A second hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner died today after being force-fed by Israeli authorities sparking a new wave of Arab protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Despite the deaths, officials said other Arab prisoners who are protesting conditions at Nafha Prison in the Negev Desert would continue to be forced-fed through tubes inserted into their mouths. A prison-services official said that the alternative was to let the inmates die and that was rejected because of "Jewish humanitarianism."
The incidents have generated a controversy among Israeli human-rights activists, some of whom have demanded that the prison system's policy of force-feeding be reviewed. The prisoners involved are in their 13th day of refusing to eat.
The Interior Ministry said it will appoint a committee to review the policy, but that force-feeding would continue for the time being.
Denying the charges by attorneys of the victims that they had suffocated after salt water was pumped into their lungs by guards, prison officials said the inmates had regurgitated liquid food that was forced into their stomachs, and then held their breath until it entered their lungs.
Authorities said the force-feeding "accidents" had occurred at the Ramle Prison, near Tel Aviv, where 26 prisoners were transferred Monday night from Nafha. Prison officials said earlier that the inmates had been transferred to Ramle because they were weakened from not eating, and had contracted pneumonia.
The Arab prisoner who died today was Rassim Mohammed Halawi, who was serving a life sentence at Nafha for killing an Arab in a grenade attack in the Gaza Strip. Tuesday, another prisoner, Mohammed Shahada Jaafri died.
Pneumonia was given as the official cause of the deaths. Officials said today that autopsies showed that their lung infections had resulted from liquid food passing through their windpipes during forced feeding.
The deaths prompted demonstrations today in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem at which Arab protesters and relatives of the victims charged Israeli prison authorities with beating the inmates and then forcing crude rubber hoses down their throats and pouring in liquids.
A prison-services spokesman, David Zilberman, denied the charge, saying trained nurses were present at the feedings.
Lea Tsemel, one of the inmates' attorneys, produced an affadavit she said she obtained from a Palestinian prisoner, Yaacoub Dawani, 34, a former economics student at Cairo University who was sentenced to life in 1968 on a terrorism conviction.
In the statement, Dawani said nurses and guards at Ramle beat him repeatedly when he refused to eat rice and milk, and then forced into his stomach a rubber tube from an enema bag, through which was forced a salty solution.
"It was like drinking the Dead Sea. I told the nurse that it went into my lungs, and i coughed," Dawani said in the statement.
Another inmate, Attiye Sawarka, 34, gave Tsemel a statement charging that guards beat him in the abdomen until he agreed to eat rice and milk.
Tsemel, who visited Nafha today, said the 48 remaining inmates there told her they will not end their hunger strike until their demands to be transferred are met. Prisoners have complained that they are suffering in 100-degree desert heat in overcrowded cells with inadequate ventilation.
About 300 Arab protesters staged a sit-in today at the International Red Cross office in East Jerusalem, dema nding an independent investigation into the deaths. The Interior Ministry, which governs the prison services, said it will conduct its own investigation.
John Rigopoulo, Red Cross director, said he sent a delegation to Nafha to interview prisoners.
Another group of protesters entered St. Catherine's Church next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, demanding that Franciscan monks conduct a mass for the dead inmates. They were forced to leave by church officials and police.