Israel's High Court Finds Force Feeding Constitutional: 'A Hunger Striker Is Not an Ordinary Patient'

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Supporters of Mohammed Allaan, a Palestinian prisoner on a long-term hunger strike, call for his release outside the International Committee of the Red Cross offices in Jerusalem, August 11, 2015.Credit: AFP

The High Court of Justice ruled that a law permitting the force feeding of prisoners who go on a hunger strike meets the test of constitutionality on Sunday. 

The High Court denied petitions filed by the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and by several human rights groups last year. 

The justices wrote that that the law dealing with patients’ rights does not “address the complex situation of prisoners who go on a hunger strike, who reach a situation in which their health or life are in danger.” A hunger striker “is not an ordinary patient but a person who knowingly and willingly places himself in a dangerous situation as a protest or a means of attaining a personal or public goal.” The justices added that a hunger strike and its outcome have “implications that go beyond the personal matter of the hunger striker.”

The High Court of Justice denied petitions against a law that permits force feeding of prisoners who go on a hunger strike. The petitions, filed last year by the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and by human rights groups asked the court to rule on the constitutionality of the amendment that would allow the state to force feed security prisoners who are on hunger strike and whose lives are at risk, even against their will.

The vice president of Israel’s Supreme Court, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, as well as Justices Noam Sohlberg and Meni Mazuz, rejected the petitions, ruling that the amendment to the law regulating prisons, dealing with “the prevention of harm to the health of a prisoner on hunger strike” meets the test of constitutionality.

The IMA has expressed strong opposition to an earlier cabinet decision to promote this law. IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said that if the law passes, doctors will be instructed to ignore it. “This is a case in which medical ethics unequivocally trump the law, and the message we wish to convey to physicians is that forced feeding is tantamount to torture and that no doctor should take part in it”, he stated on a past occasion.

In recent days the state decided to cancel administrative arrest warrants against brothers Mohammed and Mahmoud al-Bulbul and against Malik al-Qadi, who is in a coma. The three have been on hunger strike for over sixty days in protest against their detention without trial, and their medical condition has seriously deteriorated. However, the state may reinstate the warrants once their condition improves. The detainees have told their families that they have no intention of stopping their strike until their detention is cancelled or until a formula ensuring their imminent release is reached, as was done in the cases of Mohammed Allan, journalist Mohammed al-Qiq and Bilal Kayed.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) responded to this ruling, saying that “one doesn’t need the High Court in order to realize that this law is cruel, immoral, unethical, and will not be carried out by any doctor. Force feeding is defined as abuse and is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath. The law is intended to be defiant and intimidating, not to be enacted in practice. Those who are so concerned about Israel’s image around the world have tarnished it with a black stain by proposing bill, one which should never have seen the light of day. It comes from a political system which needed the High Court, which this time did not rescue it from self-inflicted disgrace.”

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