The Knesset is expected to approve a bill that would allow hospitals or prisons to force-feed prisoners on hunger strike.
The bill has already passed its first reading and the final vote comes as 82 Palestinian prisoners are currently in Israeli hospitals after being on a hunger strike for more than 50 days. The prisoners, who are protesting Israel’s policy of administrative detention without charges or trial, are taking mineral supplements and drinking water.
“The bill’s aim is to prevent prisoners and organizations from exerting pressure on Israel by means of a hunger strike,” Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said during the Knesset discussion on the bill. “They use such strikes to try to stop administrative detentions and obtain easing of restrictions….the state’s interest is for no prisoner to die as a result of a hunger strike.”
The bill has set off a firestorm in Israel. The Israel Medical Association (IMA) is set to distribute a booklet to all doctors in the internal medicine wards where Palestinian prisoners are being treated. The booklet takes a strong stand against force-feeding based on international law.
“Every day, the number of hunger-striking prisoners sent from the prisons to the hospitals is growing,” Dr. Leonid Eidelman, the director of the IMA wrote in a letter sent to doctors in all Israelis hospitals over the weekend. “Treating them presents a special challenge that doctors have hitherto not encountered on such a scale.”
Israeli human rights advocates say they believe that force-feeding would violate Israel’s Basic Law on human dignity.
“Prisoners cannot be forced to eat against their will as long as they are conscious and continue to refuse,” Amir Fuchs, of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) told The Media Line. “A hunger strike is a tool that prisoners use to try to protest and influence public opinion. Silencing that tool would violate the prisoner’s freedom of expression.”
There are currently some 5000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 180 who are being held under administrative detention. These orders based on emergency regulations from the time of the British mandate, allow the state to jail someone without charges or trial for up to six months, if revealing the evidence against them could compromise national security. The six month term can be renewed repeatedly.
In the past, Palestinian prisoners have successfully used hunger strikes to achieve better conditions. In 2012, some 2000 Palestinian prisoners held a mass hunger strike for more family visits. The Israeli government eventually agreed to their demands.
The current strike is meant to force Israel to end the practice of administrative detention and allow prisoners to be jailed only after presenting the evidence in court. Israel has long insisted that administrative detention is only used in extreme cases, and in recent years, the practice has declined. Palestinians say Israel often uses the practice to keep suspects in jail for years at a time.
Palestinian prisoner advocates say that inmates who are taken to Israeli jails are mistreated.
“They are handcuffed to the bed, and have to call a guard to go to the bathroom,” Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, an NGO that advocates Palestinian prisoners’ rights told The Media Line. “We totally oppose the law that would allow force-feeding. Going on a hunger strike is a basic right of every prisoner.”
The Israel Medical Association guidelines offer four principles for how to treat hunger strikers. The first is that hunger striking prisoners should be able to make their own decisions about what is right for them, after being given a detailed explanation by doctors. Secondly, every medical action should be in accordance with the patients’ worldview. No medical actions, including force-feeding, that could harm the patient should be taken, and the prisoners should be distributed among different hospitals.
While most doctors say that force-feeding would violate patient’s rights and their Hippocratic oath, some doctors in Israel offered a counter-argument.
“We should definitely permit prisoners to engage in hunger strikes to protect their grievances, since at times that might be the only way to bring their situation to the public,” Shimon Glick, a professor of medicine at Ben Gurion University wrote in the Jerusalem Post. “But we must make it clear to them up front that under no circumstances will we allow them to endanger their lives and health; that when they reach a state of danger to themselves they will be hospitalized and fed even against their express will.”
Article written by Linda Gradstein
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line