by Richard Falk
Palestine Hunger Strike and Israeli Force-Feeding Pending Legislation
The highly respected human rights NGO, Adalah (meaning justice) dedicated to securing human rights for Palestinians living in Israel, has issued an urgent appeal on behalf of a reported 125 Palestinian prisoners who are engaged in a hunger strike protesting their being held in Israeli jails on the basis of ‘administrative detention’ procedures. It is the longest collective hunger strike in Palestinian history. Administrative detention is
an objectionable practice by which individuals are held in prison, sometime for months or even years, without being informed of charges or facing trial. According to international law reliance on administrative detention is regarded as prohibited unless there are overwhelming reasons in the form of imminent and severe security threats to justify the failure to produce criminal charges and hold a trial. Israel has made no such appeal, and appears to use administrative detention procedures routinely and against individuals who cannot be considered security threats.
The current hunger strike commenced on April 24, over 50 days ago. Some of the prisoners are being held in prison hospitals in view of their deteriorating and precarious health, with concerns that serious physical damage and possibly death could occur if the strike continues for several more days. Under these circumstances, the Israeli government has sought to break the will of the strikers by seeking a legislative mandate to engage in coercive forms of force-feeding. It should be noted that the Israeli government at its highest levels has made it clear in its public statements that its main purpose is not to save the lives of the prisoners, but to break the strike as a prison protest. At the moment, a bill authorizing force-feeding of hunger strikers has passed a first reading in the Knesset, and is being fast-tracked to allow for the required second and third reading in the coming week. To have any prospect of stopping such a step from being taken immediate and intense international pressure is needed from as many angles as possible.
In keeping with international standards, the Israeli Medical Association, has indicated that it is improper for physicians to cooperate in any way with governmental force-feeding. Unfortunately, prison doctors are not member of the Israeli Medical Association, although one might hope that their moral stand would exert some inhibiting influence. The most authoritative text on the international status of force-feeding is contained in the Declaration of Malta (1991, rev. 2006) adopted by the World Medical Association. In guideline 6 the Declaration states that “hunger strikers should be protected from coercion,” and more directly in guideline 13 asserts that forcible feeding is never acceptable because it constitutes “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment.’ Such a wording is similar to that used to indicate the scope of prohibition contained in the widely ratified International Convention on Torture (1984), thereby validating the contention that forced-feeding is a type of torture. The Declaration adopts a subtle approach that recognizes the complexity of the issue, including the possibility in some circumstances that coercion may arise from other hunger strikers eager to avoid any defection from their ranks. Overall, the core commitment is respect for the freedom of a hunger striker either to maintain or abort his protest, which is itself as aspect of freedom of conscience.
There are journalistic accounts published in Israel that suggest both that the Shin Beth places a high priority on ending the hunger strike, which threatens to spread among the 5,271 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails in acts of solidarity with those 192 current held in administrative detention. There is also Israeli worries that the strike might spread unrest beyond the prison walls to Palestinian society as a whole with unpredictable results . Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with typical bravado has indicated that even if some doctors refuse to participate in force-feeding he will find enough that will.
The depth of this deepening humanitarian crisis has even moved the normally passive Palestinian Authority to take some action. President Mahmoud Abbas has sent a letter actually under the signature of Saeb Erekat, the chief international negotiator on the Palestinian side, asking the UN Security Council to intervene to prevent force-feeding. It is hard to know whether anything will come of this initiative.
As has been the Palestinian experience all along, the world media averts its gaze when humanitarian emergencies arise in occupied Palestine. In this instance, treating Palestinian hunger strikes as unworthy of the sort of coverage that is given to similar such political protests in other parts of the world, including India, China, and Tibet. It is well to recall that the 1981 hunger strikes by Irish Catholic militants held in the notorious Maze Prison in Northern Ireland resulted in several deaths, most notably that of Bobby Sands after 66 days without food, and had the political effect of shifting the British approach to the Irish struggle from blood-soaked counterinsurgency to conflict-resolving diplomacy.
In the text of the Adalah urgent appeal pasted below there are a list of initiatives that individuals around the world are urged to take. I firmly believe that it is important of people of good will around the world to shout and scream in solidarity with these prisoners.
We need to keep in mind several salient features of this developing situation:
–this hunger strike is protesting against Israel’s extensive and abusive reliance on ‘administrative detention’ to hold Palestinians in a cruel manner that is incompatible with international law, especially given the international obligations of Israel in relation to the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; this is in essence a protest against injustice;
–it should be appreciated that a hunger strike is the supreme form of nonviolent self-sacrifice seeking to highlight and transform severe encroachments on fundamental norms of human rights, including the universally prohibition on torture that becomes relevant to the extent that the Israeli government seeks to end the strike by force-feeding;
–Palestinian detainees, reacting to deep grievances, have engaged in several long and dramatic hunger strikes in recent years starting on December 18, 2011 when Khader Adnan went 66 days without food, followed by a 43 day hunger strike by Hana Shalabi that ended with a early release, involving a punitive deportation from the West Bank for three years to Gaza; in these cases ofindividual hunger strikes, Israel finally offered concessions to induce the prisoner to give up the hunger strike when prison medical authorities feared death or permanent disability;
–the issue of force-feeding is an aggravation of the underlying injustice and illegality of administrative detention, and is often preceded by violent nighttime arrests that constitute instances of state terror that produce resistance by those detained in prison;
–Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly justified force-feeding by referring to the American practice at Guantanamo Bay where terrorist suspects have been detained for many years without charges or trials, and subjected to an array of inhuman and degrading practices; such an attempt at validating Israeli practices by invoking America’s unlawful behavior has no moral or legal weight, and should be interpreted as virtually a confession;
–hunger strikes should be treated as nonviolent resistance tactics used by Palestinians to protest against unlawful Israeli unlawful practices and policies associated with the prolonged occupation of Palestine; in view of this, those of us who support the Palestinian struggle for rights and justice seize this opportunity to be sure our voice is heard loudly enough to offset the shameful silences of governments and the mainstream media. Also beyond the fate of Palestinian prisoners, it would also seem imperative to insist upon a public debate in Israel on the treatment presently accorded to imprisoned Palestinians.
