PM Pushes to Force-feed Palestinian Hunger-strikers

Hospitals brace as hunger strike by detainees without trial passes 40-day mark.

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Previous hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners sparked unrest and support rallies, such as this one in Nablus, May 2012.
Previous hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners sparked unrest and support rallies, such as this one in Nablus, May 2012.Credit: AP

Haaretz has learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the security cabinet Sunday to speed up discussions on the bill that will allow the force-feeding of security prisoners on hunger strike. The bill, which has already passed its first reading in the Knesset, awaits votes on second and third readings.

The Israel National Bioethics Council, which was established by order of the government to serve as the supreme authority in issuing recommendations to decision-makers in ethical matters, is firmly opposed to the law. Netanyahu said Sunday that he would make sure to find physicians who would consent to act according to the new law and force-feed prisoners. He noted that guards customarily force-feed prisoners even in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

A professional opinion issued by the Israel National Bioethics Council and submitted to the Health Ministry, the Science Ministry and the Justice Ministry, states that every effort must be made to stop the passing of this law, which states explicitly that any hunger strike by a prisoner will end in preventive force-feeding against the prisoner’s will.

The writers added that in their opinion, the best way to reach a balance between the ethical principle of the sanctity of life and the prisoner’s right to personal autonomy is a process in which an ongoing connection is created between the prisoner and medical personnel who are outside the prison system. The experts believe that a mechanism that uses such a process could be an appropriate solution to most hunger strikes, including those by prisoners.

The hunger strike has gained momentum among the Palestinians because it has gone on for so long; Sunday was its 40th day. Officials of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club warned that the more time elapses without a solution, the hotter things will become on the Palestinian street, with larger protest rallies in Palestinian cities. At this stage, the Palestinians intend to increase international pressure on Israel via international organizations, and expand the strike and the other protest activities from the prisoners themselves, including security prisoners who are not under administrative detention. The detainees contacted the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club Monday morning, asking them to get Egyptian President-elect Abdel Fattah al-Sissi involved.

Attorneys who have been meeting with their clients in hospitals and prisons complain that Prisons Service officials are making it very difficult for them to see their clients, and sending them from one place to another. Palestinian officials closely involved in the specifics say that over the past few days, attempts were made at dialogue with prisoners being held in the Nafha maximum-security prison in the south, but no progress was made. They said that at this stage, there is no concrete proposal or idea from Israel that can serve as a basis for dialogue between the prisoners’ leadership and the defense establishment.

The proposal that was raised recently and reported Sunday in Haaretz – that administrative detention would not last for more than six months except in special circumstances and according to clear parameters – got no response from the Israeli authorities. Issa Karake, the outgoing prisoners affairs minister, said Sunday that from their perspective the prisoners’ struggle had reached a decisive point and the fear of loss of life was becoming more real daily.

According to statistics from the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Ministry and the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, 189 administrative detainees are being held in Israel. Of these, 125 are on hunger strike. The remaining prisoners are reported to be unable to join the hunger strike due to illness or advanced age.

Israeli hospitals are preparing to admit a large number of hunger-striking prisoners. Seventy have already been hospitalized over the past few days in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Rabin Medical Center’s Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva and Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.

“We have admitted prisoners on hunger strike before, but these numbers are unprecedented,” said Wolfson Medical Center Director Dr. Yitzhak Berlowitz, adding that he expects the number of prisoners admitted to rise over the coming days.

Officials of the Prisons Service and the Health Ministry began preparations for hospitalizing the prisoners two weeks ago. Because of their unusually large number, it was decided that they would be distributed among several hospitals, and not only among hospitals close to the prisons. It was also decided that the prisoners would undergo medical examinations on two occasions: the 28th and 35th days of the strike. At the examinations, which are to take place in the hospitals, the medical staff will decide whether to hospitalize them.

“We have received specific instructions from the Health Ministry as to how we should prepare, and for what situations,” Dr. Berlowitz said. “We have made our preparations and will be ready for them when they arrive. They are hospitalized separately, and the Prisons Service is responsible for guarding them. At the moment, it is working well and under the full control of all the people, and everyone is doing his job.

“Beyond that, nothing has been done forcibly – not to the patients and not to the physicians – but only by mutual consent. The operative consideration here is medical, and of course we will use legal consultation in extraordinary situations. As of now, treatment is being administered by mutual consent.”

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