Israel’s Torture Method: Force-feeding
By Neve Gordon
August 16, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Al
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
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
Among the countries that deploy force-feeding
against hunger strikers is also Israel’s “enlightened ally”, the
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
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
Palestinian political prisoners from the occupied Palestinian
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
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
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
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.
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.
is the author of ‘Israel’s Occupation’ as well as ‘The Human Right
to Dominate’ (co-authored with Nicola Perugini).