(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
MKs in the Knesset Interior Committee on Tuesday passionately debated the pros and cons of force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike.
The committee was working on a bill that would allow prisons, with permission from a judge, to use a feeding tube on prisoners who refused to eat. Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) aims to bring the measure to a second and third (final) reading in the plenum by the end of the month.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the goal of the bill was to save lives, just as prison guards prevent prisoners from committing suicide, and that the goal of the hunger strike did not matter.
“We can’t allow prisoners to apply pressure in an illegitimate way,” Erdan said. “If he does, it will have ramifications for his family and for security in prisons and throughout Israel. This bill is moderate, because it requires authorization from the president or deputy president of a district court.”
However, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) showed a video protesting the practice in American prisons. The clip showed rapper-actor Mos Def, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, being force-fed.
“This is an authentic example of force-feeding. Years ago, the Knesset was proud of prohibiting force-feeding geese [to make foie gras] because it is torture. Here, Arab prisoners will be force-fed,” Tibi said.
“Maybe you should show [footage of] the victims of the prisoners’ terrorism,” Erdan responded.
Tibi said, “You’re proving that this is collective punishment!” Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri said the clip did not represent what would happen in Israel and that dying of hunger was more torturous than feeding a prisoner against his will.
Nizri also called the comparison to foie gras “populist,” because the purpose of force-feeding prisoners is to save lives.
As for doctors who said they would refuse to implement the law, Nizri asked, “What about someone who tries to commit suicide more than once? He surely wants to die more than a prisoner on hunger strike, and you will still save him.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said he had no problem letting prisoners on hunger strike die.
“[The only reason] we need to make sure they don’t die [is] out of concern that there will be riots,” Smotrich remarked. “Prisoners lose a lot of rights as part of their freedom being taken away. A feeding tube seems like a minimal means of doing that.”
Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, however, called force-feeding torture and said the doctors’ ethical code does not allow it.
“A feeding tube that goes into the lungs and causes bleeding in the digestive system can kill someone,” he stated.
Health Ministry Deputy Director-General Boaz Lev said he was surprised at the IMA’s stance and that the matter should be left up to doctors’ consciences.
Public Security Ministry legal adviser Yoel Hadar said doctors who did not want to treat hunger-striking prisoners would not be forced to do so.
“If no doctor wants to treat them, then they won’t be treated,” argued MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), who opposed the bill. “Everything said here is empty threats. This bill has no teeth.”
Likud MK Bennie Begin said the bill was good because it left the decision up to the courts, which could take the reason for the hunger-strike into consideration, and because hospital ethics committees must also discuss the treatment. In addition, he said, the vast majority of doctors are mem - bers of the IMA, so there are many assurances that the law will not be used arbitrarily.