Israeli Health-care Workers Petition Against Plans to Force-feed Palestinian Prisoners

Vote on force-feeding bill postponed in wake of pressure from within and outside coalition.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Protest against Knesset bill on force feeding hunger-striking prisoners. Sign says 'Guantanamo is here.'
Protest against Knesset bill on force feeding hunger-striking prisoners. Sign says 'Guantanamo is here.'Credit: Emil Salman
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Some 1,000 health-care workers have signed a petition against a bill to allow hunger-striking prisoners to be force-fed.

The Knesset was due to vote on the bill in final reading Sunday. It was fast-tracked in response to a hunger strike by dozens of Palestinian administrative detainees that has been going on for more than two months and has so far resulted in about 80 of them being hospitalized.

Signatories to the petition, which was organized by the nongovernmental organization Physicians for Human Rights, include doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers.

The petition charged that the bill would severely violate human rights, medical ethics, the Patients’ Rights Law and various international conventions. It also claimed that involving doctors in force-feeding prisoners would be tantamount to letting medical personnel be used “as a political tool by the security services.”

The signatories “vehemently oppose the bill to force-feed hunger strikers,” the petition said, as they believe it would violate both medical workers’ “professional integrity” and the patient’s “human dignity and psychological and physical integrity.” In pushing this bill, the government is “grossly ignoring ... the opposition and position of the Israeli medical community, the Israel Medical Association, The Israel National Bioethics Council and Physicians for Human Rights,” the petition continued.

A letter expressing similar sentiments has been sent to all 120 Knesset members.

Several doctors in senior positions have declined to speak out publicly, fearing either that what they see as a medical position might be interpreted as a political one or that their personal views might erroneously be attributed to the institutions that employ them. Off the record, however, they too oppose the bill.

“This is a bill that will be impossible to implement,” one hospital director told Haaretz. “I don’t see how anyone would be willing to force-feed a man who is conscious, even if it isn’t considered a criminal offense. I can’t see any licensed physician doing this. It’s contrary to our code of ethics. It could be that this entire process is meant to apply pressure to the prisoners. But in practice, I can’t imagine it ever happening.”

“We vehemently oppose the bill to force-feed hunger strikers," Dr. Eyran Halpern, CEO of the Rabin Medical Center and chairman of the association of Israeli hospital directors, told Haaretz. "We think this is an immoral law, that this shouldn’t take place in hospitals and that doctors shouldn’t have any part in this matter.”

Halpern said he has spoken with several hospital administrators about this issue recently, and almost all feel the same way.

“There is substantial opposition in the medical community and among hospital directors,” he said. “We’re planning to send a letter this evening to the prime minister and the public security minister to voice our reservations. A doctor’s job is to help patients. The doctor shouldn’t serve as an agent of the establishment. This bill constitutes a very dangerous slippery slope, and we must not be involved in it.

“Our goal is to improve our patients’ conditions, and we don’t choose who those patients are,” Halpern continued. “Even if they are prisoners, criminals or captives, the medical system has proven in the past that it works for their welfare just as it does for any patient. The feeling among doctors and hospital administrators is that this isn’t the solution, and this stance is unequivocal.”

Palestinian protesters showing solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners, June 12, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Palestinians pray by the West Bank separation barrier on June 6, 2014, during a demonstration in support of hunger-strikers.Credit: AFP

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