UN Condemns Force-Feeding of Palestinian Prisoners

by

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 an international public health consultant.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future