Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to sell legislation that would allow Israeli prison authorities to force-feed hunger strikers–and he’s invoking the United States’ policies at Guantanamo Bay as justification. The law is being pushed in response to a Palestinian hunger strike that started in April in protest of administrative detention, the practice of holding prisoners without charge or trial.
Last week, Israeli news outlets reported that Netanyahu wanted to expedite passage of the bill, a message that comes as Palestinian hunger strikers’ health is deteriorating. Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu noted “in Guantanamo the Americans are using the method of force-feeding too.”
The U.S. military has long used force-feeding to Guantanamo in response to hunger striking prisoners who are protesting their indefinite detainment. Force-feeding attracted widespread attention during a mass strike last year at the Cuba facility, and President Obama criticized the practice, though his administration continues to utilize it. Force-feeding has been denounced as torture by United Nations officials. Medical groups say that prisoners of sound mind should have the right to refuse food.
Netanyahu’s remarks to cabinet ministers and prison officials came in response to opposition to the bill voiced by Israeli medical groups, who say force-feeding contradicts medical ethics. “Force-feeding is torture, and we can’t have doctors participating in torture,” the Israeli Medical Association, a physicians’ association, has stated. (As the Electronic Intifada‘s Maureen Murphy notes, the Israeli medical system has been criticized for complicity in the torture of prisoners.) The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, supports the force-feeding the bill because they are opposed to negotiating with prisoners over their conditions. Israeli officials are also weary of having a prisoner die on their watch, lest that lead to an increase in protest in the occupied West Bank.
The legislation to authorize force-feeding passed one reading in the Knesset Monday (it needs to pass two more for the bill to become law). Netanyahu’s desire to pass the legislation faster comes as the health of hunger strikers worsens.
In early June, 70 hunger strikers were admitted to Israeli hospitals. Palestinian prisoner rights’ group Addameer reported June 9th that doctors were threatening to force-feed the shackled prisoners if they lost consciousness. The group added that prisoners’ “core muscles are now deteriorating and the body fat has disappeared from their bodies. Some of them were told by the doctors that they can suffer from a heart attack or stroke at any moment. Some are suffering from intestinal bleeding, vomiting blood and fainting in addition to significant loss of weight and decrease in heart rate and decrease in blood sugar.”
The current hunger strike began in April, and has grown to include an estimated 280 prisoners. The prisoners say it was sparked by Israel reneging on a deal to end the 2012 mass hunger strike, which included a commitment to lessen the use of administrative detention. But since August 2013, Israel increased the amount of prisoners it placed in administrative detention.