The final vote on a law explicitly permitting the force-feeding of prisoners was delayed by the Knesset today, according to local news agencies. The bill passed a first reading in the Israel’s parliament last week despite having garnered criticism from international and Israeli human rights groups and medical associations. The final vote is now slated for Monday.
The Israeli Medical Association (IMA) has been particularly vocal in its opposition to the bill. The organization views force-feeding as a form of torture; it adheres to the World Medical Association's 1975 Tokyo Declaration, which explicitly prohibits force-feeding.
"Doctors who do that are liable to be denounced by the global medical community, and it will be hard to defend them if they are prosecuted," IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Edelman told Ha'aretz.
How and by whom Israeli doctors might be prosecuted is unclear.
"Medical ethics trumps the law," said Edelman. "Even if they pass a law obligating us to do this, doctors must refuse."
The bill proposal comes around the two-month mark of the Palestinian prisoners' hunger strike, in which approximately 100 prisoners are participating, according to Palestinian prisoner and human rights advocacy group Addameer.
The strikers are protesting the fact that they have all been detained indefinitely without charges, and are demanding either release or trial. There are currently 5,571 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons; 196 are children and approximately 300 are administrative detainees, meaning they are held without charges or trial for renewable periods of up to six months. Of that, 194 prisoners have been placed in administrative detention since the raids carried out by the Israeli army began last Thursday.
The bill may be a move by Israeli authorities to minimize the political repercussions of the hunger strike. If one of the hunger strikers were to die, the already tenuous political situation could take a turn for the worst.
"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Shin Bet security agency are trying to resolve a political issue by using force, instead of resolving the issues raised by Palestinian prisoners which are Israel's detention policies," Amany Dayif of Physicians for Human Rights Israel told local media.
Force-feeding is not necessarily medically beneficial to hunger strikers in critical condition, though, according to Edelman.
"This type of nutrition doesn’t always restore the body’s balance immediately or even in the short term. A prisoner who’s close to death is liable to die even if we start to feed him, Edelman said.
The bill has been amended to allow doctors to sedate hunger-striking prisoners to facilitate force-feeding. That practice might not be medically sound, according to Edelon, given that force-feeding generally occurs repeatedly.
The bill has also been amended omit the phrase "force-feeding." Human rights activists have decried this as a mere cosmetic change and an attempt to circumvent legal problems down the road, since force-feeding is explicitly prohibited under international law.
"At the end of the day, the prisoners are going to be force-fed and they're going to be sedated beforehand," said Gavin Kelley, the Advocacy Coordinator at Addameer.
Kelley implores the international community to put greater pressure on Israel to prevent the passing of the bill, though he expects it will pass.