BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel gave initial approval this week for a law which would legalize the force feeding of Palestinian hunger strikers, drawing condemnation from human rights groups who say the bill is tantamount to torture.
The law, which is being pushed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's health ministry, passed a first reading in the Knesset by a vote of 29 to 18 and would allow doctors to force feed Palestinian prisoners if their lives are in danger.
The bill is to be presented to the Knesset for final readings next week.
Since April 24, some 125 jailed Palestinians have been refusing meals in what Addameer prisoner rights group says is the longest collective hunger strike in Palestinian history.
According to the group, the proposed legislation is a clear attempt to break mass hunger strike action by Palestinian prisoners, which has over the past two years posed a constant challenge to Israel's detention policies.
"After almost two years of continuous hunger strikes, Israel feels that they have to deal with it in some way. They have tried everything else," Gavan Kelly, Addameer's international advocacy coordinator, told Ma'an.
Since 2011, not a single day has passed where a Palestinian prisoner has not been on hunger strike, Kelly says, leading the Israeli government to look for alternatives in dealing with collective protest action.
"The reality is that even though the Israeli government will say that they have the health of prisoners in mind, it is nonsense. Everyone is well aware that force-feeding limits the political damage of the hunger strikes."
In 2012, over 2,500 Palestinian prisoners went on hunger strike to protest prison conditions and administrative detention, eventually drawing concessions by Israel which were later reneged on.
Amany Dayif of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel says that the proposed new law is an attempt to limit any repercussions from the potential death of hunger strikers while simultaneously maintaining the policy of administrative detention.
"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Shin Bet security agency are trying to resolve a political issue by using force, instead of resolving the issues raised by Palestinian prisoners which are Israel's detention policies," she told Ma'an.
'No country in the world has legalized force-feeding'
Palestinians hold up photos of their imprisoned relatives at a support
rally in al-Bireh for over 100 hunger striking administrative detainees
on May 13, 2014 (MaanImages/Graham Liddell)
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said this week that they are deeply concerned by Netanyahu's intention to force-feed hunger striking prisoners who are being held in administrative detention, pointing to the underlying issue of Israel's detention policies against Palestinians.
"The hunger strike being carried out by prisoners held in administrative shines a light on one of the most severe injustices of military rule in the occupied territories," the group said.
"Palestinian residents are routinely held in administrative detention for many months, sometimes even years, without being informed of the charges against them or when they will be released."
Since 1967, thousands of Palestinians have been held under this policy, which allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.
The UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon said last week that Israel must either charge or release Palestinian hunger strikers "without delay," while the UN high commissioner for human rights has also expressed concern regarding Israel's force feeding bill.
The practice of force feeding has been prohibited since 1975 based on the Declaration of Tokyo adopted by the World Medical Association, which provided guidelines for physicians in relation to detention and imprisonment.
The Israeli Medical Association last week condemned the practice as "torture," and urged physicians not to take part in the practice.
Despite this, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he will find physicians willing to undertake the procedure, and has even pointed to the use of force-feeding in Guantanamo Bay to justify the practice.
"There is no country in the world that has a law legalizing force feeding," Dayif told Ma'an. "The fear is that Israeli Prison Service doctors, and of course other individual doctors, would feel that if the law is permitting it then no harm would come to them if they implemented it."
The policy of force-feeding is a last stop measure by the Israeli government which will inevitably have unintended consequences unless the root issue of detention without trial is addressed, Dayif says.
"I don't think that force has ever proved to be the solution to any situation, but exactly the opposite. It (force-feeding) will mobilize the Palestinian street and Palestinian communities, together with other Arab prisoners in the Israeli prison services."
Sivan Weizman, spokeswoman for the Israeli Prison Service, told Ma'an that at the moment none of the hunger-strikers lives are in danger, noting that 75 prisoners are in hospital but there is no one in a "dangerous or critical condition."
There are currently 5,271 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 192 administrative detainees, 17 women and 196 children, according to Addameer.