‘DON’T FORCE-FEED PALESTINIAN PRISONERS’ –Israeli doctors (Physicians for Human Rights) appeal to doctors of the world

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Youth at the picket in support of Palestinian hunger strikers outside the Israeli embassy in London last Saturday
Youth at the picket in support of Palestinian hunger strikers outside the Israeli embassy in London last Saturday

ISRAELI doctors’ organisation Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) is calling on the World Medical Association to instruct doctors around the world not to cooperate with the Israeli Prisons Service’s plans to import doctors from abroad to force-feed Palestinian hunger strikers.

Over 1,600 ‘Freedom and Dignity’ hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, led by Marwan Barghouthi, are demanding an end to their inhumane conditions, and an end to adminstrative detention – detention without charge or trial – under which many of them are held.

A Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) statement issued last Sunday, addressed to the heads of the Israeli health system and the World Health Organisation, said: ‘Physician members of PHRI call on the World Medical Association to instruct doctors around the world not to cooperate with the IPS’s plans to import doctors from abroad to force-feed strikers.

‘The directives issued by the Ministry of Health and the Israel Prison Service regarding the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners violate medical ethics and threaten to undermine the medical community in Israel.’

Among the statement’s signatories are: Professor Dani Flic, Professor Nadav Davidovich, Professor Yoel Donchin, Dr Ruchama Marton, Dr Bella Kaufman, Dr Rafik Masalha, Dr Galit Artum, Dr Raad Haj Yahia, and Dr Mushira Abu Diab.

The doctors demanded that the heads of Israel’s health system refrain from any move that would place doctors in a situation of violation of medical ethics and, along these lines, called on the Israeli authorities cancel plans for a field hospital in Ketziot Prison.

PHRI also calls on the World Medical Association (WMA) to instruct doctors worldwide not to cooperate with the Israeli Prisons Service’s (IPS) programme to ‘import’ doctors from abroad who will force-feed hunger strikers.

Also expressing concern over the recent directives issued by the Ministry of Health they say:

‘There is concern that the Ministry of Health in particular and the Israeli health system in general will become the instrument of the policies of the Ministry of Public Security and the Israeli Prison Service, contrary to their mission and medical ethics, while blurring the line between security considerations and the patient’s well-being and medical needs.’

And regarding the plan to establish a field hospital in Ketziot Prison, they add: ‘Treatment of the hunger strike within the incarceration system, in IPS facilities and in field hospitals operated by the army – which will operate in the form of a closed military camp without transparency and external supervision – heightens the risk of violation of medical ethics and the undermining of the trust of the hunger strikers in those giving treatment.’

They further stated: ‘This can lead to an incorrect assessment of the situation by medical personnel and may expose the strikers to unnecessary risks and even increase the chances of loss of life.’

And regarding the directive that a doctor who refuses to force-treat must find a replacement who will, the signatories say: ‘This is a distortion of the rules regarding the treatment of hunger strikers and it places doctors in a situation in which they have to fight for their right to observe the rules of medical ethics vis-a-vis the government ministry responsible for them.’

Force-feeding hunger strikers, whether by medical professionals from Israel or abroad, the doctors warn: ‘Will affect the medical profession in Israel as a whole and will undermine the basis on which medical treatment is handled as well as the treatment of patients who are not held in prisons.’

Meanwhile, the National Committee to Support the Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike has called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied territories to suspend municipal elections scheduled to be held on Saturday, and to halt its contested security coordination with Israel as the 1,600 prisoners entered their 22nd day on hunger strike in Israeli prisons last Monday.

While the elections process has continued to move forward, a number of Palestinian political factions have already boycotted the elections, including the Hamas movement, Islamic Jihad, and the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), amid growing anger against the PA.

The hunger strike committee also called on Palestinians to continue showing their support for the hunger strikers through civil disobedience, boycotting all Israeli products, ceasing to work in Israel and in Israeli settlements, participating in a commercial strike scheduled for tomorrow, and organising demonstrations in front of the headquarters of the Red Cross, and the United Nations.

Daily protests across the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and abroad raged on in solidarity with the prisoners who are calling for an end to solitary confinement, medical negligence, the denial of family and lawyer visits, and internment without charge or trial under administrative detention.

The committee reiterated its calls on Monday to the Palestinian people to take to the streets and participate in sit-in tents established across the West Bank and Gaza, highlighting that the hunger strikers have now entered a life-threatening stage and many have been evacuated to the Ramla prison hospital.

In one such demonstration on Monday, dozens of relatives of the hunger-striking prisoners demonstrated outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nablus city in the northern occupied West Bank. The ICRC faced anger last year when it reduced the number of monthly visits it organises for relatives of Palestinian prisoners, and has been the target of sustained frustration for its perceived inability to improve incarceration conditions in Israeli prisons, as it prioritises maintaining its role as an ‘impartial humanitarian mediator.’

Demonstrators shouted slogans urging the ICRC to ‘do its duty’ and save the hunger strikers – many of whom are now unable to walk or stand, or suffering from skin conditions and chronic vomiting as a result of their strike. Mothers of hunger strikers said they want the ICRC to exert more effort to expose ‘the oppressive practices inside Israeli jails.’

Despite its claims of political neutrality, the ICRC enraged Palestinians after head of the ICRC delegation to Israel and the PA, Jacques De Maio, in a recent interview with Israeli news site Ynet, denied that Israel fits the label of an apartheid state and denied that Israel implements a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinians – contradicting numerous international bodies and human rights organisations.

‘No, there is no apartheid here, no regime of superiority of race, of denial of basic human rights to a group of people because of their alleged racial inferiority,’ De Maio declared, also saying that the ICRC ‘came to the unequivocal conclusion that there are no shoot-to-kill orders of suspects by IDF (Israeli army), as some political elements tried to convince us.’

Meanwhile, at a sit-in tent protest in Gaza last Monday, newly elected head of Hamas’ politburo Ismail Haniyasaid that ‘our hero prisoners’ will remain ‘the top priority of the Hamas leadership and Palestinian leadership at all levels’. He said: ‘Securing your freedom is a national duty and your dignity is the dignity of our entire people, which is inviolable.’

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority said on Monday that it had continued with diplomatic efforts through international organisations and human rights groups to put pressure on Israel to comply with the prisoners’ demands.