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Physicians for Human Rights Denounces Israel’s Proposed Force-Feeding Law

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today urged Israel’s parliament to reject a proposed bill that would legalize the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, in violation of medical ethics and international law.

“Israel’s force-feeding bill contravenes established medical ethics, which unequivocally prohibit force-feeding as a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Sarah Dougherty, PHR’s senior anti-torture fellow. “Medical professionals should never be used as instruments to inflict harmful and coercive measures on detainees and to violate their human rights. We join our colleagues around the world in urging the Israeli government to immediately reject this bill.”

The Knesset, Israel’s legislature, will vote on the proposed changes to Israel’s Prisons Act in two weeks, at which point they could be fast-tracked into law. This amendment would permit the force-feeding of a hunger-striking prisoner when the head of Israel’s Prisons Services receives permission from a district court, following a doctor’s certification that the prisoner’s health is in serious danger. The court’s ability to consider non-medical factors, such as prison order and state security, and to use classified evidence in determinations on force-feeding, was further cause for concern, said PHR.

“Hunger-striking is often the only means detainees have available to protest unlawful detention and inhumane conditions,” said Dougherty. “People have a right to make their own decisions about their health and to refuse unwanted treatment, and medical personnel must respect this fundamental principle.”

PHR joins leading international medical groups in condemning the force-feeding of prisoners, including the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, among others. In a letter sent last year to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the World Medical Association (WMA), which comprises 100 national medical associations, stated that force-feeding was “tantamount to torture.” PHR stands with its colleagues at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, who call the bill a “legislative foundation for torture,” and the Israel Medical Association, which stated that it will “call on doctors to ignore [the bill]” if passed.

PHR called on the Israeli government to reject the proposed legislation and instead ensure its policies and practices are consistent with the WMA Declarations of Tokyo and Malta, which established international guidelines for the management of hunger strikers. PHR repeated its call urging the U.S. government to immediately end the force-feeding of hunger strikers detained at Guantánamo Bay, which the Israeli government has cited to justify its force-feeding legislation, despite international condemnation of the practice.

PHR is distinct from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, an independent human rights NGO based in Israel. Both organizations are members of the Steering Committee of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition and have partnered on other advocacy initiatives.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.