Israeli Hospitals Bracing for Wave of Hunger-striking Palestinian Prisoners

Some 240 security prisoners taking part in strike, 40 already hospitalized.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
Palestinian prisoners at Israel's Megiddo Prison.
Palestinian prisoners at the Megiddo Prison.Credit: Itzik Ben-Malki
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Hospitals across Israel are preparing to take in a large number of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, whose fast entered its second month this week. Some 240 Palestinian administrative detainees are taking part in the hunger strike, demanding to be freed immediately or be put on trial.

Earlier this week 40 hunger strikers were admitted to various hospitals. They are part of a group of 80 that started the hunger strike and were joined by other prisoners.

Aside from demanding their release, the inmates are striking for an end to open-ended administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold people without charge or trial. Over the years, virtually all administrative detainees have been Palestinians.

“We’ve taken in hunger-striking prisoners before but these numbers are unprecedented,” Dr. Yitzhak Berlovich, director-general of Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, said yesterday.

“The treatment is given by mutual consent of both the patients and the doctors, nothing is done by force. The treatment is subject to medical discretion and in irregular cases we’ll obtain legal advice,” he said.

The Prison Service and Health Ministry started preparing for the detainees’ hospitalization already two weeks ago and sent hospital directors instructions on how to deal with prisoners. Due to the large number of hunger strikers the Prison Service and Health Ministry decided to divide them among several hospitals, rather than send them all to the hospitals close to the detention facilities.

“We’ve received detailed instructions from the Health Ministry on how to prepare and what situations to prepare for,” Berlovich said. “Each case is examined individually. They are kept as a separate group, guarded by the Prison Service,” he said.

A Health Ministry official said hunger strikers must be under medical supervision of the Prison Service from the beginning of the strike. Prisoners classified as medium and high risk must be taken to a hospital on the strike’s 28th day, where it is decided after examination whether to hospitalize them.

Prisoners classified as low risk are examined in a hospital on the 35th day, the official said.

Amani Dayif, of Physicians for Human Rights said “we’ve received reports that the Prison Service has beefed up the watch over the hospitalized hunger strikers, and that they are bound to their beds, which medical ethics forbid. This situation hinders the ability to ensure privacy and medical confidentiality.”

“A hospital’s role in this complex situation is not only to administer medical treatment but to provide a neutral environment that protects the hunger strikers from coercion and pressure. The doctors, hospitals and Medical Association will be tested in their resistance to force-feeding and in protecting their patients’ rights,” she said.

About two weeks ago the Ministerial Committee for Legislation passed a bill enabling to force feed hunger striking prisoners and administering medical treatment against their will. The bill has yet to be passed in the Knesset.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that as of April, 191 Palestinians were in administrative detention. Overall, Israel is holding more than 5,000 Palestinians over anti-Israel activity.

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