Israeli plan to force-feed hunger strikers “cruel and inhuman,” say UN experts

Palestinians rally in solidarity with hunger strikers in Israeli jails in front of the Red Cross office in Gaza City, 23 June. Ashraf Amra APA images

Two independent UN experts have urged Israel to abandon a draft law making its way through parliament that would allow the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike in Israeli jails.

“It is not acceptable to force-feed or use threats of force-feeding or other physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike to protest against their detention without charge and conditions of detention and treatment,” Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The desire of the inmates not to eat must be respected for as long as it is clear that they are making that choice voluntarily. Even if it is intended for the benefit of the detainees, feeding induced by threats, coercion, force or use of physical restraints are tantamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Méndez added.

UN Special Rapporteurs are independent experts charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues.

The Israeli draft law would oblige doctors who refuse to carry out forced-feeding to identify a colleague who would agree to perform such measures, placing an obligation on doctors to act contrary to their professional code of ethics.

“Healthcare personnel may not apply undue pressure on individuals who have decided to go on hunger strike,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health Anand Grover said in the statement.

“Prisoners’ rights to control their health, body, and be free from interference such as non-consensual medical treatment are fundamental elements of the right to health that must be respected and protected,” Grover added.

Media reports today say that dozens of Palestinians who have been on hunger strike against their prolonged detention without charge or trial agreed to suspend their strike after 63 days, but details remain unclear.

Israeli lawmakers are nonetheless pressing ahead with the force-feeding bill.

Hunger strike is “terrorism”

“This bill is a deterrent,” Miri Regev, a Likud lawmaker and one of the initiative’s sponsors, said on Wednesday.

“Prison walls don’t mean an action is not terrorism,” she added. “There is terrorism on the streets and this [hunger strike] is terrorism in prison.”

Regev is notorious for statements reflecting the racism gripping the Israeli body politic. In 2012, for instance, she compared African migrants and refugees to “cancer” and denied that they were “human beings.”