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Israel 'rushes' through force-feeding law for hunger strikers

The Israel parliament will vote on 23 June to approve a law that will allow judges to sanction force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike
Families of Palestinian prisoners have protested against Israel's use of administrative detention (AFP)

A controversial bill that will allow the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike was passed by the Israeli parliament’s (Knesset’s) Interior Committee on Tuesday, with local media reporting that it will now be pushed towards a vote at the Knesset plenum next week.

Preparations for the second and third reading of the law have been completed ahead of a planned vote on 23 June, according to a report today by Israeli daily Haaretz. Members of the governing coalition will be required to vote in favour of the legislation, which has drawn strong criticism from politicians and medical experts alike.

Despite the law’s fast progress, members of the Israeli parliament condemned a lack of proper political process saying it will have negative lasting effects.

“The legislative process was superficial, with most members absent,” said one committee member, according to Haaretz. “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu wanted it rushed through without serious debate about its ramifications.”

“This will become a long-term tragedy,” they added.

Tamar Zandberg, a parliamentarian from the left-wing Meretz Party, said “the bill is contrary to international law and to Israel’s Basic Law regarding human dignity”, adding “it was rushed through for political purposes”.

The law will permit a judge to sanction the force-feeding of a prisoner, if their life is perceived to be in danger. Israeli authorities say there 110 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, although the Palestinian leadership say there are 130, with some having refused food for over 55 days. Most of the hunger striking detainees are protesting against being held without charge under a procedure known as “administrative detention”, which allows Israeli authorities to hold them indefinitely.

Israeli medical professionals have strongly criticised the proposed law, which the UN has said contravenes international law. The head of the Israel Medical Association sent a letter to the deputy attorney general this week protesting a clause that will force a doctor who refuses to force-feed prisoners to find a replacement who will do it in their stead.

“This is a further worsening of the bill, since this would obligate de facto both the doctor on the ward and the hospital director, who is a doctor himself, to act contrary to the codes of ethics…to forcibly feed or bring about the forced feeding of hunger strikers,” said Dr. Leonid Eidelman.

Eidelman goes on in his letter to say the Israeli medical sector is handling the Palestinian hunger strike well and warned there is a danger this new bill will ruin what trust the prisoners have in the doctors.  

There are 550 Palestinian detainees who have taken part in the hunger strike, with many having dropped out in the past two weeks. Sivan Weizman, a prison service spokesperson, has said all family visits to prisoners have been suspended due to an ongoing search for three Israeli settlers who have been kidnapped in the occupied West Bank.

Eighty-two of the remaining hunger strikers are in hospital being monitored by doctors, with Palestinian leaders demanding an intervention to hold Israel responsible for their health and calling for an end to the use of administrative detention. 

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