Modified Force-feeding Bill Faces Uncertain Fate

UN human rights experts have urged Israel not to pass the bill, which enables force-feeding prisoners on a hunger strike against their will.

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 cabinet intends to advance a more extreme, controversial force–feeding bill, instead of the current, attenuated version that will be shelved, coalition sources said yesterday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will decide on the issue in the next few days, the sources said.

United Nations human rights experts have urged Israel not to pass the bill, even in its mitigated version that enables force-feeding prisoners on a hunger strike against their will.

In recent weeks Netanyahu tried to pass the revised bill in the Knesset before the end of the current session in two weeks. But the issue was put off repeatedly in the wake of the discovery of the three abducted teens’ bodies and the launching of the offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Yesh Atid had introduced important changes in the bill, limiting the Israel Prison Service’s ability to force–feed a hunger-striking prisoner.

A source familiar with the legislation told Haaretz: “There’s no reason to advance the bill’s current draft. It does the prison service and defense establishment hardly any good at all and it would be better to advance the original bill in the future.

“Since we started advancing the bill, the security prisoners have stopped their hunger strike so there’s no reason to push through a bill that won’t achieve the objective it was legislated for,” he said.

“It’s better to wait for another time, or for the next time there’s a hunger strike in prison,” he said.

The revised draft allows force–feeding a prisoner only if a doctor rules that without the procedure the prisoner’s life would soon be in immediate danger, or he might suffer a serious, irrevocable disability.

Despite the changes, doctors continued to oppose the bill. They said the changes were not significant and there isn’t always a way to know if the prisoner’s life is in immediate danger.

Dr. Tami Karni, chair of the Israel Medical Association’s Ethics Board, said the IMA finds the revision unacceptable, both ethically and medically.

“The updated draft refers to immediate danger to life, but already today the patients’ rights law provides an answer to that and enables doctors to treat patients without their agreement,” she said.

The UN Human Rights Council also blasted the bill last month and called on Israel not to legalize force–feeding.

“It is not acceptable to force-feed or use threats of force-feeding or other physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike to protest against their detention without charge and conditions of detention and treatment,” said Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in a news release.

“The desire of the inmates not to eat must be respected as long as it is clear that they are making that choice voluntarily. Even if it is intended for the benefit of the detainees, feeding induced by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints are tantamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” he added.

The news release noted that the proposed amendments would also oblige doctors who refuse to carry out force–feeding to identify a colleague who would agree to perform such measures. This would place an obligation on doctors to act contrary to their professional code of ethics.

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