Legislation allowing prisoners on hunger strike to be force-fed violates the prisoners’ human rights, Arab MKs, the PLO and several NGOs said on Thursday, after the bill became law that morning.
The Public Security Ministry bill passed into law with 46 in favor and 40 opposed shortly after 6 a.m., after more than four hours of speeches as part of a filibuster that fizzled out almost 10 hours earlier than expected.
Knesset Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) argued that the bill “creates the correct balance between the state’s interest to defend the life of the prisoner and his right and sovereignty over his own body.”
The law allows the prisons commissioner to ask the attorney- general and the president of a district court for authorization to have a doctor force-feed a prisoner on a hunger strike – if the doctor finds that the strike would cause irreparable damage or the prisoner is in immediate, mortal danger. The request can only be made after trying to get the prisoner to agree to the treatment, and the court must hear the prisoner’s position on the matter. The force-feeding would take place via a feeding tube or infusions, and a prison guard can use reasonable force if the prisoner resists.
MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) said a hunger strike is a prisoner’s last resort after all his rights are taken away.
Fellow Joint List MK and former physician Ahmad Tibi agreed: “A hunger strike is the last thing a prisoner feels he can do between the prison walls, certainly when it comes to someone under administrative detention,” he explained.
“Using a feeding tube is very rough for the patient... I call on every doctor in Israel not to cooperate with this terrible law, which is meant to torture prisoners.”
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After the law passed, MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) said it tramples basic human rights and came from “cold, calculated political considerations.”
“This is an apartheid state and I don’t understand those who insist on closing their eyes while barbaric laws are authorized that let the state treat humans, imprisoned for political reasons and held in inhumane conditions, like animals,” she continued. “The Israeli public sits in silence and lets its government fatten up people [like animals], choosing to be blind.
This blindness will strike back at Israel like a boomerang.”
The force-feeding law is tantamount to a license to kill Palestinian prisoners, Issa Qaraqi, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Prisoners Commission, said on Thursday. The legislation is also a form of “immoral torture” against the prisoners and a “very dangerous precedent,” he said.
Qaraqi warned that force-feeding could lead to death, as happened in 1980, when three inmates who were on hunger strike died after authorities tried to feed them by force.
The PA official claimed that this was the first law of its kind in the world. He called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities toward the Palestinian prisoners,” adding that the legislation violates international laws and conventions.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi also condemned the law, saying it “affirms Israel’s racism and arrogance.” The law will allow Israel to “continue committing its crimes” against Palestinian prisoners, Ashrawi said.
A spokesman for Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said the legislation authorizes torture and is meant to break the hunger-striker’s spirit by violating his right to autonomy over his body. And a spokesman for Amnesty International Israel said it does not believe the government’s claim that the measure is meant to save the lives of prisoners, rather, it is political and meant to silence protest.
“Since the Israeli occupation, thousands of Palestinian prisoners sat in Israeli prisons and dozens went on hunger strike.
Five died while being force-fed [one in 1970, two in 1980, one in 1984 and one in 1992]. When [Public Security Minister Gilad] Erdan, says ‘We won’t let anyone threaten us and we won’t let prisoners die in our prisons,’ he means that the Prisons Service will decide how the prisoner will die – through force-feeding,” the Amnesty spokesman said, calling for Israel to eliminate what the NGO said is the main problem: administrative detentions.
Israel Medical Association chairman Leonid Eidelman plans to petition the High Court of Justice against the law.
Eidelman sent a letter to doctors calling the legislation a “badge of shame in the Israeli law books” and pointing out that a district court can only authorize a doctor to force-feed a prisoner, but not require him or her to do so.
“Force-feeding is a serious danger to [the prisoner’s] health and opposes four principles of ethics. It is against the IMA’s ethical code and those accepted in the world,” the letter reads.
“Doctors should continue treating those on hunger strike as they did until now, professionally and according to the ethical code.
“Force-feeding is torture. A doctor may not take part in torture,” Eidelman wrote.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel commented: “The Knesset this morning took a shameful vote that exposes the anti-democratic face of its members. This is a law that forces the Israeli medical community to violate in the most serious way medical ethics for political goals as used to be done in the past in dark regimes. We will continue to struggle against this law and its implementation.”
The organization added that “the test of the medical community is on the day after the passage – in doctors’ absolute refusal to serve as a fig leaf for torture. We will not leave alone individual doctors and nurses or wait for one of them to give in to force-feeding. This is a shocking law that turns the medical profession into a tool for policing, punishing and suppressing. We will support everyone who refuses to carry it out and will stand against all attempts to force feed hunger strikers.”Judy Siegel contributed to this report.
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