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Hunger striker moved to intensive care ahead of court decision over force feeding

Dec. 19, 2016 8:44 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 21, 2016 12:52 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner Anas Shadid was transferred to the intensive care unit of Israel’s Assaf Harofeh hospital following a severe deterioration of his health on Monday, a day before the Israeli Supreme Court is set to decide whether or not to force feed Shadid and fellow hunger striker Ahmad Abu Farah.

Shadid and Abu Farah were both detained on Aug. 1 and have been on hunger strike since Sept. 24 and Sept. 23 respectively, in protest of their imprisonment without charge or trial under Israel’s widely-condemned policy of administrative detention.

Head of the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Qaraqe said in a statement Monday that Shadid and Abu Farah, who are both approaching their 90th day without food, suffer from various pains in their bodies and could face sudden death at any moment.

In a radio interview Monday evening, Qaraqe condemned the Israeli Supreme Court after they said in a pre-hearing discussion with the Israeli general prosecution Sunday that they were considering force feeding the two hunger strikers.

Qaraqe told Palestinian radio station Mawtini that such a move would represent a clear intention to kill Shadid and Abu Farah, describing the suggestion to force feed the two as “shameless.”

Qaraqe expressed outrage that Israel was mulling the possibility of force feeding, rather than considering the severity of the hunger strikers’ health by responding to the reasons that lead them to launch their strikes in the first place.

As Abu Farah and Shadid’s case is the first that has come to the fore since the Supreme Court approved of a new Israeli law that allows the force feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, Qaraqe noted that the practice still contravenes international law and is widely regarded by both international and Israeli medical ethics as a form of torture as well as a violation of prisoners’ rights.

Before the law’s eventual passage, the World Medical Association addressed the Israeli Prime Minister in 2014, saying that "Force-feeding is violent, very painful, and absolutely in opposition to the principle of individual autonomy. It is a degrading, inhumane treatment, amounting to torture. But worse, it can be dangerous and is the most unsuitable approach to save lives."

Qaraqe noted in the radio interview that the Israeli Supreme Court had postponed holding a session to look into the hunger strikers’ case, after the court said it did not trust reports from the medical staff at Assaf Harofeh hospital, where both Abu Farah and Shadid are being treated and held.

The Supreme Court instead hired a special doctor to make a new medical report on their medical conditions, expected to be presented on Tuesday when the court makes their ruling.

In addition to refusing food for nearly 90 days, Abu Farah and Shadid began refusing to consume water last Monday after the court rejected an prior appeal to release them, when Israeli prosecutors instead called for the extension of their administrative detention orders, which sparked the two prisoners’ hunger strikes in the first place.

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 last 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.”

Meanwhile, Ammar Ibrahim Hamour, 28, declared a hunger strike last month in protest of being held in administrative detention for more than nine months.

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.
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