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Israeli Supreme Court mulls force feeding 2 Palestinian hunger strikers

Dec. 18, 2016 7:11 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 19, 2016 7:40 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- In a pre-hearing discussion with the Israeli general prosecution on Sunday, the Israeli Supreme Court suggested the possibility of force feeding hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners Anas Shadid and Ahmad Abu Farah, a decision that could amount to a violation of international law.

Their case is the first to come to the fore since the court decided in September that force feeding hunger strikers was constitutional, despite the practice of force feeding being regarded by internationally accepted medical ethics as a form of torture.

The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has said that if the law were upheld, Israeli doctors would be instructed to ignore it, while the Supreme Court justices argued at the time of their ruling that the issue of hunger strikers was “complex,” and transcended ordinary patients’ rights.

Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs head Issa Qaraqe said in a statement on Sunday that the court had decided to postpone issuing a final decision on force-feeding Shadid and Abu Farah until Tuesday, after hiring a doctor to present a medical report on the hunger strikers’ medical conditions.

Shadid, 20, and Abu Farah, 29, have gone without food for 86 and 87 days, respectively, and also began refusing to consume water on Monday.

Their decision to refuse water came after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal to release them, while Israeli prosecutors instead called for the extension of their administrative detention orders -- the Israeli policy of internment without charge or trial that sparked the two prisoners’ hunger strikes in the first place.

Their lawyers have also reported continued incidents of guards forcibly searching the hunger strikers’ belongings and threatening them, while the two have also periodically been moved from room to room without explanation by the hospital.

Further appeals for their immediate release were issued last Thursday and Friday, with the international organization Physicians for Human Rights saying releasing the Abu Farah and Shadid from Israeli detention would be the only way to save their lives.

Meanwhile, Ammar Ibrahim Hamour, 28 declared a hunger strike last month in protest of being held in administrative detention for more than nine months. He is currently being held in solitary confinement in Israel’s Ashkelon prison.

Israel’s use of administrative detention -- which rights groups say is means to hold Palestinians for an indefinite period of time without showing any evidence that could justify their detentions -- has sparked a number of high-profile hunger strikes by Palestinian detainees in recent months, with many of them reporting being threatened with force feeding.

Israeli authorities have waited until the last minute to agree to release hunger strikers who were nearing death, as was the case with the Balboul brothers who went without food for 77 and 79 days, Malik al-Qadi for 68 days, Bilal Kayid for 71 days, and Muhammad al-Qiq for 94 days.

According to Physicians For Human Rights - Israel (PHRI), the ethics committee of the hospital that held former hunger strikers Malik al-Qadi and Muhammad Balboul recommended forcing treatment on the prisoners, though the hospital’s medical staff refused to force treat the hunger strikers against their will.

PHRI said on Monday that the eleventh hour release pattern that has emerged “enables the Israeli authorities to deal on a case-by-case basis with hunger strikers, avoid their death and the resultant political and media firestorm, while not needing to deal with the root of the hunger strikes -- the use of administrative detention.”

“Yet waiting until the last minute may at some point result in loss of life: medical literature on hunger striking is not extensive, but as of 42 days there exists the threat of strokes, kidney failure, as well as other organ failure, cardiac arrest, and heart attack.”

The issue of medical ethics in Israeli prisons has been the target of condemnation in the past, with rights groups having said that Israeli doctors working in prisons are complicit in torture in their approval of the use of solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, a plan proposed by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in September aims to transform part of Israel’s Ayalon prison into a hospital exclusively for Palestinian political prisoners, Israeli media reported at the time, in order to “counteract prisoners who try to receive early parole by going on hunger strikes.”
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