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Prisoner on hunger strike tests new Israeli law allowing force-feeding

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Majdi Mohammed/AP

(Read caption) Palestinian girls, from left, Ghofran, Lane, and Mary, stand by the poster showing their uncle Mohammed Allan at the family house in the village of Einabus, near the West Bank city of Nablus, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015. Allan has been 56 days on a hungers strike protesting one year long administrative detention by the Israeli authorities. Arabic on the poster reads: " No to the administrative detention.

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An imprisoned Palestinian lawyer who started a hunger strike 60 days ago in response to his indefinite detention without known charges by Israeli authorities has reignited debate on the ethics of force feeding inmates, The New York Times reported.

The prisoner, Mohammed Allan, whose condition is now stable according to the medical spokeswoman at Barzilai Medical Center where he is being treated, was treated after his health severely deteriorated, the Times reported.

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So far, no doctor has agreed to conduct force feeding on Allan, according to the Times.

Last month, Israel's parliament passed a law allowing the force-feeding of inmates. It would require Israel’s prison service to seek authorization from the attorney general and judge, who would “weigh a doctor’s opinion, the prisoner’s position, as well as security considerations before ruling in the matter,” The Associated Press said.

Israeli doctors and politicians disagree on the issue.

The Israel Medical Association (IMA) is challenging the law in Israel's Supreme Court. They urged physicians to stick by the body’s ethical code as described in a guide: “The physician shall not participate in the forced feeding of a hunger striking prisoner. The doctor-patient relationship is one of trust.”

The IMA said doctors should respect a patient’s autonomy while simultaneously informing them of risks.

Dr. Raphi Walden, a member of the group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, condemned the ruling as one dictated by “politics and security,” the AP notes.

One of Allan’s lawyers, Jamil Khatib, told The New York Times, “This is about ego. Will Israel submit to the demands of a prisoner or not?”

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Walden told the AP a doctor who complies with the new law risks sanctioning from the IMA but any IMA action would not affect a doctor’s medical license, which is authorized by the health ministry.

Israeli lawmakers say the ruling will save prisoners’ lives, protect doctors from legal action, and alleviate the fear hunger strikes could trigger violent protests in occupied Palestinian territories, according to the AP.

Discontent has already erupted within the country. On Wednesday, about 200 supporters of Allan clashed with Israeli right-wingers near the hospital, Reuters reported.

On Friday, Israeli authorities declared a state of emergency in all of its jails, which included a curfew on all prisoners, according to The Guardian.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Public Security minister, praised the new law and dismissed the IMA’s concerns on social media.

According to VICE News, he wrote on Facebook, “I am not willing to see the streets of Israel filled with hundred of wretched terrorists that went on hunger strike and were released.”

Some Palestinians feel the law is intended to weaken negotiating powers of prisoners who frequently use hunger strikes to protest administrative detention – a provision which authorizes Israeli authorities to detain inmates for six months and is often extended to prolong imprisonment for years.

Hunger strikes are, in a few instances, successful. In July, Israel released Palestinian detainee Khader Adnan after he went on a hunger strike for more than 50 days, The Guardian noted.

According to The Guardian, Israel’s prison service and the human rights group B’Tselem say nearly 400 Palestinians are currently detained indefinitely.