Israel: Force-feed to Stifle Resistance, the EU and the International Community must Take Action!

Press release
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As Israel rushes through a new law allowing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners and detainees, the EU and the International community, must condemn the proposed law and urge Israel to end administrative detention.

Since 24 April 2014, over 125 Palestinian prisoners and detainees have been on hunger strike in protest of Israel’s continued policy of administrative detention. As the strike enters its 57th day, the undersigned international organisations call on the United Nations (UN), the European Union and its Member States to condemn Israel’s systematic use of administrative detention and to denounce the punitive measures employed by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to quell this legitimate form of protest. These punitive measures, among others, include:the isolation of the hunger strikers, denial or obstruction of lawyer visits, denial of family visits, conducting violent raids in their cells, the denial of medical treatment and previously also the denial of salt.

Israel’s policy of administrative detention enables it to detain people without charge or trial for unlimited renewable periods of one to six months. Although administrative detention is permissible according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, international law places rigid restrictions [1] on its application. Regrettably Israel continues to disregard these limits and instead resorts to administrative detention in blatant violation of prisoners’ human rights, in particular articles 7 [2] and 9 [3] of the ICCPR and Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention referring to the right of Appeal. In this regard, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay have recently reiterated their long-standing position that administrative detainees should be tried or released.

Under Israeli law, administrative detention can be ordered for vaguely formulated security reasons and Israel carries this out in a highly classified manner that denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defence. Therefore, it might be used as a means of disrupting political activity opposing the occupation. A case in point is Israel’s targeting of several Palestinian Legislative Council Members, seven of whom are currently taking part in the hunger strike. Some of these prisoners have been detained, non-consecutively since 2002.

The strike comes against a backdrop of wide-spread disillusionment with Israel’s failure to honour the 14 May 2012 agreement between the IPS and the prisoners’ delegates, after a six-week long hunger strike. According to media reports, the agreement included "an undertaking by the IPS and other security forces to reconsider all cases individually". The strike led to a marked drop in the number of people held in administrative detention in the months that followed. However, over the last year this number has been steadily increasing [4] as numerous prisoners who were released were re-arrested and again held in administrative detention.

The Israeli government has initiated new legislation to permit the force-feeding of hunger strikers. This proposal, which has already passed first reading in the Israeli Knesset, explicitly aims to break the strike, minimise the political impact of hunger strikes and threatens to strip detainees of their fundamental rights. The second and third readings are scheduled to take place in a fast-track procedure which could be finalized as early as next week. Force feeding is defined as torture by the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Malta and has been condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, other UN organs and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Similarly, the Israel Medical Association has renounced the law proposal and reiterated its opposition to physician participation in force feeding. As recalled by the 2006UN report on the situation of Detainees in Guantanamo Bay, force feeding of competent detainees violates their right to health. 

Israel’s continued policy of administrative detention and the punitive measures it employs to stifle resistance to this policy, blatantly violate the fundamental rights of detainees as enshrined in international law. It is time that these practices end.

In light of this, the undersigned international organisations call on the UN, the EU and its Member States to:

  • Strongly urge Israel to release all administrative detainees or prosecute them, in accordance with due process and international fair trial standards.
  • Publicly voice concern for the conditions of the hunger strikers and condemn the punitive measures employed against them to quell this legitimate form of protest.
  • Publicly condemn the proposed legislation to permit force-feeding of hunger strikers, which is considered a form of torture and urge Israel to withdraw the bill.
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