UN Condemns Force-Feeding of Palestinian Prisoners


United Nations experts on human rights have urged the Israeli government not to continue force-feeding Palestinian prisoners against their will, as a bill on this issue is facing a Knesset reading on June 30. The UN Special Rapporteurs have called force-feeding a “cruel and inhuman” practice, and severely criticized the bill for demanding that doctors act against their professional ethics and beliefs.

“The desire of the inmates not to eat must be respected for as long as it is clear that they are making that choice voluntarily. Even if it is intended for the benefit of the detainees, feeding induced by threats, coercion, force or the use of physical restraints are tantamount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

The Israel National Bioethics Council has also expressed it strong opposition to this law. The Council, which was established by the government to serve as the supreme authority to issue recommendations to decision-makers on ethical matters, stated this week, “The council has determined that the proposal that a judge can order force feeding based on some consideration other than safeguarding the life of a hunger-striker goes against the principles of bioethics, and must be utterly rejected.”

The bill has also been strongly opposed by the Israel Medical Association and Physicians for Human Rights. With his characteristic insouciance on these matters, however, Netanyahu said that he would make sure to find physicians who would consent to carry out this measure. Netanyahu’s opinion comes at the same time that this issue is being discussed in the United States, where it has also been rejected by human rights advocates.

In the U.S., District Court Judge Gladys Kessler determined that the U.S. military can force-feed a Syrian detainee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Judge Kessler said that she was faced with an “anguishing” choice: to issue another restraining order that would prevent the military from force-feeding Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian national, “despite the very real probability” that he would die as a result, or to refuse to extend the order “at the possible cost of great pain and suffering” to the prisoner.

Force-feeding, or feeding a person against their consent, involves placing the prisoner in a restraining chair, inserting a tube through his nose and down his throat, and pumping a nutritional drink into his stomach. This brief description doesn’t convey the pain and the serious health risks that this practice entails.

In 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK, was appalled by the screams of women being forced-fed in HM Prison Holloway during hunger strikes in which she participated. In her autobiography she wrote, “Holloway became a place of horror and torment. Sickening scenes of violence took place almost every hour of the day, as doctors went from cell to cell performing their hideous office…I shall never while I live forget the suffering I experienced during the days when those cries were ringing in my ears.”

Force-feeding prisoners has been prohibited since 1975 by the Declaration of Tokyo of the World Medical Association. In its guidelines for physicians the declaration states, “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such voluntary refusal or nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.” The UN Human Rights Commission said it regards force-feeding at Guantanamo as a form of torture. The U.S. has repeatedly denied that charge.

Under U.S. jurisdiction, force-feeding is frequently used in the military prison in Guantanamo Bay. In 2004, Muslim prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison described in sworn statements that they were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, both of which are strictly prohibited in Islam. In other cases, prisoners described being fed from toilets.

In March 2006, 250 doctors wrote an open letter in The Lancet warning that, in their opinion, the participation of any doctor in force-feeding practice is contrary to the rules of the World Medical Association. “We urge the US government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as force-feeding and restraint chairs are abandoned,” said the doctors in the letter. The U.S. military started using restraint chairs for feeding hunger-striking prisoners in 2005 to prevent them from vomiting as a result of forced nutrition.

Presently, there are 189 administrative detainees being held in Israeli prisons, of whom 125 are on hunger strike. Those who didn’t join the strike were unable to do so because of illness or advanced age. Those on hunger strike have done so for more than 40 days, a situation that seriously threatens their survival. Should some of them die as a result of the strike, it would create a serious upheaval in the Palestinian streets. To ignore the prisoners’ plight and to conduct a barbaric practice on them does a disservice to Israeli democracy and its avowed respect for human rights.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2015
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving