Law Allowing Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers Upheld

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel’s High Court has ruled constitutional a law permitting the forced feeding of hunger strikers, rejecting a petition from the Israel Medical Association which denounced it as legalized torture.

In their ruling on Sunday, the justices wrote that 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 added that a hunger strike and its outcome have “implications that go beyond the personal matter of the hunger striker.”

The petitions, filed last year by the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and human rights groups, argued that the law is inhumane and the IMA will tell doctors not to comply with state orders to force feeding.

“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,” IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman is on record as saying.

Just days ago, the state cancelled administrative arrest warrants against brothers Mohammed and Mahmoud al-Bulbul and against Malik al-Qadi, who is in a coma. The three have been on hunger strike for over sixty days to protest their detention without trial.

The law was enacted by the Knesset in response to a series of hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners to protest their incarceration, sometimes without trial, in cases where they are believed by authorities to pose an immediate danger to public safety.

The forced-feeding law comes with safeguards: it can only be administered on approval by the attorney-general and a president of a district court, and only if a doctor determines that the hunger strike, if continued, would cause irreparable damage to the prisoner or that his life is in danger.