Force-feeding Bill to Get Fast Track Through Knesset

Interior Committee split in intensive debate over controversial proposal to deal with hunger-striking security prisoners.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A Palestinian in Gaza who has stopped eating in solidarity with the hunger-striking administrative detainees, June 2, 2014.
A Palestinian in Gaza who has stopped eating in solidarity with the hunger-striking administrative detainees, June 2, 2014.Credit: AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chair MK Miri Regev (Likud) announced Monday morning that a bill permitting the forced feeding of hunger-striking prisoners will be rushed through the Knesset: The bill’s second and third readings are expected this coming Monday.

On Monday, the committee launched a marathon session of hearings to advance the bill. During Monday’s session, Regev said that hunger strikes by security prisoners are a form of protest designed to stir ferment in the Palestinian street and in prisons.

“The bill’s aim is to prevent prisoners and organizations from exerting pressure on Israel by means of a hunger strike,” said Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. “They use such strikes to try to stop administrative detentions and obtain easements of restrictions. In the past, prisoners have been released due to such pressures. This isn’t right. The state’s interest is for no prisoner to die as a result of a hunger strike ... The law is not really about force-feeding prisoners but about preventing the damage done by a prisoners’ strike. The bill does not obligate any doctor to perform the treatment.”

“How do you explain the fact that not a single hunger-striking prisoner has died, even though the strike has gone on for longer than the hunger strike in Northern Ireland?” MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al ) asked Aharonovitch.

Tibi also warned that force-feeding could potentially kill prisoners who were sent for such treatment. “Killing people by force-feeding is a violation of the Tokyo Declaration, because it is a form of torture, according to international law,” he added.

MK Basel Ghattas of Balad voiced similar concerns, and Aharonovitch responded, “The goal is to save the hunger-striker, not to harm him or kill him, God forbid. The proper balance of everything is being taken into account. Just because no prisoner has died yet from a hunger strike doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen tomorrow.”

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazri said at the hearing, “We are very aware of the complexity of the sensitivities and the difficult aspects of this bill,” noting that in the original version of the bill Israel Prison Service officials were permitted to authorize force-feeding, while the current version gives that responsibility to external judges.

MK Nachman Shai (Labor) objected that “the decision to hold a hearing today and to complete the legislation within days is a big mistake. The last thing we need right now is a hasty decision on this issue.”

Shai argued that the bill is misguided both ethically and medically. “I care about Israel’s image and standing in the world, but I care even more about how we see ourselves. Israeli society cannot abide this action.”

“The timing of this accelerated hearing, at this turbulent and sensitive time, will make appropriate debate impossible,” said MK Michal Rosin (Meretz). “Once again, law and order in Israel, which are supposed to be our moral conscience, are being exploited in the service of the government’s narrow interests.”

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