Israel’s cabinet approved on Sunday a proposed law that would enable authorities to force-feed Palestinian prisoners who are on a hunger strike.
Israel has long been concerned that hunger strikes by Palestinians in its jails could end in death and trigger waves of violent protests.
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who sponsored the bill, said the cabinet’s support for the legislation would allow him to re-submit it to the Knesset for two final votes in the near future.
“Hunger strikes by imprisoned terrorists have become a weapon with which they are trying to threaten the state of Israel,” Erdan explained. “The cabinet’s decision today sends a clear message: we will not blink in the face of any threat.”
The bill comes with safeguards. A judge will be required to counsel an ethics committee before making a decision. The bill also stipulates that authorities must have exhausted efforts to convince the prisoner to end his hunger strike and that the prisoner must have been made aware of the health dangers of continuing their protest.
But Israel’s Medical Association, which considers force-feeding a form of torture and medically risky, has urged Israeli doctors not to obey the law if it is passed.
A Palestinian prisoner, Khader Adnan, of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, has been on a hunger strike in jail for the past 41 days, refusing solid food and drinking only water. He is demanding an end to his detention without trial.
International law on force-feeding is not clear-cut. It has found some support from the European Court of Human Rights which has alternatively permitted (Switzerland) and prohibited (Ukraine and Moldova) force feeding in cases in 2005, 2007 and 2013. Where the European Court prohibited force feeding, it still listed factors which could permit force feeding, such as avoiding unnecessary suffering and aggression to the patient and medical necessity for saving the patient’s life.