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Knesset Approves Bill to Force-Feed Hunger Strikers

Debate rages over 'right to protest' in Knesset after force-feeding bill - which aims to save lives - approved on first reading.
By Hezki Ezra and Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 6/9/2014, 11:05 PM

Jail (illustrative)
Jail (illustrative)
Flash90

The Knesset approved for the first reading a landmark bill Monday which would allow prison authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners, sparking fury from several MKs. 

The Government bill seeks to authorize the Commissioner of Prisons to petition the District Court to obtain a permit for medical treatment of hunger-striking prisoners.

The court will take into account the opinion of the ethics committee at the hospital where a patient prisoner, except in urgent cases, and will be required to consider the medical condition and mental state of the prisoner, the degree of intrusiveness of the treatment and its impact on respect for the prisoner.

In addition, the court will take into account the position of the prisoner and his reasons for the strike, the results of similar treatments given to the prisoner if given before, as well as considerations of national security, public safety and the impact the decision on the ability to maintain order and security in the prison.

According to the proposal, if the court gives its approval, it will be possible to provide the medical treatment to the striker - even without the prisoner's approval. 

The explanatory text attached to the bill notes the prevalence of hunger strikes, and the damage they do to Israel's image.  

"Prisoner hunger strikes are a known phenomenon that has repeated itself in Israeli society over the past several years, with different objectives for the promotion of public striking prisoners," the note states. 

"The strikes are often characterized by the participation of a large number of prisoners, and some of the prisoners are on a constant hunger strike for an extended period, which in some cases risks their lives. The situation requires the formulation of appropriate and suitable methods for dealing with hunger strikes" .

After the vote on the law, MK Masud Ghanaian (United Arab List - UAL) fired that the bill is a patently undemocratic move.

''[This is] a blatantly undemocratic move," he fired. "Strikers have the right to express their suffering."

"If the government was worried about the life of the prisoners, it would release them or put them on trial," he continued. "The government brought this bill to avoid responsibility." 

Hadash MK Dov Henin agreed. "Shame on Netanyahu for importing a model based on Guantanamo Bay prison," he said.

Arab MKs dismissed the law as "despicable" and "inhuman." 

"Eight years ago we passed here a foie gras law which prohibits force-feeding geese," MK Isawi Frij (Meretz) stated. "They don't allow fattening up geese but they allow fattening up Arabs."  MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL), followed suit, saying the law is "inhuman" and lamenting the injustice to "a legitimate use of non-violent protest by people languishing in jail without trial." 

MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) reflected that the move upholds both Jewish and Muslim religious beliefs. 

''According to Jewish law, if a person wants to commit suicide we should prevent it," Ze'ev said. "I'm sure Muslim religious law does not allow a person to commit suicide [either]."

Ze'ev also noted that the strikes are usually a mere political tactic.

"If anyone thinks the hunger strikers are in prison because of the distress it is a complete lie, the country's prisons are sanatoriums in relation to prisons in Arab countries," he remarked. 

Likud MK Moshe Feiglin disagreed, however, arguing that the bill places too much importance on the strikers.

"What is this idea of force-feeding?' he asked. "If people want to die, let them die - it's not our problem. In the same week the Committee of Ministers decided to facilitate 'honest and honorable' suicide [Euthanasia - ed.], we decide to prohibit criminals to do the same."

"We are afraid of a situation that endangers our justice from prevailing," he continued. "I urge you to reject this law in disgust.''

Hunger strikes are a common tactic by Palestinian Arab terrorists to gain political visibility for their cause in the international community. 

Several weeks ago, hundreds of Palestinian Arab terrorist prisoners declared a hunger strike in "solidarity" with a Hamas prisoner's solitary confinement. After a media brouhaha, the terrorists ended the hunger strike just hours after it began. 

Some 1,550 Palestinian Arabs imprisoned in Israel ended a hunger strike in May 2012, in exchange for a package of measures which would allow visits from relatives in Gaza and the transfer of detainees out of solitary confinement.