This story is over 5 years old.


Israel Passes Prisoner Force-Feeding Law to Widespread Condemnation

Israel has passed a law allowing the force-feeding of prisoners despite widespread criticism from human rights groups and the country's top medical organization.
Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA

Following months of furious debate Israel's parliament has passed a controversial law permitting the force-feeding of prisoners by a slim majority of 46-40 votes in favor.

First tabled in June 2014, during the height of a mass hunger strike by Palestinians held in Israeli jails, the law passed on Thursday has attracted fierce condemnation from human rights activists and the country's top medical association, which has called on doctors to refuse to carry out the practice.


Palestinian prisoners, often held under administrative detention orders, have frequently refused food as means to protest against their treatment in the Israeli legal system.

Administrative detention orders permit suspects to be held for six months without trial but can be renewed indefinitely, meaning that some detainees are held for years without ever being charged or knowing the evidence against them.

"This [force-feeding] law tells us exactly what the Israeli government and prison system think of Palestinian prisoners," Randa Wahbe an advocacy officer at Ramallah-based NGO Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association told VICE News.

"It's well-known across the world that this is one of the most degrading, humiliating and inhumane practices that is carried out non-consensually and can result in serious injury or death of a prisoner."

Related: Gaza's Instability Has Created a Fertile Breeding Ground for the Islamic State

Supporters of the law, however, say that the ability to force-feed detainees on hunger strike will stop the state being pressured into releasing a prisoner because of fears that a death in custody will spark unrest.

Posting on his Facebook page, Gilad Erdan, Israel's Public Security Minister and a leading proponent of the law, said hunger-striking was being used as a new form of terrorism against the Israeli state.

"We cannot reach a situation where a prisoner dangerous to the public is freed because the state was not able to save him from death and is forced to release him," he wrote. "We will not fold against any threat or pressure!"


Under the new law a hunger-striking prisoner can only be force-fed if the prison service can prove that their life is in serious imminent danger. The approval of an attorney general and district court must also be given.

"The law creates the right balance between the state's interest to protect the prisoner's life and his rights and sovereignty over his body," said David Amsalem a Likud MP who voted in favor of passing the bill.

Related: Hamas Killed and Tortured Palestinians in Gaza Conflict, Report Claims

However, international NGO Human Rights Watch said that the bill appeared appears to be "intended to silence prisoners protests over detention conditions rather than to ensure their wellbeing."

"When a state force-feeds competent prisoners who are making a decision to refuse food — whether it is the United States dealing with prisoners in Guantanamo or Israel dealing with Palestinians in the West Bank — it is violating their right to bodily autonomy and subjecting them to procedures that are inhumane and degrading," Sarah Saadoun, Acting Israel and Palestine researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News.

During the parliamentary debate on the bill Dov Khenin, an opposition MP for the Joint List — a coalition of four predominantly Arab parties — called the law "killer" and "dangerous."

"The Knesset [Israeli parliament] approved a law that legalizes torturing Palestinian prisoners," the Joint List said in a statement after the bill had passed. "The goal of the law is to defang their legitimate struggle under the guise of 'preventing the damage caused by hunger strikes.'"


The World Medical Association has listed force-feeding as an unethical practice for several decades and says it is "never justified."

The Israeli Medical Association, which has opposed the law from the off, urged doctors in the country to refuse to carry out force-feeding and said it planned to try and overturn the law in Israel's Supreme Court.

"Israeli doctors… will continue to act according to medical ethical norms that completely prohibit doctors from participating in torture and force-feeding amounts to torture," said Leonid Eidelman, the head of the association.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem

The Associated Press contributed to this report.