The Israel Prison Service is considering bringing doctors from abroad to force-feed Palestinian prisoners participating in an ongoing hunger strike, Channel 2 news reported Thursday.
The plan, which is expected to generate fierce legal and ethical opposition, is being currently weighed by the Health Ministry the report said.
The discussion comes amid further reports that prisoners who are members of Hamas have also joined the strike that has until now been mostly carried out by Fatah party members.
Although Israeli legislation allows for the forced feeding of prisoners, the Israeli Medical Association has barred its members from doing so.
Israel is worried that as the protest, now in its 18th day, goes on, the courts will force the prison authority to release the hunger strikers due to health concerns, as it has done in the past.
Israel Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati said on Monday that 870 prisoners are still refusing to eat. Israeli officials have said they will not negotiate with the prisoners.
In July 2015 Israel passed controversial legislation empowering district court judges – the highest judicial instance below the Supreme Court – to order the force-feeding of hunger-striking terror suspects.
However, Israeli doctors have been instructed by the Israeli Medical Association not to force-feed prisoners.
“The Medical Association views the intention to legislate force-feeding very severely,” IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said at the time. “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.
When asked in 2015 why the medical association chose to reject out-of-hand a controversial law allowing authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners, Eidelman said 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.”
On Thursday Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said, “The hunger strike of the terrorists is an attempt to put pressure on the State of Israel. We must make sure that we have prepared all the means to deal with the strike and the various scenarios.”
MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint (Arab) List harshly criticized the plan to force-feed the prisoners.
“The plan to fly doctors from abroad to carry out force-feeding is immoral,” he told Channel 2. “The very idea is disgusting and shameful. The prisoners’ human demands must be met instead of waging a dirty war against them.”
Over the past three weeks, support for the hunger strike has gained momentum with West Bank marches, strikes, and backing on Palestinian social media.
— al whit (@soitiz) May 4, 2017
On Thursday several top Hamas members joined the strike, Channel 2 reported.
These include Abbas al-Sayed, who masterminded the 2003 Passover attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya and Ibrahim Hamed, sentenced by an Israeli military court in 2012 to multiple life sentences for ordering the killing of dozens of Israelis and wounding hundreds. Hasan Salameh, who is currently serving a life sentence in Israel for dispatching suicide bombers to Israel, is also said to have joined the strike.
The hunger-strikers, led by convicted terrorist and popular Palestinian figure Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for his role in deadly attacks, have become a cause celebre, with near daily demonstrations in support of them.
Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of terror offenses and crimes. Around 500 are being held under Israel’s system of administrative detention, which allows for imprisonment without charge.
Palestinian prisoners have mounted repeated hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.
Among the demands made by Barghouti and fellow prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was canceled by the International Committee of the Red Cross last year due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being canceled for security reasons, extending the length of each visit from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams for prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and the installation of public telephones in security wings.