Israel seeks force feeding powers as hunger striker enters danger zone

The head of the Israeli Medical Association says he will instruct physicians to ignore the new law if it is passed, saying it contradicts medical ethics. Israeli authorities are currently holding some 400 Palestinians without charge or trial.

Solidarity protest with administrative detainee Khader Adnan, Ofer Prison in the West Bank, February 2012 (photo: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)
Solidarity protest with administrative detainee Khader Adnan, Ofer Prison in the West Bank, February 2012 (photo: Oren Ziv / Activestills.org)

The Israeli parliament is expected to soon vote on a bill that would permit authorities to force feed Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike; the cabinet gave the measure its seal of approval on Sunday. Although no direct correlation has been shown, the move comes as Israel/Palestine’s most famous repeat hunger striker, Khader Adnan, has gone more than 40 days without food or nutrients.

Adnan is protesting being held under administrative detention, which means he has no access to due process, has not formally been accused of any crime, and has no way of defending himself. He is currently being held in a hospital in central Israel where he is reportedly shackled to his bed and is refusing to be treated by hospital medical staff. Adnan has said he will only agree to be treated by a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR), who is expected to see him on Wednesday.

From the fifth week of a hunger strike and on, according to the World Health Organization’s guide to prison health, a patient can lose motor coordination, have difficulty swallowing, and death can occur abruptly.

Adnan won his release from administrative detention in 2012 after a 66-day hunger strike that sparked protests across Israel and the West Bank and caught the world’s attention. He was detained once again during Israel’s massive arrest raids in the West Bank last summer, and has been held in administrative detention for the past 11 months. The Israeli army accuses him of being a spokesperson for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but it has not charged him with any crime.

The head of the Israeli Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, has long opposed attempts to force feed prisoners. As similar legislative measures came and went over the years, he has consistently argued that they contradict medical ethics and declared he would advise doctors to ignore any order to administer force feeding.

Khader Adnan plays with his daughter on his first day out of Israeli jail in the West Bank village of Araba, near Jenin, April 18, 2012. Israeli authorities released Khader Adnan on April 17, 2012 from administrative detention after he was held in an Israeli jail for months without trial. (Activestills.org)
Khader Adnan plays with his daughter on his first day out of Israeli jail in the West Bank village of Araba, near Jenin, April 18, 2012. Israeli authorities released Khader Adnan on April 17, 2012 from administrative detention after he was held in an Israeli jail for months without trial. (Activestills.org)

The World Medical Association has unequivocally stated that physicians should respect a patient’s refusal to accept food and/or water. “Forced feeding contrary to an informed and voluntary refusal is unjustifiable,” the WMA Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikers reads.

The WMA declaration goes on to explain, hunger strikes “are often a form of protest by people who lack other ways of making their demands known. In refusing nutrition for a significant period, they usually hope to obtain certain goals by inflicting negative publicity on the authorities.”

Force feeding hunger strikers is extremely inhumane and painful for the patient, described by the ACLU as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” In the video below Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) volunteers to undergo the “treatment” – it’s not a sight for faint eyes.

By force feeding hunger striking Palestinian prisoners, Israel hopes to undercut the only non-violent path prisoners have to protest their treatment and denial of due process. Hunger strikers have gained significant support on the Palestinian street, and Israeli authorities have long warned that letting high-profile hunger strikers die could spark unrest. Israeli politicians also believe that Israel would face international pressure over its practice of administrative detention if hunger strikes go on for too long.

Opposition to the bill came from an unexpected corner this week when former foreign minister MK Avigdor Liberman said his party, which is in the opposition, would oppose the bill. “[Israel] should learn from what happened to the Irish underground during the time of Margaret Thatcher,” Haaretz quoted Liberman as saying. “What is good for the birthplace of democracy, England, is good for us as well.”

According to Palestinian prisoner support organization Addameer, Israeli authorities were holding 414 Palestinians in administrative detention as of April 1, 2015, including a number of elected members of the Palestinian parliament.

The Israeli government made a number of concessions to end a mass hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners in 2012, including promises to reduce its use of administrative detention. By admitting that its use could be reduced, Israel’s public security minister seemingly admitted that it was being used unnecessarily, I wrote at the time.

Administrative detention is permitted under international law but only in extreme circumstances. Under Israeli law, the practice is a holdover from the British Mandate period and has been kept in effect by Israel’s emergency regulations. Those emergency regulations supersede most basic rights in Israel.

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