Top Israeli court upholds controversial prisoner force-feeding law

Top Israeli court upholds controversial prisoner force-feeding law
Israel's High Court rejects petitions filed by medical and rights groups that raised concerns over prisoner safety and welfare.
2 min read
12 September, 2016
Israeli police arrest activists protesting the force feeding of Muhammad Allan - August 2015 [Getty]

Israel's High Court of Justice on Sunday ruled in favour of a controversial law permitting the forced feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, after a petition was brought against the legislation by the Israel Medical Association.

"This law is legal under Israeli law and international law," the court ruled on Sunday on a law passed in July last year allowing hunger-strikers to be force-fed if their lives are in danger.

In response to the law's opponents - which includes the UN, Palestinian Knesset members, the Palestinian Authority and several NGOs - Israeli court justices argued that the legislation ensures "the prevention of harm to the health of a prisoner on hunger strike". 

The ruling rejections accusations by rights groups that the act of force-feeding prisoners, most of whom are Palestinian, amounts to an act of torture.

According to the court, 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 ruling justices added that hunger strikes and their outcomes have "implications that go beyond the personal matter of the hunger striker".

Following the law's introduction in July 2015, UN officials in the West Bank criticised the legislation which it saw as contravening a "fundamental human right". The body also described hunger striking as "a non-violent form of protest used by individuals who have exhausted other forms of protest to highlight the seriousness of their situations".

The IMA has also been a long-time opponent of the law, with the association's chairman having threatened to order doctors not to follow instructions. IMA chair Dr. Leonid Eidelman said prior to the verdict.

In the days surrounding the verdict, Israel cancelled administrative arrest warrants against three hunger strikers who have continued their protest for over sixty days. The strikers - Mohammed and Mahmoud al-Balbul [who is in a coma] and Malik al-Qadi, are reportedly in deteriorating states of health. 

According to their families, they will not end their protest until their detention is cancelled or an agreement on their imminient release is reached.

Israel currently holds around 7,000 Palestinian prisoners , 700 of whom are under administrative detention. 

Administrative detention is intended by Israel to allow authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, however the system has been criticised by Palestinians, human rights groups and members of the international community.