late Wednesday evening following a deterioration in his condition.
A lawyer for Allan told Reuters that the detainee had ended his 65-day hunger strike on Wednesday night following the High Court ruling.
Amnesty against force-feeding hunger stikers
“The story is over, administrative detention is canceled, and therefore there is no strike,” said lawyer Jameel Khatib.
But a hospital spokeswoman said it would not have been possible for Allan to make such a decision, since he was not conscious or aware of his surroundings.
Allan, 31, had been on a hunger strike following his detention by security forces, which have yet to charge him with a crime. On Tuesday he awoke from his coma and vowed to continue the hunger strike, rejecting an offer of deportation from the state.
In the court ruling, Deputy High Court President Elyakim Rubinstein and justices Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel held that due to his health situation, Allan’s family members could visit him on an unrestricted basis, as if he were not a detainee.
Nonetheless, the High Court left Allan’s ultimate fate somewhat open, saying that if he wished to transfer from Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center to another hospital, or to otherwise leave custody at some point, he would need to seek the state’s permission.
That could easily result in either Allan or the state petitioning the High Court again over his situation if and when he recovers – though the state might refrain from doing so, since it already offered to free him in November.
The decision followed a flurry of developments throughout the day in a saga that has dominated domestic headlines and attracted the attention of many global players in recent weeks.
With his potential release in the balance for most of the day, a dispute raged between the state and supporters of Allan over the extent of his apparent brain damage from lack of food.
Earlier in the day, doctors treating the suspected Islamic Jihad activist carried out an MRI exam on him and then confirmed he had brain damage.
Barzilai Medical Center director Dr. Hezi Levy said it was not clear whether the brain damage was permanent.
Shortly after this announcement, it appeared that the High Court hearing weighing a petition for Allan’s release had failed to result in a decision, since the state said it would free him if he were proven to be suffering from irreversible brain damage, but disputed whether he had reached that point.
At that hearing, the state’s representative, Yochi Ginsin, told the court that Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer “did not evaluate the findings [regarding Allan’s brain damage] the same as Barzilai evaluated them; the picture is not unambiguous regarding whether there is brain damage or not.”
Pressed by the justices, Ginsin said that while Allan’s cognitive activity was clearly impaired, it was unclear whether the impairment “was irreversible or reversible, and if it was reversible, how long it would take him to return to normal.”
At the same hearing, Dr. Daniel Ya’acobson provided a nuanced description of Allan’s condition.
“There is damage...some of the symptoms seem to be reversible and some seem to be irreversible,” he said. “Use of his eyes... could return in a few days, his inability to speak and his disconnect from his surroundings, this could take months.”
Allan’s lawyer Kamal Naatur said, “There is no doubt that there is damage, and even if he returns to being himself, this will take months, as we just heard in the courtroom.”
He added, “It is very unfortunate that we arrived at this point that there is a human being with damage that could be substantial” and that could have been avoided if he were not in detention.
However, Melcer shot back that “this is not a result of his detention, sir. There is damage as a result of his hunger strike that he undertook.”
Naatur responded that the legality of the administrative detention was the core issue in dispute.
Ahead of the court’s ruling, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote on Twitter that “it’s absurd to petition demanding to release a person because of his health condition, which was self-inflicted.”
Releasing Allan would set a dangerous precedent, and create a new tool for security prisoners to use in their protests against Israel and to secure concessions, Erdan said.
“If Allan is released, it will lead to a mass hunger strike among security prisoners and would be a new weapon in the hands of terrorists,” he said.
Before the hearing, the state offered to release the prisoner in early November if he agreed to end his life-threatening protest.
According to Allan’s attorneys, the state made the offer just before Wednesday’s hearing before the High Court.
Naatur had told Army Radio earlier Wednesday that he would recommend that his client accept the state’s offer.
“I think that under these circumstances, this offer is realistic, and it would be best for him to accept it,” he said. “This is the offer that I expected to receive, but I can’t predict, given his condition, whether he will accept it or not.”
He added, “I think the offer will be acceptable to the members of Knesset from the Joint [Arab] List.”
Ben Hartman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report