Israeli doctors refuse to force-feed Palestinian prisoners

Doctors in Israel have said they will refuse to comply with a proposed new law which would allow prisoners to be force-fed. The Israeli cabinet passed the preliminary bill earlier this month, but doctors have condemned it as inhumane and unethical.

Speaking to the Washington Post, the president of the Palestinian Prisoners' Society, Qadura Fares said the Israeli government introduced the bill in an effort to curb one of the last forms of civil protest available to prisoners, while an official familiar with the bill argued it was a necessary tool. "We want to give the government more tools," he told news site McClatchy DC. "You can't have a situation where prisoners who are in jail for a very good reason will use the threat of a hunger strike to receive a 'get out of jail free' card."

Israeli doctors have said that they will refuse to comply with the bill, citing its direct contradiction to medical ethics. Dr Leonid Eidelman, head of the Israeli Medical Association, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the proposed law "places responsibility on the doctors to take actions despite the active objections of the detainee. This significant change – which is the foundation of the bill – contradicts and is in opposition to the standards of medical ethics accepted in Israel and by the entire world, and could almost certainly place doctors in the near-future in difficult and dangerous dilemmas."

Under the bill, force-feeding would be allowed if a doctor determined a prisoner is in danger of causing irreversible damage to themselves or are near death. A judge would rule on the case and pass the order it down to a local court president, rather than directly into the hands of prison officials. Doctors would then also perform the force-feeding of the prisoner.

A mass hunger strike of nearly 300 Palestinian prisoners began in April of this year as the detainees protested Israel's practice of 'administrative detention.' This law allows the Israeli government to arrest and imprison individuals deemed threatening to the state without trial or indictment and often without explanation.

One of the best known hunger-strikers is Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner who has been detained under administrative detention nine times in the last five years, and who is to be released 12 July of this year following a 55-day hunger strike. He was previously released in February 2012 after a strike lasting 66 days. Although he has been hospitalized multiple times during his imprisonments due to the strikes, Adnan has never been subjected to force-feeding.

Human rights groups in Israel and the West Bank are protesting the bill, likening it to an act of torture. The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) group has called on the Israeli parliament to reject the bill, saying: "Medical professionals should never be used as instruments to inflict harmful and coercive measures on detainees and to violate their human rights. We join our colleagues around the world in urging the Israeli government to immediately reject this bill."

However, Israel's public security minister Gilad Erdan has defended the bill, arguing that it's necessary. "Security prisoners are interested in turning a hunger strike into a new type of suicide terrorist attack through which they will threaten the State of Israel. We will not allow anyone to threaten us and we will not allow prisoners to die in our prisons."

The bill must now go through two more readings in the Israeli parliament before it is officially adopted.