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Israel passes law allowing force feeding of prisoners

July 30, 2015 1:20 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 6, 2015 11:05 P.M.)
A Palestinian hunger striker lies in an ICRC tent in Gaza City in 2014.(AFP/File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The Israeli parliament approved Thursday a law allowing prisoners on hunger strike facing death to be force fed, a spokesman said, sparking criticism from rights groups and medical experts.

The law, which seeks to prevent imprisoned Palestinian prisoners from pressuring Israel by refusing food, was initially approved in June 2014 at the height of a mass hunger strike of Palestinian detainees, during which dozens were hospitalized.

While the law does not specifically mention Palestinians, Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who led the legislation, said it was necessary since "hunger strikes of terrorists in prisons have become a means to threaten Israel."

The law, which passed by 46 votes to 40, "will be used only if a doctor determines that the continued hunger strike will create an immediate risk to the life of a prisoner or long-term damage to his health," David Amsalem of the ruling Likud party said.

A Knesset press statement said a court will have to review the "prisoner’s mental state, the dangers of force-feeding via a feeding tube and its invasiveness, the prisoner’s stance on the matter and other considerations."

The court may grant requests to force feed if the prisoner is at risk of doing irreversible damage to their body, or endangering their life.

The statement said that Israeli officials must have used "all means at their disposal" to persuade the prisoner to willing ending their strike before resorting to force-feeding.

But opposition members decried the new measure, with the Joint List party criticizing "a law to torture Palestinian prisoners, aimed at uprooting their legitimate struggle".

Left-wing Hadash party member Dov Khenin said the law was"cruel, dangerous and unnecessary,”a Knesset press release said.

"No hunger-striking prisoner has ever died in the State of Israel, but 50 prisoners who were force-fed did die. This law kills, and it permits things that are prohibited according to international norms.”

The Israeli Medical Association called the law "damaging and unnecessary," stressing on Thursday its doctors would "continue to act according to medical ethics, which prohibit doctors from participating in torturing prisoners".

It said force feeding was "tantamount to torture".

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said the "shameful" law revealed the "anti-democratic face" of the Israeli parliament, saying they would continue to oppose the law and its implementation, and "support anyone who will refuse to obey the law".

Spokeswomen for both organisations said they were considering filing petitions at the high court against the law.

Palestinian prisoner rights group Addameer said the law was a way to provide "legal cover" to Israel's torture of prisoners, saying it would allow it "to kill more Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike" on top of the five who have died due to force feeding in Israeli prisons in the past.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the majority of prisoners who go on hunger strike are Palestinians in administrative detention, under which they are held for renewable six-month periods without charge.

A spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service said there was currently one Palestinian held on administrative detention and four "security prisoners" who had been on hunger strike for over a week.

Israel recently released Khader Adnan following a 56-day hunger strike. His strike, which brought him near death by the time it concluded last month, was the second he had undertaken, following a 66-day long hunger strike in 2012 that also ended in his release.

Around 5,750 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli jails, over 400 of whom are held under administrative detention.

As of last week, four prisoners were on hunger strike against the policy, including Uday Isteiti, 24, and Muhammad Allan, 33, who had entered the 35th day of the strike at the time.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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