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Israel in bind on force-feeding bill

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Proposed legislation to permit the force-feeding of Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike is pitting Israel's government against much of the country's medical community — including the main doctors' association, which contends the practice amounts to torture.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked to fast-track the bill as a hunger strike by dozens of Palestinian detainees enters its sixth week.

At least 65 of 290 participating detainees have been hospitalized since the first group began a hunger strike on April 24. Many are administrative detainees, held for months or years without charges.

There have been near-daily Palestinian demonstrations backing the prisoners, including one Wednesday in the West Bank. Dozens of university students threw stones at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas.

Families of hunger strikers say they support the fast, despite the risks.

“My husband is in Israeli jails without knowing why and when this nightmare is going to end,” Lamees Faraj said of her husband, Abdel Razeq, a member of a small, hard-line Palestine Liberation Organization faction who has been in administrative detention for nearly eight of the last 20 years.

Faced with the second large-scale Palestinian hunger strike in two years, Israeli officials are promoting a bill that would allow a judge to sanction force-feeding if an inmate's life is perceived to be in danger.

A judge must not consider only the prisoner's wishes but also possible damage to the state, said Yoel Hadar, a legal adviser in the Public Security Ministry, which initiated the bill. He said a death in custody could trigger prison riots or unrest in the Palestinian territories or elsewhere.

“We want the judge to take into consideration what will happen to the country if something happens,” Hadar said.

There has been mounting opposition from Israel's medical establishment. The Israel Medical Association urges physicians not to cooperate.

“It goes against the DNA of the doctors to force treatment on a patient,” spokeswoman Ziva Miral said. “Force-feeding is torture, and we can't have doctors participating in torture.”

She said the World Medical Association, an umbrella for national medical associations, opposes the practice. The WMA said as recently as 2006 that “forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable.”

Israel's National Council of Bioethics has weighed in, saying it opposes the proposed bill.

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