‘If My Son Dies, It Will Be Worse Than the Intifada'

A conversation with the father of Mohammed Allaan, who is in the third month of a hunger strike, begun to protest his administrative detention.

Gideon Levy
Alex Levac
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Nasser a-Din Allaan. If he could, he would advise his son to continue his hunger strike. Credit: Alex Levac
Gideon Levy
Alex Levac

High up in a village on the slope of a hill, south of Nablus, at the end of a path that cuts through a yard with flourishing fruit trees, there’s a small house. Inside the house, on day 64 of the hunger strike of Mohammed Allaan – earlier this week, before his condition deteriorated – is his father, Nasser a-Din Allaan.

He himself is barely eating or sleeping, he says. He’s haunted by the image of his comatose son, Mohammed, with countless tubes protruding from his body in the intensive care unit of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. All his efforts to erase the image from his memory have been fruitless. His one attempt to get to the hospital two weeks ago was equally fruitless. The soldiers at Qalandiyah, the main checkpoint between Jerusalem and the northern West Bank, rejected his request – rudely, says Nasser a-Din.

“Why am I barred? Because of my beard? I’m 68 and I’ve never been arrested.” He hasn’t made another attempt to enter Israel since then. His wife, Aziza, has been out of the house for a month, traveling between Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva and the Ashkelon facility, in the wake of their son. The last time she saw him, last Saturday, after he went into convulsions, lost consciousness and was put on a respirator, she left the room after about 10 minutes, even though she had permission to stay for an hour.

Nasser a-Din is proud of his son. If he could, he would advise him to continue his hunger strike. The physicians, he says, should behave according to ethical and professional criteria, not according to the orders of the Israeli government and security authorities. He hopes his son will come out of the ordeal alive, but is far from sure of it. The consequences of his death are liable to be worse than the intifada, he says.

Married to two women and the father of 10 children, bearded and wearing a large embroidered skullcap, Nasser a-Din Allaan has been healing illnesses with herbs for decades. Cancer, kidney and liver ailments, also infertility. His methods are known in Soroka, he says. Mohammed, his son, lives in a house down the road with his mother, Aziza, Nasser a-Din’s first wife.

Mohammed studied law at the Arab American University of Jenin. During his studies, he was arrested by Israel, tried and sentenced, in 2006, to three years in prison for being active in Islamic Jihad. After his release he completed his studies, clerked and opened a law practice in Nablus with a branch in his home in the nearby village of Einabus – “spring of the kiss.”

Mohammed was about to become a partner in a Ramallah law firm before he was arrested again last November. According to his father, his expertise lies in petitions against the Palestinian Authority. He’s considered a successful lawyer, his father adds. The photograph of the 31-year-old bachelor now hangs on the wall of his father’s home, as it does in a few other places – not all that many – in the village.

The village’s most famous son was arrested on November 1, 2014, in the middle of the night, in his home, and since then has been incarcerated without being brought to trial. When he finished serving his first six-month period of “administrative detention,” his parents waited for him at the Qalandiyah checkpoint. Finally they were informed by the International Red Cross that Mohammed had been given another six months in prison without a trial. That’s when he launched his hunger strike.

“He knew that if he did not go on strike, he would spend his life in prison,” his father says. “He said that if there’s evidence against him, he’s ready to go on trial. But they made do with general accusations, that he supports Islamic Jihad. Does anyone like to be suffocated? Is there anyone who accepts being suffocated?”

Nasser a-Din picks a few dates from a tree in the grove and serves them. They have a sweet taste. He hasn’t seen his son since his arrest – only his mother and his sister were allowed to visit him in prison, and then only twice in the course of half a year. “[Linking] my son and ISIS is like saying Hamas and Israel are in the same boat,” he says about the allegation that his son is active in global jihad. He admits that at first his son was seduced by “the lies of ISIS,” as he puts it, but that when the massacres and murders began, especially those perpetrated against Palestinian refugees in Yarmuk camp in Syria, his son changed his mind completely. “ISIS became Satan,” his father says.

He is against the force-feeding of his son; any doctor who does that, he says, will be ejected from the Israeli Medical Association and will be considered a war criminal by the international community. “We knew what was happening with him until he was moved to Barzilai,” Nasser a-Din says. “He was under the supervision of the Red Cross and of jurists. Now we don’t know what’s going on. The problem is the director of Barzilai. At first he announced that he would take in Mohammed and force-feed him. Then, under pressure from the doctors in the hospital and the IMA, he changed his mind. Now I expect the doctors will do their work professionally, according to their ethical principles. I expect them to take other measures and wake him from his coma and then ask him, ‘Do you want to stop your hunger strike?’ If he says no, they should put him back to sleep and treat him. I know that’s dangerous, but there’s no other way.”

On Tuesday, Mohammed Allaan woke from his coma and stated he would continue his hunger strike.

Ask Netanyahu

Nasser a-Din says he is not surprised by his son’s determination, but his physical endurance does amaze him. He didn’t think he would keep up the hunger strike so long. What will happen if he dies?

“You have to ask [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that question. He has to prepare for the consequences. Does he think he is acting logically? My son lost consciousness, not because he wanted to, but Netanyahu lost awareness willingly. If Mohammed dies, life will be nothing for me. If my son dies, justice will die. Humaneness will die. The conscience of the international community will disappear, and whatever response comes will not be the fault of the Palestinians. The international community, which did nothing to save Mohammed, will bear the responsibility. An intifada? Possibly. Or maybe something bigger than an intifada. Only God knows what will happen if Mohammed dies.

“During Ramadan, we fast for part of the day, and it’s hard,” he continues. “Mohammed has been fasting for more than 60 days. I can’t stop thinking about him, especially not about that scene in Barzilai. I’m trying constantly to forget that picture, but it haunts me. I’m trying to treat myself, to forget Mohammed’s fate for a moment and relax. But it’s not working.

“I want to speak to the Israeli people in religious terms, from the viewpoint of the Koran and the Torah. We are all human beings, flesh and blood. If a Jew were in Mohammed’s place, I would treat him like a human being. But the religious Jews have lost the principles of the Torah. The Torah students know the truth but have fallen silent. They read the Torah every day and they are silent. If the true Jews and the true Muslims would meet, there would be no problems. Don’t believe the settlers who say they’re killing in the name of the Torah. The Torah says other things. The Israelis need to listen to the true words of the Torah, not to Netanyahu and his spokespeople. Netanyahu will lead his people to hell.”

He is convinced that one of the reasons Mohammed was moved to Ashkelon is the hostile, violent atmosphere that he says prevails in that city. His wife felt much more comfortable in Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, where hooligans did not demonstrate every evening against their son’s release.

Asked what he would advise Mohammed, he says, “Obviously, as a father, I would prefer to have him to myself. But I would advise him not to stop the hunger strike. No. Never. He reached this stage because he was arrested with no charges. One day I will ask for compensation for the damage that was done to my son. I have a question for you: If your son were told that his administrative detention was being renewed, after all the suffering, and he would have to go back to the closed circle of punishment without trial, would you accept that?”

“No,” I replied.

“Halas,” he said, “there’s nothing more to say.”