Israel Advances 'Softer' Force-feeding Bill Aimed at Hunger-striking Palestinian Prisoners

Country's doctors slam proposal, with leading medical ethics expert calling it 'insane.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Palestinians hold pictures of Khader Adnan, a jailed senior member of Islamic Jihad who has been on hunger strike for nearly two months, during a protest outside the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza.
Palestinians hold pictures of Khader Adnan, a jailed senior member of Islamic Jihad who has been on hunger strike for nearly two months, during a protest outside the Red Cross headquarters in Gaza.Credit: AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The state will advance a more flexible version of the bill that would allow the force-feeding of hunger-striking security prisoners, rather than the tougher version approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation last week, the attorney-general’s office announced on Monday.

The main difference is that the softer version raises the bar for when a hunger striker can be force- fed, calling for such feeding only if a physician believes that without it, “There is a real possibility that within a short time the prisoner is at risk of death or irreversible disability.” This milder version had been agreed on by the previous government.

During a debate on the bill in the State Control Committee, doctors sharply criticized the milder version of the bill as well, saying the difference is not significant and that there is no way to identify the point at which there is immediate danger to life.

The Public Security Ministry’s legal adviser, Yoel Hadar, told the panel that doctors could anesthetize a prisoner so that he can receive nourishment. Prof. Avinoam Reches, a former chairman of the Israeli Medical Association’s Ethics Bureau, said the whole process was “insane” and unethical, and that any physician who agreed to do it would face disciplinary action by the ethics tribunal.

“Hunger striking is a political protest,” Reches said. “Someone on a hunger strike doesn’t want to die, but to change a reality. That’s a political question, not a medical problem. The state can’t move its political problem to the doctors’ court. The Tokyo Declaration forbids physicians from participating in torture and force-feeding. The Malta Declaration, which was updated recently, says that force-feeding is a form of torture.

“The Knesset has passed a law preventing cruelty to animals and a law that forbids the force-feeding of geese, but there is no law against cruelty to human beings,” Reches continued. “What does it mean to feed a person against his will? It means to cuff his hands and feet, and insert a tube that is liable to tear his esophagus. Inserting a feeding tube three times a day over a period of incarceration is impossible to do. One certainly can’t anesthetize someone three times a day. There’s no such animal.”

Reches added that various international conventions allow a physician to use his judgment only if a hunger striker loses consciousness. In that case, he said, physicians would likely try to save him, but he is liable to die before that. “Our experience is that trying to force-feed someone leads to his death. The only hunger-striking prisoners who have died in Israel are those that the state fed by force.”

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) added, “The motivation for force-feeding prisoners is political, not legal or medical. It’s not the prisoners’ lives that interest the government, but the desire to avoid more international criticism of Israel.

“I vehemently oppose this bill because, first and foremost, it negates the rights of an individual over his body,” she said. “For Palestinian prisoners who have no status, the body is the only thing they have left, and the state wants to appropriate even that from them. Instead of force-feeding them, which humiliates them and puts their lives at risk, we must address their demands and stop arbitrary administrative detentions.”

Noted MK Yinon Magal (Habayit Hayehudi), “It’s nice that Arab MKs and those on the left are demanding that we allow prisoners to die.”

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