Force-feeding bill to move to final Knesset vote

As intra-coalition compromise paves way for passing of measure, opposition MKs blast law as ‘idiotic’

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinians demonstrate in support of hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, April 9, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Palestinians demonstrate in support of hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, April 9, 2013. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The Knesset will vote Monday evening on a final version of a controversial bill that would allow the force-feeding of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, after the measure was given the go-ahead by the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee.

The bill will be brought before the Knesset plenum for a second and third reading after an agreement between coalition partners Yesh Atid and Likud last week on changes to the bill smoothed the way for its passage.

Likud MK Miri Regev, who heads the committee, said after the vote that the law was balanced and measured and that the panel heard a number of caveats, a Knesset statement said.

The move to send the bill to the Knesset for final approval drew harsh criticism from opposition lawmakers on Monday morning.

“Today is a black day for the Knesset,” MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) said.

Another Arab Israeli MK, Basel Ghattas of the Balad party, said the bill was an “idiotic law by an idiotic prime minister.”

As part of the Yesh Atid-Likud 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, force-feeding could be applied if a prisoner was simply at medical risk.

The agreement last Tuesday evening came just two days after the Knesset delayed a key vote on the bill 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 proposed law has been roundly criticized by the medical community.

Earlier this month, 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.

Spencer Ho and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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