Force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners is a form of torture, Israel Medical Association chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman stated Thursday. He was responding to criticism leveled at him by Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan following Wednesday’s High Court decision to suspend Palestinian hunger striker Mohammed Allaan’s status as an administrative detainee.
Speaking with Israel Radio, Eidelman stressed that medical considerations must not be influenced by politics, and accused Erdan of attempting to use the issue for narrow political purposes.
“It is a shame the minister of internal security dragged us [doctors] into the political arena,” Eidelman said. “He is a politician, he has political interests, but medicine must remain apolitical. Doctors must treat all patients, regardless of politics.”
“Force-feeding is physical torture,” Eidelman continued. “Doctors cannot take part in torture… The last thing we need is torture. The last thing we need is force-feeding.”
Allaan, 31, is protesting his incarceration under administrative detention — a special anti-terror measure that allows imprisonment without trial on terrorism charges — for his affiliation with the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
Several Palestinians have gone on hunger strike in recent years to protest administrative detention, with a handful winning their release, often temporarily, or better prison conditions.
When asked why the medical association chose to reject out-of-hand a controversial law allowing authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners, Eidelman said Thursday the legislation was not binding, and therefore doctors were morally justified in their refusal to comply with the directive.
“The law does not require a doctor to do anything,” Eidelman said. “The law allows a doctor to [force-feed], that remains the doctor’s decision, and at the end of the day this decision must be made on the basis of medical ethics, and since this case is clear cut, it is forbidden to comply with such a directive.”
The law, passed in the Knesset on July 30, empowers district court judges – the highest judicial instance below the Supreme Court – to order the force-feeding of hunger-striking terror suspects. It does not directly require doctors to carry out the practice.
Erdan on Wednesday criticized the Israel Medical Association for refusing to force-feed Palestinian hunger strikers, and specifically singled out Eidelman, who, the minister claimed, had threatened doctors in order to ensure they do not implement the controversial procedure.
“The decision on the release of the terrorist Allaan was mainly driven first and foremost by the stance of the Israel Medical Association, led by Dr. Eidelman, not to treat hunger striking terrorists until they have lost consciousness or there is a fear of irreversible damage,” Erdan wrote in a Facebook post.
“Throughout the period of his hospitalization [at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon], Dr. Eidelman demanded and threatened doctors not to follow the [law] despite the decisions of the ethics committee of the hospital,” he added.
“It is time the Israel Medical Association and its leader respect the law instead of taking actions that eventually lead to the release of terrorists.”
On Wednesday, the High Court of Justice ruled that in light of Allaan’s worsening medical condition, his status as an administrative detainee will be put on hold, in a move that could pave the way for his release from Israeli prison. The court added that Allaan’s family will not be restricted from visiting him at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, where he will remain hospitalized due to his condition.
The court did not actually release Allaan, ruling that he could only leave Barzilai with the permission of authorities, and that in the case of disagreement between the sides it would hear the case again.
But the temporary suspension of his status as prisoner was enough to allow Allaan to end his hunger strike, family members said. Allaan’s health had deteriorated Wednesday night, and he was again placed in a medically induced coma as doctors began the long work of rehabilitating his body.
Medical tests showed that Allaan may have suffered brain damage due to vitamin deficiency after waging a 64-day hunger strike to protest his administrative detention by Israel. Reports conflicted as to whether the damage was reversible.
The hospital said earlier Wednesday that while Allaan was conscious, he was in a confused state and not responding to his surroundings. The statement said he was continuing to receive medical treatment for injuries sustained as a result of his hunger strike.
The state said during a High Court hearing Wednesday that Israel would release Allaan if medical tests showed he had suffered irreversible brain damage. Israel has reasoned that lasting brain damage would prevent Allaan from returning to the alleged activities for which he was detained.
Times of Israel staff, Josefin Dolsten, and AFP contributed to this report.