Israeli doctors have been instructed to not comply with legislation approved by the cabinet Sunday that would enable prison authorities to force feed hunger-striking Palestinian inmates.
In a letter addressed to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Israeli Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said he had given doctors an instruction to act solely according to the demands of ethics and not to force-feed prisoners on a hunger strike.
“The Medical Association views the intention to legislate force-feeding very severely,” Eidelman said. “Our objection was expressed to [representatives of] government ministries and the attorney general at every opportunity.”
Force-feeding prisoners by tube against a person’s will has been prohibited since 1975 by the World Medical Association’s Tokyo Declaration, provided that the prisoner is “capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment.” The procedure can result in extreme pain and in severe bleeding and spreading of various diseases.
In the United States, force feeding has been a source of political controversy, most notably its application in the Guantanamo Bay military prison.
The legislation was proposed by the last government and revived by Erdan last week. The draft passed its first reading in the preceding Knesset, but did not reach the second and third readings required for it to be signed into law.
Activists have warned that one hunger striking Palestinian prisoner is in critical condition and other security detainees have threatened to join him, bringing renewed attention to the issue.
In a reaction to Eidelman’s letter, Erdan called into question the association’s own ethical position.
“As those entrusted with saving lives in any given situation, the doctors must fulfill their role, whether it is a prisoner attempting to commit suicide in his cell, or a prisoner starving himself to death,” Erdan was quoted by Ynet as saying.
“The law may not formally require doctors to carry out the procedure, but I am certain we will find doctors who will agree to do it,” he said.
He said he would seek to push the bill through the Knesset as soon as possible. After being given the cabinet’s okay, it still must go through three readings.
“Security prisoners are interested in turning hunger strikes into a new kind of suicide attack that would threaten the State of Israel. We cannot allow anyone to threaten us and we will not allow prisoners to die in our prisons,” Erdan said.
Left-wing Knesset members and human rights groups joined Eidelman in railing against Sunday’s legislation, calling on the government to not advance it further.
Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas warned that if the bill will be approved, “it would be a dark milestone and a fundamental infringement of human rights.”
Calling the law “immoral and unethical,” left-wing Meretz party leader MK Zahava Gal-on said it was meant to solve political problems of the government and shore up its image at the expense of prisoners’ rights. “In a democracy, hunger strikes are a legitimate protest tool,” she asserted.
Physicians for Human Rights dubbed the legislation “shameful” and said it would legalize torture. “Instead of force-feeding them, while humiliating and risking their lives, Israel must address the demands of strikers – including putting an end to arbitrary administrative detentions,” the organization said in a statement.
The Israel Prison Service has said that four prisoners are currently refusing to eat, and has warned of an extensive hunger strike after the month-long Ramadan holiday, which begins June 18.
Last week, the Palestinian government warned that hunger-striking prisoner Khader Adnan was “in danger of dying” after 36 days of protest.
“Israel is entirely responsible for the life of prisoners in administrative detention,” it said in a statement, referring to a procedure under which Israel can hold Palestinians without trial indefinitely for renewable six-month periods.
Adnan was “in danger of dying,” it added.
The prisoner was hospitalized several days ago, and he is continuing his protest against the conditions of his imprisonment, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.
Two other prisoners are also staging a hunger strike — Mohammed Rashdan, who is protesting against being deprived of family visits, and Ayman al-Sharbati, an East Jerusalem resident placed in solitary confinement.
The Israel Prison Service said it does not have the resources to handle large numbers of hunger-striking prisoners.
In 2012 and 2013, a large hunger strike and Palestinian protests led Israel to release a number of prisoners from administrative detention.