Now Israel wants to legalize force-feeding

Palestinians in Jerusalem protest against the internment without charge of Khader Adnan, who is on hunger strike again.

Saeb Awad APA images

The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved a bill that would permit the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners.

Proposed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the bill is being picked up where it was left last summer. Before it becomes law, the bill still must pass two votes in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The Israeli government approved the bill on the fortieth day of renowned Palestinian political prisoner Khader Adnan’s second hunger strike.

The current legislation is only slightly altered from the original bill that failed to become law last year. It requires a judge to approve force-feeding after a doctor says the prisoner’s life is in danger. At that point, a staff member of the Israel Prison Service would be able to use force-feeding — a violent process that requires the person to be forcibly restrained while a feeding tube is shoved up his or her nose.

The bill failed to become law last year when it was stalled. It was introduced amidst a wide-scale hunger strike among Palestinian political prisoners, who were protesting administrative detention (Israel’s name for internment without charge or trial).

But after initially racing it forward, the Knesset never voted on the bill. The vote was interrupted by news that the dead bodies of three missing Israeli teenagers had been found.

Adnan is protesting being held indefinitely and without charge under administrative detention. Between December 2011 and April 2012 he went on hunger strike for 66 days, protesting Israel’s refusal to charge him with any crime.

Health deteriorating

Subsisting on only water for more than a month, Adnan’s health is quickly deteriorating. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies, his weight has dropped to a dangerous level and he is unable to stand or move. The Israel Prison Service has forcibly transferred Adnan to Assaf Harofeh Hospital, where he is being watched by multiple prison guards while one hand and one leg are cuffed to the hospital bed.

Last year, the previous form of the force-feeding bill prompted the World Medical Association to describe the practice as “tantamount to torture” for the first time.

The current bill is in most regards the same, with the notable exception that a doctor is not required to force-feed the prisoners.

Last year, the Israel Medical Association denounced the measure, saying that the union would not defend any doctor at the Hague for participating in force-feeding.

Revealing the political impetus behind the bill, Public Security Minister Erdan said on Sunday, “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.”

Legalizing torture

Hunger striking has a long history among Palestinians imprisoned by Israel — and until the 1990s Israel permitted force-feeding hunger strikers. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, five Palestinian prisoners died while being force-fed between 1970 and 1992.

Administrative detention is invoked when the state does not want to disclose evidence against the prisoner. Adnan has been arrested several times in regards to his relationship with the Islamic Jihad movement, but never charged with a crime. There are over 400 Palestinian prisoners currently held under administrative detention.

In 2012, when administrative detention became the target of a mass hunger strike in Israeli prisoners, Erdan’s predecessor, former minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, called for the reduction of the use of the practice, arguing for its use “only if there is a need and not in all cases.”

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has been a leading opponent of the bill and described it as legalizing torture. “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,” the group stated.


Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.