Palestinian enters unchartered territory with 89-day hunger strike
Published 23/02/2016 | 07:26
A 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 has said.
Mohammed al-Qeq, 33, a long-time activist in the Islamic militant Hamas group, is under observation at an Israeli hospital, but has refused all treatment unless he is released.
A doctor who visited him earlier this month described his condition as "extremely grave" and said he could barely speak or hear.
His protest highlights Israel's divisive practice of holding hundreds of Palestinians without charge or trial, usually over unspecified allegations of involvement in militant activities.
Al-Qeq began his hunger strike on November 25 to win release from so-called administrative detention. Israel says the tactic is an important security tool, especially at a time of increased Israeli-Palestinian violence.
His fate was raised in recent top-level meetings, including talks on Sunday between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and US secretary of state John Kerry.
Nickolay Mladenov, the international peace envoy to the Middle East, told the UN Security Council last week he was "deeply concerned" about al-Qeq and demanded that all administrative detainees held by Israel - 584 as of December - be charged or released.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, an advocacy group, said al-Qeq has been on hunger strike longer than any other Palestinian detainee or any of the participants in 1981 protest strikes by IRA prisoners held by Britain in Northern Ireland.
Ten of the Northern Ireland hunger strikers died after extended fasts, the longest lasting 73 days. The previous longest hunger strikes by Palestinian detainees were 66 and 67 days.
Al-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.
Al-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 fight the possibility of repeated open-ended detentions.
"It is true, his life is at risk, but what is the alternative?" she said.
Doctor Mahmoud Mahamid, who visited al-Qeq at the Israeli hospital on February 4, said that day that he had "reiterated his refusal to be examined or treated as long as he is not released". Dr Mahamid said they communicated by exchanging notes.
A hospital spokeswoman said she was not allowed to discuss al-Qeq's condition.
Earlier this month, Israel's Supreme Court suspended al-Qeq's detention, leaving him in legal uncertainty.
Kadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club, said al-Qeq's lawyers demand that Israel set a firm release date of May 21, and are awaiting an Israeli response.
Israel alleges that al-Qeq was involved in militant activities linked to Hamas.