Knesset delays controversial bill allowing force-feeding prisoners

Lapid threatens coalition crisis if vote on measure aimed at hunger-striking Palestinians inmates not postponed

Palestinian school children, in a Hamas-organized procession, march in solidarity with prisoners held in Israel (Photo credit: Sliman Khader/ Flash 90)
Palestinian school children, in a Hamas-organized procession, march in solidarity with prisoners held in Israel (Photo credit: Sliman Khader/ Flash 90)

A Knesset vote on the bill allowing Israel to force-feed prisoners on hunger strike was delayed overnight Sunday-Monday, hours before it was set to be brought up for a second reading.

The demand to postpone came at the behest of Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who threatened a coalition crisis, Channel 2 reported.

According to the report, Lapid relayed the message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday night, demanding a delay of at least a week, to discuss the objections to the bill raised by MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid).

The finance minister reportedly told Netanyahu that Yesh Atid party members would vote against the bill if he did not acquiesce.

The controversial bill was passed by the Knesset’s Interior Committee last Tuesday when most of the committee members were absent from the discussions, and was finalized for vote in a speedy procedure for its second and third readings set for Monday

The proposed legislation would allow a district court president or vice president to permit the forced medical treatment of a prisoner, if it is clear that without treatment the prisoner would be at medical risk.

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 required by law to transfer the prisoner to a physician willing to perform the procedure.

Last week, the World Medical Association urged 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, inhumane, and may even amount to torture.

The parliamentary debate over the bill comes in the midst of a widespread Palestinian prisoner strike that started April 24.

Eight weeks in, at least 65 of 290 participating detainees have been hospitalized. The prisoners are 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.

Politicians and public figures have expressed outrage at the proposed piece of legislation, as the practice of force-feeding is widely frowned upon in the medical and human rights communities both domestically and internationally.

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.

Last week, the government decided to worsen the conditions for about a thousand Hamas members serving time in Israel prisons, in a bid to increase pressure on the terror group to release three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12.

The search for Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 — as well their abductors — entered its 11th day Monday and Jerusalem has been seeking additional measures to clamp down on Hamas both military and diplomatically.

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