Knesset votes to continue work on bill to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners

Monday's vote passed with 53 in favor and 50 opposed.

Eshel Prison (photo credit: ISRAEL PRISON SERVICE)
Eshel Prison
Legislation allowing prisoners on hunger strike to be force-fed was expected to move forward in the Knesset Monday night.
The bill would allow the prisons commissioner to ask a court for permission to forcefeed a prisoner, if a doctor recommends doing so and there is an imminent danger of a severe deterioration in the prisoner’s health. The court will have to review the prisoner’s mental state, the dangers of force-feeding via a feeding tube and its invasiveness, the prisoner’s stance on the matter and other considerations.
If the request is authorized, the prisoner can be fed against his will and a prison guard can use physical force to ensure the prisoner is fed.
The vote Monday night, which passed with 53 in favor and 50 opposed, was on whether to continue the legislative process from the last Knesset, in which the bill passed a first reading.
The Israel Medical Association and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel oppose the bill, with IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman objecting on grounds that it places responsibility on physicians to carry out invasive treatment of prisoners in spite of their preference and right to autonomy, contravening the Patients’ Rights Law (1966 as well as medical ethics accepted in both Israel and the rest of the world. Physicians are sworn to uphold the principle of “non-maleficence,” that is, the obligation of the physician not to inflict harm intentionally.
In the plenum Monday, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) called the bill “problematic, dangerous and unnecessary.”
“Israel has a law against force-feeding geese. We should understand that what cannot be done to geese cannot be done to people, either,” Henin stated.
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) said the bill is meant to prevent hunger strikes as a form of political protest.
“I don’t understand what the use of this bill is, especially not at this time,” she added. “It will only lead to more harm to the State of Israel… We are at a time that Israel’s international image is not at its best, to put it delicately.
Why do we need this now?” According to Meretz MK Esawi Frej, the legislation seeks to silence prisoners through torture, and MK Zuheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) compared the force feeding to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
“Does anyone really think the Palestinians will stop their struggle because of force-feeding?” Frej asked.
Yisrael Beytenu, like the rest of the opposition, opposed the bill, but for a different reason. MK Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu) said that Israel should learn from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and allow hunger-striking prisoners to starve to death.
“We’re talking about a group of despicable murderers who are sitting in prisons with great conditions…These murderers should languish under harsh conditions,” Gal stated.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called death from a hunger strike a kind of suicide bombing.
“I don’t understand left-wing MKs. We in the State of Israel always value life, and therefore we will not allow suicides to take place, not by hanging, not by an explosives belt and not by hunger strike. You are essentially proposing that we allow these people to starve to death, or maybe to release them,” he commented.
Erdan said force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike is practiced in many Western states who do not deal with as many security challenges as Israel, and sometimes in more aggressive methods than feeding tubes.
“The basis of this bill is differentiating between people on hunger strike and people who refuse to receive medical care, which is why we do not accept the IMA’s objection,” Erdan explained. “A person on hunger strike wants to promote his issue and put it on the agenda. His life was not in danger before he went on strike and the desired result of his actions is not death, even if he is willing to pay that price.
“The consideration on which this bill is based is saving the life of a person that does not seek to die,” he added.
Judy Siegal-Itzkovich contributed to this report.