Supreme Court upholds controversial ‘force-feeding’ bill
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Supreme Court upholds controversial ‘force-feeding’ bill

Law strikes 'delicate balance' between upholding rights of hunger-striking inmates and defending public interest, justices say

Israeli Doctors for Human Rights protest near the Knesset in Jerusalem against force feeding, June 16, 2014. (Flash90)
Israeli Doctors for Human Rights protest near the Knesset in Jerusalem against force feeding, June 16, 2014. (Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Sunday upheld a controversial law allowing the Israel Prison Service to force-feed inmates who are on hunger strike.

The law, which passed in July 2015, was brought before the Supreme Court earlier this year. After deliberation, the justices determined that it “meets the criteria for legality and delivers a delicate balance between the sanctity of life and upholding the interest of the public and the right of the inmate for dignity, autonomy and freedom of expression.”

This balance is achieved through the gradual process called for in the law, which requires a series of medical, legal and judicial verifications, the court said in a statement.

Over the past several years, prisoners in Israel, specifically Palestinians incarcerated for security violations, have launched hunger strikes in a bid to change or improve their conditions, sometimes igniting widespread protests on the Palestinian street. Palestinians held in administrative detention — which allows them to be confined for renewable six-month period without being formally charged — have also begun hunger strikes in protest.

The head of the legal department for the Palestinian Prisoners Club, Jawad Bulis, said the decision “arms the management of Israeli jails with a tool designed to break the strength of Palestinian prisoners by painting the step as legitimate.

Palestinian terror suspect Mohammed Allaan addresses supporters from his Ashkelon hospital bed after he ended his 65-day hunger strike, in a video message released August 21, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
Palestinian terror suspect Mohammed Allaan addresses supporters from his Ashkelon hospital bed after he ended his 65-day hunger strike, in a video message released August 21, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

The law states that a representative Prisons Service, with the approval of the attorney general, can request court permission to give medical assistance to a prisoner on hunger strike.

In order to receive such permission, the Prisons Service must provide a medical opinion that the health of a hunger-striking prisoner would be in serious danger within a short period of time.

If the court then gives the Prison Service permission, the prison can provide the minimal amount of medical treatment necessary to sustain the life of the prisoner and prevent irreversible damage to his or her health — even if the prisoner refuses.

Before medical treatment can be given, however, the law requires every effort to be made to receive the permission of the prisoner.

The hunger-striking prisoner would then receive treatment in the presence of a doctor, carried out in such a way as to best preserve the prisoner’s dignity.

Leonid Eidelman seen during the Medical Federation Conference, after he won the elections for Chairman of the Federation, in Jerusalem's Convention Center, on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Leonid Eidelman seen during the Medical Federation Conference, after he won the elections for Chairman of the Federation, in Jerusalem’s Convention Center, on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The law passed last year with 46 MKs in favor and 40 against, following a raucous all-night Knesset session in which lawmakers hurled accusations at each other.

The bill was derided by human rights groups and medical organizations. The head of the Israel Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, announced that Israeli doctors would not comply with the measure.

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