Israeli court upholds force-feeding hunger strikers

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled on Sept. 11 that a law that permits force feeding hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners is constitutional, rejecting petitions filed last year by the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and by several human rights groups who argued the law contravened medical law and ethics regarding patients’ rights. The ruling comes after three Palestinian prisoners detained without charge by Israel have continued their hunger strikes for more than 60 days, despite each of their medical conditions having seriously deteriorated.

Following the passage of the law in July 2015, the IMA had said that if it was upheld, Israeli doctors would be instructed to ignore it, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "This is a case in which medical ethics unequivocally trump the law, and the message we wish to convey to physicians is that forced feeding is tantamount to torture and that no doctor should take part in it," Haaretz quoted IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman as saying.

However, justices reportedly decided that the "complex" issue of hunger strikers transcended ordinary patients' rights. A hunger striker "is not an ordinary patient but a person who knowingly and willingly places himself in a dangerous situation as a protest or a means of attaining a personal or public goal," the justices wrote, adding that a hunger strike and its outcome have "implications that go beyond the personal matter of the hunger striker."

Meanwhile, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled last week to suspend the administrative detention orders of hunger-striker Malik al-Qadi, as well as hunger-striking brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad Balboul. In all three cases, the courts said the sentences would be suspended until their health conditions improve.

However, all three prisoners have steadfastly committed to their hunger strikes until they are completely released from administrative detention. Al-Qadi, 25, entered a coma on Sep. 10, after declaring a strike on July 16 in protest of being placed in administrative detention—an Israeli policy of internment without charge or trial based on undisclosed evidence.

Videos have circulated on social media of Mahmoud and Muhammad Balboul—who began their strikes in protest of administrative detention on July 4 and 7 respectively—speaking with their families over the phone on for the first time since they were taken by Israeli soldiers after a raid on their home on July 9. The brothers were visibly exhausted and gaunt, while Muhammad was shown to be suffering from temporary blindness. The brothers told their bereaved mother and sister that they would continue their strike until Israel releases them.

According to their lawyers, prison authorities have also provoked Mahmoud by eating in front of him and putting food near his mouth and nose, in addition to attempting to convince him that Muhammad ended his hunger strike.

Although Israeli authorities claim the withholding of evidence during administrative detention is essential for state security concerns, rights groups have instead claimed the policy allows Israeli authorities to hold Palestinians for an indefinite period of time without showing any evidence that could justify their detentions.

The policy sparked a mass hunger strike across Israel's prisons over recent months. When at its peak, more than a hundred prisoners had declared temporary strikes in solidarity with the dozens who had declared open-ended strikes. The most prominent hunger striker was Bilal Kayid, who suspended his hunger strike last month after spending 71 days without food, after Israel agreed to cancel his detention.

According to a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an organization operating in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory that provides a number services to Palestinian prisoners and their families, "Forced feeding of hunger strikers is never ethically acceptable. It is furthermore a violation of internationally accepted medical ethics and may lead to violations of international humanitarian law."

A spokesperson for the ICRC could not immediately be reached for comment regarding how the ruling will affect their work in Israeli prisons.

From Ma'an News Agency, Sept. 11.

The forced-feeding measure became law a year ago, above the protests of Israel's medical establishment. See our last post on the Palestinian hunger strikes.

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