Israel's Attorney General: Force-feeding Is Not Torture

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri told a Knesset committee a law allowing hunger-striking prisoners to be force-fed has 'appropriate checks and balances.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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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
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Attorney General’s Office yesterday defended a controversial bill to allow hunger-striking prisoners to be force-fed, telling the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee it had suitable checks and balances and was not a “torture law.”

The comments by Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri were similar to those made on Sunday by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who termed the bill “proportionate and balanced” and said that “similar arrangements exist in other enlightened countries.”

The Knesset had been scheduled to vote on the bill in a final reading yesterday, as it had been fast-tracked in response to a hunger strike by dozens of Palestinian administrative detainees that began more than two months ago and has put about 80 of them in hospital. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to postpone the vote by a week at the request of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who wanted time for a “thorough discussion” of dozens of proposed amendments submitted by his party colleague MK Yifat Kariv and other opponents of the bill. The Internal Affairs Committee began that discussion yesterday.

“The law has appropriate checks and balances,” Nizri told the committee, noting that several changes were made to it last week. “I recommend not talking in vague headlines about the law as violating human rights or as being a ‘torture law.’ If I knew about the law only from reports on it, especially by one particular newspaper, I would also probably have signed petitions against the law.”

He drew an analogy to the way doctors treat attempted suicides. “A person who tries to kill himself, a doctor will save him the first time and the second time he downs pills and wants to die,” Nizri noted. “A hunger striker doesn’t want to die, but to live under better conditions. Take this into account.”

The bill would allow hunger-striking prisoners to be force-fed if a court grants permission. But in his remarks on Sunday, Weinstein stressed that the court order won’t obligate a doctor to force-feed prisoners if this violates his conscience; it will merely allow him to do so if he wants to save the prisoner’s life.

Moreover, in one of the most important changes made last week, all explicit mention of force-feeding was removed. Some opposition MKs said this change effectively emptied the bill of all content. All it does now, one argued, is “regulate the process that the Prison Service in any case uses in practice to force-feed prisoners today.”

But MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) charged yesterday that the revised bill has created a new problem: It would effectively bar doctors from giving life-saving treatment in cases where the courts refuse to approve force-feeding a prisoner.

“Today, in order to give life-saving treatment to a hunger-striking prisoner who refuses treatment, doctors can make do with an application to the hospital’s ethics committee,” he said. “The new law states that only the court is permitted to approve administering life-saving treatment by force. In other words, any attempt to grant life-saving treatment without the court’s approval will be in violation of the law. This means the law will directly and concretely endanger human life.”

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) sought to show the committee a video of a simulated force-feeding to prove his contention that it constitutes torture. But committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) refused to let him. Tibi then appealed her decision to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon.

“The video clip would probably enlighten Knesset members on one hand and the bill’s sponsors on the other,” he said. “This refusal seems strange to me, and undermines my ability as a Knesset member to promote my stance opposing the law.”

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