Battle Against Force-feeding Law Is Battle for Democracy

Opposition and coalition Knesset members must join forces to shoot down bill to legalize force-feeding Palestinian prisoners.

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

The force-feeding bill that the government is trying to fast-track continues to spawn preposterous ideas that are an affront to the law, to international declarations and to democratic values.

On Tuesday, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee finished preparing the bill for a second and third reading, after committee chairwoman Miri Regev convened it without a majority of the member MKs, as they were attending hearings of other committees. On that day, changes were made in the law regarding doctors’ obligation to participate in the force-feeding process. Even after these changes were inserted, Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman warned that the bill goes against medical ethics and the medical norms of the doctor-patient relationship.

On Wednesday it became apparent that in anticipation of a legal and public onslaught, the wording of the bill was made vaguer, calling for “life-saving treatment” to be given to hunger-strikers, with no mention of the term “force-feeding,” as appeared in the initial version that passed its first reading. Even so, the legal adviser to the Interior Ministry told the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee that doctors would have the possibility of placing hunger-strikers under anesthesia to enable them to be fed without their consent.

The more vaguely-worded bill and the comments by the Interior Ministry’s legal adviser do not constitute an improvement. On the contrary, they push the government toward a new abyss in terms of human rights violations. Putting people under in order to feed them against their will is considered unacceptable, as doctors believe it further endangers the health of hunger-strikers, who are already in poor physical condition.

The hunger strike being waged by administrative prisoners in Israeli jails is a serious human and political problem. But the solution does not lie in anti-democratic measures. On Monday, the “improved” version of the bill will be brought to the Knesset for a second and third reading. MKs from the coalition – like Amram Mitzna and Yifat Kariv, who have declared strong objections to the bill – must join forces with their colleagues in the opposition and block its passage.

The battle for Israel’s democracy is more important than coalition discipline. The disgrace of having harmed will stick to anyone who fails to reject this bill outright.