Cabinet approves bill to allow force-feeding hunger striking prisoners

Force feeding would only be allowed if prisoner's health in serious danger, recommended by doctor following assessment.

Eshel Prison (photo credit: ISRAEL PRISON SERVICE)
Eshel Prison
The cabinet on Sunday approved a bill to allow the force-feeding of hunger- striking prisoners if their lives are in danger.
The bill will still need to be brought to the Knesset and pass first and second readings to go into law.
Proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, it is titled the “Prevention of Damage by Hunger Strikers” bill and is a continuation of sorts of a bill that passed its first reading in the Knesset last summer.
According to Erdan’s parliamentary aide, the current bill is basically the same as the previous one, except that in the current version a doctor cannot be required to apply the force-feeding, and only a judge who is a district court president or deputy president can approve the measure. The judge will be required to consult with an ethics committee before issuing his decision.
The bill also stipulates that authorities must have exhausted efforts to convince the prisoner to end his hunger strike and the prisoner must have been made aware of the health dangers of continuing his protest.
Erdan said Sunday that he will work to see the bill passed into law in the Knesset and that “security prisoners would like to see hunger strikes become a new sort of suicide bombing to threaten the State of Israel.
“We won’t allow anyone to threaten us, and we won’t allow prisoners to die in our prisons,” he said.
Like the previous bill, the current one would allow force-feeding only if a doctor says the prisoner’s health is in serious danger. The doctor’s assessment would then be weighed by a court and the treating hospital’s ethics commission. If the judge approves the measure, Prisons Service personnel would then be allowed to feed hunger strikers against their will, using force if needed.
The bill also stipulates that authorities take into account “the security of the prison and security of the public,” when deciding whether to approve force-feeding a particular prisoner.
The NGO Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said Sunday that “the Israeli government has again proposed a disgraceful law that was condemned from the medical community in Israel and the world, and which will legalize torture and gross violations of medical ethics and international conventions.
Instead of force-feeding prisoners who are humiliated and whose lives are in danger, Israel should deal with the demands of the hunger strikers – through the ending of administrative detentions.”
Those being held in administrative detention are indefinitely held without a standard trial, but do have judicial proceedings, though they are significantly modified, and often only the judge gets to review the evidence, not the defense. The practice has long inspired hunger strikes by prisoners on administrative detention and their supporters behind bars.
In a statement on Sunday, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that force-feeding is forbidden in that it violates the rights of individuals to refuse treatment and violates “the autonomy of their bodies and dignity.”
It added that the issue is further complicated by the fact that the majority of hunger strikers are Palestinians who are being held in administrative detention for long durations, referring to the practice as “one of the gravest injustices of the military rule in the [Palestinian] territories.”
MK Zehava Gal-On, the head of the Meretz Party, called the law “immoral,” adding that it’s meant to shore up political points for the government at the expense of prisoners’ rights.
Force-feeding hunger strikers is opposed by a number of international bodies, including the World Medical Association as well as the Israel Medical Association. The former chairman of the IMA’s ethics committee, Dr.
Avinoam Reches, has gone as far as to say that force-feeding is torture.
According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, a total of five Palestinian prisoners died from force-feeding in the 1970s, 1980s and up until 1992.
Force-feeding has found some support from the European Court of Human Rights, which has permitted (Switzerland) and prohibited (Ukraine and Moldova) force-feeding in cases in 2005, 2007 and 2013. Where the European court prohibited force-feeding, it still listed factors that could permit force-feeding, such as avoiding unnecessary suffering and aggression to the patient and medical necessity for saving the patient’s life.
Hunger strikers have long been one of the main methods Palestinian security prisoners use to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. These protests often lead to solidarity protests outside the prisons, which often erupt into unrest.