Force-feeding Bill Meeting Stiff Opposition as Debate Approaches

NGOs cite medical ethics, human rights as line up against Knesset proposal to deal with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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The hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has sparked a series of solidarity protests such as this one in Hebron, June 4, 2014.
The hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has sparked a series of solidarity protests such as this one in Hebron, June 4, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee will on Monday launch two days of marathon debates over the controversial bill allowing the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, as the bill advances toward its second and third readings.

The bill, which is officially an amendment to the Prisons Ordinance, passed its first reading last week, with 29 Knesset members voting in favor and 19 against. The bill authorizes the Israel Prison Service commissioner to ask a District Court judge for permission to forcibly feed a prisoner conducting a hunger strike if medical examinations indicate that his life is in danger.

The explanatory notes for the bill call hunger strikes by prisoners “a familiar phenomenon that has repeated itself in the Israeli reality over the years for the purpose of advancing various demands by the striking prisoner population ... This situation requires formulating appropriate and fitting ways to deal with hunger strikes.”

Numerous organizations have submitted position papers opposing the bill to MKs, among them Amnesty International, the Israel Democracy Institute, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Israel Medical Association, which last week declared that force-feeding violates internationally agreed medical ethics.

“In its current form, the bill enables the forced feeding of Palestinian administrative detainees who are hunger-striking, which constitutes a serious infringement of the prisoners’ basic human rights,” wrote the coordinator of Amnesty International’s human rights under occupation campaign to committee member Dov Khenin (Hadash). “Under international norms, state authorities are obligated to assure that the prisoners have ongoing access to medical treatment of their choosing and that such treatment should be administered by consent.”

The Israel Democracy Institute stated that it believes “the primary purpose of this bill is an attempt to block hunger-striking prisoners, some of them administrative detainees who were never tried, from any political propaganda achievements.”

The bill generated scathing criticism last week from MKs on the left. “This bill is cruel and dangerous, facilitating torture against administrative detainees who haven’t even been brought to trial,” said MK Michal Rosin of Meretz. “Force-feeding will be used as a punishment and a deterrent, not out of concern for their health. Instead of examining whether the administrative detainees are right and justified, we choose a humiliating and inhuman political act.”

But MKs on the right are also opposed the bill. MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) called on MKs to reject the bill, saying, “If people want to die, let them die, it’s not our problem. In the same week in which the [Constitution, Law and Justice] committee decided to make it easier for upright, respectable people to commit suicide, we’re deciding to forbid criminals from doing the same thing.”

Feiglin was referring to a bill that would allow a physician to prescribe a drug that would allow a terminal, suffering patient to end his own life, without legal repercussions for the doctor. The bill, proposed by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, got government backing last week, though it has yet to come to the plenum.

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