Force-feeding bill to come to vote after deal struck

Force-feeding bill to come to vote after deal struck

Lawmakers hammer out compromise under which prisons will only be able to forcefully nourish hunger striking inmates if they are in mortal danger

Palestinians rallying in Ramallah for hunger striking prisoners in Ramallah (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinians rallying in Ramallah for hunger striking prisoners in Ramallah (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

A final version of a controversial bill that would allow force-feeding hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners is set to be presented to the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee on Wednesday after an agreement between coalition partners Yesh Atid and Likud on changes to the bill paved the way for its passage.

As part of the legislative deal, force-feeding will only be allowed to take place on the condition that a prisoner on hunger strike is in mortal danger, and doctors cannot be compelled to perform the procedure against the hunger striker’s will. Previously, the measure could be taken if a prisoner was simply at medical risk.

The agreement Tuesday evening came just two days after the Knesset delayed a key vote on the bill, aimed at allowing the practice of force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike, following a demand by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party.

Lapid reportedly said that Yesh Atid party members would vote against the bill if changes were not made to the controversial measure.

Methods of treatment could include intravenous infusion or insertion of a gastric feeding tube. The final version of the bill also includes a clause under which a doctor who refused to force-feed an inmate would be permitted to transfer the prisoner to a physician willing to perform the procedure.

The bill is set to go to a full vote in the Knesset Monday and then back to committee for a second and third reading the same day.

The proposed law has also been roundly criticized by the medical community.

Last week, the World Medical Association urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider presenting to bill to the Knesset plenum and asserted that force-feeding prisoners constitutes an act of violence completely contrary to the principle of individual autonomy. The organization added that the use of such a treatment was degrading and inhumane, and may even amount to torture.

Similarly, Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Edelman asserted that Israeli doctors would never agree to such court-mandated orders. The association has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the bill, stating that the law in its current form violates medical ethics codes and international treaties. Israel’s National Council of Bioethics has also weighed in, saying it opposes the proposed measure as well.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg dismissed the changes Tuesday as “cosmetic” and slammed the Yesh Atid party for agreeing to support the bill.

“Yesh Atid literally took two days to come down from its perch and get in line with the radical right-wing members in the coalition,” she said, according to Israeli news site Walla. “The difference [between the old and new draft] is purely cosmetic. The essence of the law is the ability to force-feed, which is a means of torture, and this remains in the bill. This law will allow political considerations and not just health considerations and therefore is morally wrong. There is no way to fix this bill and it must be canceled.”

As of Tuesday, 63 of 290 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have suspended the hunger strike they have engaged in since late April, one of their lawyers said Tuesday. A source close to the Palestinian Fatah movement said it was possible the strike’s end was connected to the law being brought to a vote.

Eight weeks in, at least 65 participating detainees had been hospitalized. The prisoners were striking in protest of Israel’s use of administrative detention, which allows security forces to hold without charge detainees for indefinitely renewable six-month periods, in a procedure dating back to the British Mandate.

Some 5,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails, with nearly 200 in administrative detention.

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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