Adalah’s Urgent Appeal on Behalf of Palestinians Hunger Strikers, and their Right not to be Force-fed:
Urgent Appeal / Day 49 of the Palestinian mass hunger-strike: Israeli fast-track legislation to permit force-feeding may be completed next week
Since 17 April 2014, over 100 Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been on hunger strike in protest at Israel’s policy of Administrative Detention (see box).
On 9 June, an Israeli government-initiated law proposal to permit force-feeding of hunger strikers passed first reading in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. The second and third readings are scheduled to take place in a fast-track procedure next week. This can only be prevented by public responses locally and abroad.
Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet or Shabak (known also as GSS, ISA), has encouraged the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to push through this legislation as fast as possible, with the explicit purpose of breaking the hunger strike, rather than out of concern for the welfare of the strikers.
The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has objected publicly to the proposed legislation and announced that its members will not comply with it. However, doctors working for the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) are not members of the IMA. The body in charge of supervising and disciplining doctors in Israel is the Ministry of Health, which, unfortunately, is a main supporter and promoter of the legislation.
In line with the approach taken by the Shin Bet and PM Netanyahu, the Ministry of Health is now also introducing new, more stringent restrictions on the access of external independent doctors to the hunger-strikers, despite the fact that the right of prisoners to see an independent doctor is anchored both in Israeli law and in international norms.
What is Administrative Detention?
A form of internment without trial, administrative detention can be ordered by an Israeli military commander in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) based on ‘security reasons’, which are broad enough to include peaceful political activity and virtually any act of opposition to the Israeli occupation. As of 1 May 2014, 192 Palestinians were held in administrative detention in Israel. Detainees are held without trial and neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see the ‘secret evidence’ used against them. While detainees may appeal the detention in a military court, such a right is rendered meaningless without access to the information on which the detention order is based. Administrative Detention orders are valid for up to six months at a time and can be renewed indefinitely. According to testimonies collected by human rights organizations, detainees have been held in administrative detention for periods ranging from one month to as much as six years. The frequency of the use of administrative detention has fluctuated throughout Israel’s occupation. It has specifically been used as a means of collective punishment against Palestinians opposing the occupation. UN CERD has recently expressed its opinion that Israel’s current practice of Administrative Detention is ‘discriminatory and constitutes arbitrary detention under international human rights law.’ The European Union has also condemned Israel’s use of this measure.
What you can do:
- Contact Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Health Yael German and your local Israeli Embassy to voice your objection to this proposed amendment to the prisons law: [email protected] ; [email protected]
- Contact your national medical association and the World Medical Association and ask them to publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw the law: [email protected]; [email protected]
- Contact the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Prof. Juan Mendez and ask him to condemn the law and publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw it: [email protected]
- Contact the EU High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton and ask her to condemn the law and publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw it: [email protected]
- Contact your local MP and ask her to condemn the law and publicly urge the Israeli government to withdraw it.
The IMA’s position: http://www.ima.org.il/ENG/ViewCategory.aspx?CategoryId=4497
Recent press articles:
Israel’s attempt to break the hunger-strikes: Background
In 2012, Palestinian detainees and prisoners embarked on multiple hunger strikes, aiming to end the policy of Administrative Detention as well as seeking to improve prison conditions and renew family visits from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which had been interrupted. Despite punitive measures against the strikers, the hunger strikes were largely successful, leading to the release of several administrative detainees as well as to an Egyptian-brokered agreement between the prisoners’ leadership and the Israel Prisons Service, which included an undertaking to respect most of the strikers’ demands. This year, as the number of administrative detainees crept up again and conditions in the prisons did not improve, a new mass hunger strike was declared on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (17 April). As the hunger strike gathers speed and support, the response of the Israel Prisons Service has increased in hostility. Prison staff has exerted pressure on hunger-strikers to break their protest in various ways including isolation from the outside world by denial of access to lawyers, independent doctors and family; separation from other prisoners through solitary confinement and frequent transfers from one prison to another; and punitive measures such as raids on striking prisoners’ quarters, confiscation of personal belongings and fines. IPS medical staff has been implicated in this process by preferring the interests of the prison to their obligations to their patients, in breach of medical professional-ethical standards. Hunger-strikers have been shuttled between medical facilities in the public health system.
Access to trustworthy legal advice and independent doctors is crucial to the hunger-strikers’ ability to make conscious and informed decisions regarding their actions, but PHR-Israel doctors and the detainees’ lawyers have only gained access to some of the hunger-striking prisoners after repeatedly appealing to the courts.
This appeal is by:
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Haifa)
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association (Ramallah)
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (Gaza)
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (West Jerusalem)
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (Jaffa – Tel Aviv)
EU Advocacy Coordinator for Israel/OPT
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel * Adalah * Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
M +44 753 1719159
email [email protected]