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A Palestinian Journalist is Close to Death, 92 Days Into One of World's Longest Hunger Strikes

After three months without food, doctors warn that Palestinian prisoner Mohammed al Qiq risks organ failure and internal bleeding that could result in sudden death.
Mohammed al Qiq nel suo letto d'ospedale il 16 febbraio. Foto di Ariel Schalit/AP

Three months into his hunger strike, Mohammed al Qiq's form is skeletal. He writhes and groans in pain, his speech is slurred beyond recognition, his vision is fading, and he can no longer hear properly. All signs that he is slowly starving to death.

Qiq, a 33-year-old Palestinian reporter for a Saudi television network accused of belonging to Islamist group Hamas, was arrested by Israeli security forces in Ramallah on November 21. Four days later he began refusing food after being placed under an administrative detention order; a draconian measure that allows prisoners to be held indefinitely without knowing the charges or evidence against them.


Last week Israel's Supreme Court concluded after reviewing classified evidence that Qiq was "clearly a Hamas activist involved in militant terrorism." But while the court agreed to suspend the administrative detention order against him on health grounds, it refused a request to transfer Qiq to a West Bank closer to his wife and children who have not so far been permitted to visit him.

"This position makes no sense for any man with a brain, but it is the position of the Israelis," Qiq's lawyer Jawad Boulus told VICE News. "The moment that the court suspended the administrative detention order he was under he should be considered a free man and as a free man he has the choice which hospital to be in, where to live and where to die, but the court unfortunately does not share that point of view and effectively he is still detained."

In a video posted eight days ago, al Qiq is shown handcuffed to his hospital bed while clearly disorientated and in extreme pain.

Warning: This video contains distressing scenes

In a video-taped message released last week Qiq's wife, Fayha Shalash, called on international authorities to pressure the Israeli government to release her husband, who she described as a journalist who was just "doing his job."

Currently around 650 Palestinians are being held in under administrative detention orders. The measure has been criticized by the United Nations and European Union for its lack of due process.


Now at 92 days without food, Qiq's hunger strike is among the longest in the world.

While Qiq has twice been administered with minerals and vitamins intravenously — once after losing consciousness in early January — he has otherwise had only consumed water since his protest began.

Wide-ranging and varied circumstances of hunger strikes, including the age and physical health of the individual before they begin their fast, makes comparisons between protests difficult. But broadly speaking there are two categories of fasting. One where a protester will take only water, and the other where they will take minimal nutrients such as broths, vitamins supplements or drinks containing some nutrients.

Related: Saudi Arabia's Most Famous Blogger Is Now On a Hunger Strike in Prison

"Excluding these two interventions where he was delivered nutrients, Mohammed al Qiq falls into the first of these categories, so the impact on the body is much more extreme," Amany Dayif, Director of Prisoners and Detainees at Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights, told Vice News. "Medical literature shows that after 42 days without food the body starts to shut down. Organs begin to fail, there is a possibility of internal bleeding, that means there is a serious risk of collapse and sudden death. Mohammed al Qiq has not allowed doctors to examine him for several weeks now, so it's impossible to know what damage has been done inside, but it may well already be very serious."


Few others have survived such long periods without food. In 1981 Bobby Sands, a 27-year-old Irish Republican prisoner being held in British jail, died after 66 days on a diet of only water and salt. Nine other men also perished during the same hunger strike, with the last death occurring after 73 days of refusing food.

In 1998 a 68-day hunger strike by Barry Horne, an animal rights activist imprisoned in the UK for carrying out firebomb attacks, ended after he became so disorientated that he forgot why he was fasting. Horne accepted sips of tea and orange juice during his strike to try and stave off a coma but still lost sight in one eye and begun hallucinating.

Related: Environmental Activist Near Death After 65-Day Hunger Strike in Trinidad

Perhaps the longest hunger strike has been attributed to Bhagat Singh, a Indian socialist who was protested against the conditions of Indian prisoners in British-run jails. Singh's strike in 1929 reportedly lasted 116 days, but authorities occasionally managed to force feed him during the protest despite his efforts to resist. His fellow prisoner Jatindra Nath Das died after 63 days of fasting. Several other Indian independence activists also carried out hunger strikes in protest against British rule during the colonial period, including Mahatma Gandhi, whose longest fast lasted 21 days.

Palestinians also have a history of hunger strikes as a form of political protest, with the first mass fast in an Israeli jail reportedly being carried out in a Nablus jail in 1968. Further strikes were held intermittently throughout the 80s and 70s, with the largest strike in 1992 involving some 11,00 prisoners.


Over the years a handful of Palestinians have died in Israeli jails as a result of the fasting protests, but several others have secured their release. In August last year Israel agreed to release Mohammed Allan, an alleged member of militant group Islamic Jihad, after doctors warned a 65 day hunger strike had likely caused him brain and organ damage. Five other hunger striking Palestinians also reportedly reached similar deals to end their incarceration around the same time.

Related: Palestinian Hunger Striker Loses Consciousness, Testing Israel's 'Unethical' Force-Feeding Law

No such agreement has yet been reached in Qiq's case, however. Despite the recent release of some hunger striking prisoners, Israel has indicated that it is prepared to take tougher stance against prisoners that refuse food. In June last year the government passed a law permitting doctors to force feed hunger strikers if their lives were deemed to be at risk. The measure was backed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan who claimed that hunger strikes were tantamount to a "suicide attack", but so far doctors have refused to carry out the procedure which was branded "humiliating" and "bordering on torture" by the Israel Medical Association.

Commenting on Qiq's ongoing detention and rapidly deteriorating health, Dayif of Physicians for Human Rights called on the Israeli authorities to negotiate an end to the strike. "Time is running out, every day he goes without food the risk [of death] grows greater," she told VICE News. "At the moment there remains a chance he can be saved. But if something doesn't happen soon there's no doubt this case will have a tragic ending."

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem