JERUSALEM — Israeli legislators voted Thursday to allow the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners in extreme cases, a move that appeared to be aimed at preventing Palestinian inmates from using fasts to win their release, particularly from indefinite incarceration.
Rights groups condemned the move, and the Israeli Medical Association called it “torture” and vowed to appeal the legislation.
In recent years, hundreds of Palestinians have conducted collective and individual hunger strikes. Some obtained better conditions in detention, and a handful were promised early release if they halted their fasts.
Most prominently, the Israeli authorities released Khader Adnan, a detainee who had become a symbol of resistance for many Palestinians, on July 12, fearing that his life was in danger after he fasted for 55 days.
The Ministry of Public Security, which put the bill forward, said it was a humane move to prevent prisoners from harming themselves and from pressuring the Israeli authorities.
“In the last few months and years, there were prisoners and detainees that were released after they hunger striked,” said Yoel Hadar, a legal adviser to the ministry. “They reached such a situation that after negotiations, the Israelis decided to release them.”
Mr. Hadar added: “It can’t be a concept that all prisoners think the way to get out of prison is to hunger strike. We can’t accept that way of thinking. No country can accept it.”
He said that force-feeding would be used only in the most extreme circumstances.
Two Palestinian hunger strikers died in 1980 after they were force-fed. Palestinian prisoner rights activists said force-feeding had been used only very rarely since.
Mr. Hadar said the United States, Australia, Austria and some districts of Switzerland also allowed some form of force-feeding. He said Israeli doctors would not be compelled to comply.
The law, which was passed on a 46-to-40 vote, “allows the prisons commissioner to ask a court for permission to force-feed a prisoner, if a doctor recommends doing so and there is an imminent danger of a severe deterioration in the prisoner’s health,” said a statement published on the Israeli Parliament website.
The law stipulates that the force-feeding must be done in private and in “as dignified a manner as possible.” But prison officials are allowed to use “reasonable force,” and, the statement said, a doctor must be present.
Palestinian prisoner rights activists said the law robbed detainees of their only means to protest incarceration.
“It’s the last thing the Palestinian prisoner has, to fight with his own body,” said Muhannad Alazzah, a researcher at Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner rights group. “It’s the last thing that Palestinians have to defend themselves and to regain their dignity in the prisons of the occupation.”
Mr. Alazzah said Thursday that one detainee had just ended a 45-day hunger strike protesting his indefinite incarceration without trial. He said the Israeli prison authorities had agreed to release the detainee if he ended the fast.
Another prisoner, Mohammad Allam, was continuing his 45-day strike to protest his indefinite incarceration.
At the core of many Palestinian hunger strikes is administrative detention, in which detainees can be held for renewable six-month periods, sometimes stretching into years. In such trials, security officials typically present evidence only to judges, not to detained Palestinians or their lawyers. Israeli security officials say they cannot make charges public because it will expose their intelligence-gathering systems.
The Israeli Medical Association said it would appeal the new law in court and asked its members not to cooperate with it.
“It’s absolutely clear that it’s torture, and it’s long-lasting torture,” said Dr. Leonid Eidelman, president of the medical association. “It cannot be done without endangering the patient and causing him a lot of suffering.”
Dr. Eidelman said force-feeding a hunger striker meant restricting the detainee’s movement — Palestinians say this is usually done by shackling them — and forcibly inserting a tube, which can cause bleeding or, if the prisoner is moving, enter the lungs.
He contrasted the law with current practice in Israel, where he said doctors had “very good experience” taking care of hunger strikers. During the last few years, Dr. Eidelman said, “we had more than 1,000 hunger strikers, no one died and none was force-fed.”
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(via NY Times)