Date: 29 June 2014
Re: Force-Feeding Legislation
We, the undersigned human rights organizations, seek your urgent intervention regarding Proposed Amendment to the Prisoners Act [New Form] (Preventing Damages due to Hunger Strikes), 5773-2013, which will authorize Israeli authorities to force-feed Palestinian hunger strikers. The legislation is to be presented to the Israeli Knesset for a 2nd and 3rd (final) reading in a swift procedure on 30 June.
The proposed bill is in complete violation of several international treaties and declarations, including the World Medical Association's (WMA) 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, the 2006 Declaration of Malta; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' Istanbul Protocol; the United Nations' Convention Against Torture; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
On 25 June 2014 both United Nations Special Rapporteurs on torture and the right to health called for the amendment not to pass into law. According to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, “It is not acceptable to force-feed or use threats of force-feeding or other physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike to protest against their detention without charge and conditions of detention and treatment,”
The amendment is also in contravention and circumvention of existing Israeli legislation, mainly that of the Patient's Rights Act, which anchor’s the duty to provide medical care in informed consent, even in the case of medical emergency.
Palestinian prisoners perceive hunger strikes as a measure of last resort in their struggle for rights and freedom. Since 2011, there have been dozens of individual and collective hunger strikes calling for improved conditions and changes in Israeli policies. The most recent hunger strike which ended on 24 June involved approximately 100 administrative detainees who were protesting their continued detention without charge or trial. There remains one prisoner, Ayman Tbeisheh, who has been on hunger strike since 28 February 2014.
The proposed bill allows for “artificial health treatment” despite the hunger strikers refusal, in cases where there may be irreversible damage to the health of a detainee on hunger strike. The bill makes unethical use of medicine and of medical professionals in order to attain a political-security advantage or an improved image, and it is in absolute contravention of the law protecting patient rights.
The bill, backed by the Security Authorities, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Health, is being promoted by the Government and others with absolute disregard to the opposition of the medical community in Israel, and the position of the Israeli Medical Association, the National Committee for Bioethics; directors of all public hospitals have also publicly rejected the law. More than 1000 medical, nursing, mental health and welfare personnel have signed a petition strongly opposing the bill which exploits the medical profession for political ends.
The undersigned organizations are also deeply concerned about the political motivations behind the proposed legislation. While the amendment uses language to emphasize the sanctity of life of the hunger strikers, it is clear that the aims are political. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently has urged for the bill to be considered in a swift procedure, speeding-up the deliberations in the Knesset, despite widespread concern of its ethical validity by many organizations, including by the Israeli Medical Association.
Furthermore, the legal advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, Att. Yoel Adar, one of the authorities backing the bill, has blatantly and publicly stated: “The aim is indeed to defend the public, Israel’s citizens…if he [the hunger striker] dies in prison, it causes riots, in prison, in Judea and Samaria, in Palestinian territories. This has definite implication on Israel.” The strategic implications of the proposed bill is an attempt to limit the political power of hunger strikes, as well as minimizing the role of the Palestinian prisoners movement.
Palestinian prisoners already have a deep history of Israel’s deadly force-feeding. At least four Palestinian prisoners have died as a result of force-feeding by Israeli authorities, including Rasem Halaweh, who died instantly when the feeding tube punctured his lungs in Nafha Prison in 1980. The risk of the new legislation being passed is also concerning considering the recent mass arrests of over 500 Palestinians, many of whom are ex-prisoners.
We, the undersigned organizations committed to the respect and upholding of international law, urge you to:
- Immediately intervene to prevent Israel from legislating force-feeding
- Inform the Israeli authorities that hunger strikes are a legitimate form of protest which should not be met with punitive measures.
- Publically voice concern over Israel’s continued systematic use of administrative detention