Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and various deputies went on the attack defending forced feeding of Palestinian hunger strikers on Monday, noting that other democratic countries also practice it. In the middle of a crisis of mostly administratively detained Palestinians on a hunger-strike for over 50 days, the Knesset prepares to vote on a bill authorizing forced feeding.
Weinstein himself made comments about other countries carrying out the practice, and Deputy Attorney-General for Criminal Affairs Raz Nizri and Justice Ministry Director-General Amy Palmer named the United States, Australia, Austria and Germany as a selection of those countries – as determined by official research carried out by the ministry’s international law division.
Highlighting the importance of the issue to Weinstein, at the same time that Nizri and Palmer were speaking to the Hebrew media, Deputy Attorney-General for International Affairs Roy Schondorf was making the sell to the English-speaking media.
Nizri went on the attack from the outset, saying that the media coverage has completely missed the mark and sensationalized the issue.
“If I only knew about this bill from the media, I would be against it, too,” he said. This is a moral bill and I think the democratic process in the Knesset can improve it. I know this bill is controversial and it shouldn’t be passed in one day, but things like this exist in other countries.”
Nizri added that he is surprised that those talking about morality aren’t thinking of the sacredness of life, pointing out that when a person tries to commit suicide, doctors revive him or her and that people on hunger strike don’t want to die.
He said that there were no good choices for the state and that the political leadership sought to craft a humane as possible forced-feeding process, instead of releasing dangerous administratively detained Palestinians to commit further acts of violence.
He noted that there were several safeguards for the prisoners, including that both an ethics committee and a judge at the level of president of a District Court needed to approve the procedure.
Palmer emphasized that the hunger strikers actually want to live, and that rather than wanting to die, they merely want to be released, such that forced feeding them is saving their lives and in some ways consistent with their wishes.
Nizri stated that he viewed the issue as similar to the fact that prisoners, unlike civilians, are not permitted to commit suicide, saying rhetorically why then should they be allowed to starve in a hunger strike? He also noted a number of decisions by international courts which he said accepted forced feeding in some circumstances. He contrasted that with international declarations by professional medical associations which he said are not binding.
Next, the deputy-attorney general said that the state would make sure that if a hunger striker did not have legal representation a public defender would argue on his behalf before the district court president.
Tammi Molad-Hayo, chairwoman for the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, said its position opposing “forced feeding of hunger strikers parallels that of the Israel Medical Association and the World Medical Association.”
She added, “Furthermore, any official Israeli citation of on-going or past human rights violations perpetrated in other countries, be they OECD countries or other countries, as some sort of tacit or explicit approval for Israeli human rights violations is illogical and inconsistent.”
Molad-Hayo continued, “the fact remains that Palestinian hunger strikers in Israel are engaging in a legitimate political protest of their ongoing confinement without trial and with no hint of due process.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.