The forced-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike is permissible according to Jewish law, Tzohar rabbis announced ahead of the final vote on a bill to that effect, expected to take place Monday.
The measure, proposed by the Public Security Ministry, is meant to quell the ongoing Palestinian security prisoners’ hunger strike. It would allow the Prisons Service to request permission from a court to bring hunger-striking prisoners to a hospital to be force-fed by a doctor, either via an IV or gastrostomy tube. If a prisoner refuses to cooperate, in some cases he may be anesthetized to enable the procedure.
Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) pushed the bill through an accelerated legislative process, calling five meetings in the two weeks between the bill’s passage in its first reading and when it is scheduled to have its second and third (final) reading on Monday.
MKs on the Left and in the Yesh Atid Party spoke out against the legislation, calling it torture and saying it violates prisoners’ freedom to protest. In addition, the Israel Medical Association said it will instruct its doctors not to obey the law, should it pass.
On Sunday, the legislative division of religious Zionist rabbinical organization Tzohar released a position paper stating there is no halachic problem with force-feeding prisoners.
“Tzohar rabbis support the bill and think that a judge can instruct [the Prisons Service] to force-feed a prisoner if there is a true danger to the life of the person on hunger strike or to national security,” Rabbi Uriel Ganzel, the head of Tzohar’s legislative division, explained.
From a halachic standpoint, a person can put him or herself in danger to improve his or her situation, he said.
“Hunger strikes are usually used as a last resort by prisoners to improve their conditions.
Therefore, even if they are endangering themselves, it is a legitimate act,” Ganzel explained.
However, a person cannot harm him or herself even for important values. As such, if a hunger strike reaches a point where it is endangering a prisoner’s life, according to Jewish law a judge must order that he or she be force-fed.
In addition, forced-feeding is necessary if the hunger strike is a significant danger to national security or law enforcement, Ganzel wrote.
“Even in the days of our sages, criminals were punished by limiting their rights. Therefore, it is legitimate for a judge to block a prisoner’s basic right to go on hunger strike, specifically if it is part of a rebellion, even if there is no physical violence involved,” he added.