Drop the Force-feeding Law

The government is trying to find roundabout ways to quell a protest.

The number of hunger strikes in Israeli prisons has been increasing over the past few years. Prominent among them were those of administrative detainees and Palestinian prisoners.

Samar Issawi, released in the 2011 exchange that freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit but rearrested and jailed because he violated the terms of his release, went on hunger strike for 210 days – a move that ultimately led to his release.

Ayman Sharawna, another man initially freed in the Shalit deal but also rearrested and jailed, went on hunger strike until he was exiled to Gaza.

A hunger strike by another administrative detainee, Khader Adnan, lasted 66 days and was joined by 30 other prisoners, until it ended in February 2012 when the state prosecution told a court that his administrative detention order was not being extended.

These cases and others have taught the Israeli legal authorities that hunger strikes are an effective political tool in the hands of prisoners and detainees who believe their rights have been violated.

Their recurrence is the basis for a memorandum regarding an amendment to the Prisons Ordinance that the Public Security Ministry has just released for public comment. It focuses on administering medical treatment to hunger-striking prisoners whose lives are in danger – even against their will.

The memorandum cites the legitimacy of hunger strikes as an integral component of free expression. The legislator’s explanations for approving forced feeding – a step subject to the approval of a district court, where the prisoner can be represented and even appeal the ruling – seem reasonable, and are even supported by the Patient’s Rights Law, which allows medical treatment against a patient’s will.

However, there’s a strong suspicion that the government’s true motivation for proposing this amendment is not concern for the life of the prisoner or detainee, but a desire to counter an act of political protest that has proven effective.

The argument that a prisoner’s rights over his body and life are limited because he is in state custody is not legitimate. Israel Medical Association chairman Leonid Edelman has said, “The state is going one step too far … one should do nothing by force to patients who are conscious and object to being treated.”

The World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo (1975), which relates to physicians’ treatment of prisoners, and the WMA’s Declaration of Malta (1991), which refers to treating hunger strikers specifically, both state that one may not force-feed a prisoner.

But instead of sticking to these guidelines, the government is trying to find roundabout ways to quell a protest. It would be best to take this proposal off the agenda.

A Palestinian terrorist is seen behind bars, on the eve of his being released.
Ilan Assayag