Israel’s Torture Method: Force-feeding

By Neve Gordon

August 16, 2015 “Information Clearing House” – “Al Jazeera” –   Miri Regev, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports, supports torture.

She is not alone. Joining her is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and nearly all ministers and members of Knesset in his coalition have followed suit.

Although almost half of the Knesset members opposed to the bill, the Israeli government supports torture, and thus, is by no accounts different than the governments of Egypt, Syria and many of its neighbours in the Middle East.

Israel, apparently, is not a “villa in the jungle“, as so many of its pundits would have us think.

By torture, I am referring specifically to the recently passed law legalising force-feeding, which according to the World Medical Association, the Red Cross, and the United Nations, is considered a cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, and a flagrant violation of international law.

Of course, the Knesset’s legislation on this matter is not unique, even in the midst of Western liberal democracies.

Among the countries that deploy force-feeding against hunger strikers is also Israel’s “enlightened ally”, the United States.

While the US has been force-feeding inmates in Guantanamo for many years now, this practice actually has deep roots in the American imagination.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the suffragette Alice Paul, who was incarcerated for demanding women’s right to vote, embarked on a hunger strike in prison, and was subsequently force-fed by government officials.

The Hollywood feature film Iron Jawed Angels captures the horror parallel to some prisoners’ accounts. It documents the struggles of the women’s movement and force-feeding as is a horrific form of torture.

Israel’s new law is not, at least for the time being, directed against its own citizens, but rather against over 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners from the occupied Palestinian territories.

About 400 of these prisoners have been held in administrative detention without trial – some for up to eight, ten and eleven years.

The presumption of innocence, which is supposed to underlie all progressive and democratic judicial systems, should have been applied to them.

It was not.

And there goes the “villa” metaphor.

Over the past years, many Palestinian political prisoners have embarked on hunger strikes as a form of non-violent protest against the authorities, and currently it is estimated that over 180 prisoners are on strike.

However, examination of Netanyahu’s justification for pushing forward a bill to legalise force-feeding reveals a contradiction in his twisted logic.

The administrative detainees are being held in prison contrary to international law and contrary to the principle of due process.

These men have not been granted the fundamental right to a fair trial, because prisoners like Muhammad Allaan, who has been on hunger strike for 60 days, are not considered by the Israeli authorities to be fully human, namely, individuals who bear rights.

At the same time, though, Netanyahu’s justification for advancing a force-feeding law stems from the moral imperative requiring us to save human lives.

The contradiction is that on the one hand, the Palestinian political prisoners are treated as sub-human. But on the other hand, justification of the law has to be portrayed as fully human.

However, there is one aspect of this legislative move that is consistent: the desire to harm outspoken Palestinian subjects and to violate their basic right to bodily integrity.

But the contradiction between the sub-human and human is not the sole logical distortion espoused by the Israeli legislators who supported the bill.

It is crucial to highlight that in their struggle against Israel’s violation of their basic right to due process, the prisoners launched a hunger strike, which is a recognised form of non-violent protest.

Ironically, the way the Israeli government has chosen to deal with this non-violent protest against its own anti-democratic practice of administrative detention is by instituting yet another serious violation of international law: torture – one of the most severe forms of dehumanisation.

Not all, however, is dark. As the great philosopher Hannah Arendt teaches, even in the most difficult times, one encounters human action that sheds light on the darkness.

Q&A: ‘It is possible to break the Israeli occupation’

Dr Leonid Eidelman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, called upon all Israeli doctors to refuse to perform force-feeding even if the law requires them to do so.

Force-feeding of hunger strikers, Eidelman argued, breaches the principles of preventing damage and maintaining the patient’s autonomy over his or her body, thus violating the physicians’ code of ethics.

The code of ethics, he intimated, is above the law.

Eidelman is right. The question now is whether all Israeli doctors will heed his call for civil disobedience and refuse to obey the law.

The chances, unfortunately, are extremely slim.

Neve Gordon is the author of ‘Israel’s Occupation’ as well as ‘The Human Right to Dominate’ (co-authored with Nicola Perugini).

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