Human Rights Watch denounces Israeli move to force-feed hunger strikers

Khader Adnan addresses a rally following his recent release; he had gone on hunger strike for 55 days. 

Shadi Hatem APA images

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approved a bill on Thursday that will enable prison authorities to force-feed Palestinian political prisoners who go on hunger strike.

The bill — which passed by a narrow 46-40 margin — permits force-feeding or medical treatment against a prisoner’s will as long as a doctor judges that the prisoner’s life is in danger. An Israeli judge will have to approve each case on an individual basis.

Despite widespread criticism, Israeli politicians have defended the draconian legislation. Lawmaker David Amselon, a member of the ultra-nationalist Likud party, said that force-feeding “will be used only if a doctor determines that the continued hunger strike will create an immediate risk to the life of a prisoner or long-term damage to his health,” reports Ma’an News Agency.

Gilad Erdan, the Israeli interior minister who campaigned for the bill to be passed, referred to prisoners going on hunger strike as “a new type of suicide terror attack.”

The move came on the heels of a successful and highly publicized hunger strike by Khader Adnan, who refused food for 55 days in protest at how he was being held without charge or trial under a practice known as administrative detention. Adnan was released last month.

According to Addameer, a Ramallah-based group that monitors Israel’s detentions and arrests, 401 Palestinians are currently held in administrative detention.  The new law will allow Israel to force-feed convicted prisoners and administrative detainees alike.


Human rights groups and medical associations have slammed the legislation. Sarah Saadoun, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the law “grants the state more leeway to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners, many of whom are being held indefinitely without trial.”

Israel is “attempt[ing] to silence their protest over detention conditions rather than to ensure their wellbeing,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

“When a state force-feeds competent prisoners who are making a decision to refuse food — whether it is the United States dealing with prisoners in Guantanamo or Israel dealing with Palestinians in the West Bank — it is violating their right to bodily autonomy and subjecting them to procedures that are inhumane and degrading, and are sometimes torture,” Saadoun said.

Back in late June, when the bill was first proposed in the Knesset, the World Medical Association (WMA) decried force-feeding in an open letter to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Force-feeding is violent, very painful and absolutely in opposition to the principle of individual autonomy,” the WMA wrote.

“It is a degrading, inhumane treatment, amounting to torture,” the letter continued. “But worse, it can be dangerous and is the most unsuitable approach to save lives.”

The Israeli Medical Association (IMA) has also protested the legislation. Dr. Leonid Eidelman, chairman of the IMA, said it puts “doctors who treat prisoners in impossible situations.”

 “It creates the [illusion] that with such a law, one can prevent harm to the health of hunger strikers — but it doesn’t actually do so,” Eidelman said, as reported by the right-wing Jerusalem Post. “We will not agree to such a law that places physicians at the front where they don’t belong, both as a group and as individuals, in complete contravention to their professional and ethical responsibilities.”

Disobedience measures

Israel stifles Palestinian civil society by targeting influential activists, intellectuals and political leaders for arrest on a regular basis. An estimated 5,750 Palestinians — including 164 children and 25 women — are in lockup behind Israeli bars, according to Addameer.

A 2011 military document leaked to the Israeli daily Haaretz notes that Israel’s military courts in the occupied West Bank have a conviction rate of more than 99 percent.

Several Palestinian prisoners are now on hunger strike in Israeli lockup. Both held without charges as administrative detainees, Muhammad Allan and Uday Isteiti have been refusing food for more than 36 days. Prisoners Abdallah Abu Jaber and Mousa Safon have also been on hunger strike for more than a week.

Last summer an estimated 125 Palestinian prisoners fasted for 63 days in “the longest collective hunger strike in Palestinian history,” Ma’an reported at the time.

Yet, going on hunger strike is just one of several ways in which Palestinian prisoners fight back against Israel’s unjust detentions and the appalling conditions they live in within prison walls.  

Palestinians in Israel’s Nafha prison are using several tactics to insist that the Israeli prison authorities respect their demands, which include having the prison administration meet an elected representative of the prisoners, ending punitive measures against prisoners, ending solitary confinement and putting a stop to all nighttime raids on their cells.

The prisoners’ “disobedience measures [include] closing the cell blocks, refusing recreation time in the yard and ending all communication with the prison administration until their demands are met,” Addameer reports.  They have also burned down several cells in response to raids by Israeli prison guards. 


Patrick Strickland

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Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor at The Electronic Intifada. He is presently working on his first book for the London-based publishing house Zed Books. See his in-depth coverage for EI.