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Desperate for doctors to force-feed prisoners

The article by Daoud Kuttab is followed by the statement from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Palestinians take part in a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails,  Gaza City May 9, 2017. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/ Reuters

Israeli doctors reject force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike

With Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike for the fourth week now, it is highly likely that some prisoners will suffer permanent health damage and possible death.

By Daoud Kuttab, Al Monitor, Palestine Pulse
May 10, 2017

Israeli doctors continue to reject attempts by prison authorities to participate in any force-feeding or forced treatment of Palestinian prisoners who are on a hunger strike.

Ran Goldstein, the Israeli executive director of Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), told Al-Monitor that Israeli doctors see any force used in medical treatment as unethical. “Our organization and the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) see eye to eye on this issue. Force-feeding or forced treatment are unethical, and Israeli doctors will not participate in them.”

The IMA has, for a number of years, refused to participate in any force-feeding of prisoners. “Forced-feeding is equivalent to torture, and every physician has the right to refuse to force-feed a hunger striker against his or her will,” the IMA states in its guidelines, as per the National Lawyers Guild and reported by Al Jazeera in 2015.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also opposes force-feeding. The ICRC stresses the importance of respecting the choices and preserving the dignity of detainees. The World Medical Association (WMA) adopts a similar position, as expressed in the 2006 revision of the Tokyo and Malta declarations.

Goldstein said that none of their members has been allowed to see the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners. “We have not been allowed to visit, and the only people allowed to visit the prisoners are representatives of the ICRC.”

Israel’s channel 2 station reported May 4 that the Israel Prison Services (IPS) is considering bringing doctors from abroad to force-feed Palestinian prisoners.

PHRI has called on world doctors not to participate in this effort to force-feed Palestinians. A report on their website May 7 said, PHRI calls on the WMA “to instruct doctors around the world not to cooperate with the IPS’s plans to import doctors from abroad to force strikers.”

Goldstein also expressed his worry that if the IPS is unable to bring doctors from abroad and unable to find cooperative doctors at regular Israeli hospitals, they might choose to create a field hospital to be run by Israeli doctors who are not members of the IMA. “We have repeatedly called for the doctors working for the prison authority to be changed since they are not members of the IMA and we demand that they work under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, and not under the internal security prison service.”

Goldstein added there is a serious problem in the way the current doctors function in prison. “There are always long delays in getting treatment, surgery takes years and these doctors don’t take seriously complaints of patients,” he said.

Goldstein further explained that most Israeli prisons lack needed medical facilities to deal with a prolonged mass hunger strike. “There is only one clinic in the centre of Israel in Ramla, and it takes prisoners many hours to get to it.” Goldstein said that prisoners are transported in rough conditions. “They are shackled in the vehicles they are transported in, which are not appropriate to transfer sick patients,” he said.

As the most tangible proof of the lack of appropriate medical support to prisons that hold Palestinians, Goldstein referred to the cut in the 2016 budget for medical support to Israeli prisons.

The Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike that began on April 17 is entering its crucial fourth week. Attention will focus now on the health of the prisoners, as body organs will start to fail.

Israeli officials have publicly refused to deal with the demands of the Palestinian prisoners despite the fact that major international and local human rights organizations, as well as the ICRC, have publicly supported them. Amnesty International called the Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners “cruel.”

Palestinians display their support for the hunger strikers, Ramallah, May 3rd, 2017

Without negotiations with prisoners, it is highly likely that some prisoners will suffer permanent health damage and possible death. The sooner that this issue is dealt with, the sooner the anger that can be caused by such injuries and fatalities can be addressed.

MOH Directives on Hunger Strike Violate Medical Ethics

Physicians 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 strikers.

 Physicians of PHRI to heads of the Israeli health system: The directives of the Ministry of Health regarding the treatment of the hunger strikers violate medical ethics and undermine the medical community in Israel.

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, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) today told the heads of the Israeli health system and the World Medical Association (WMA). Among those signed on to the letter to the Israeli authorities 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, Dr. Mushira Abu Diab.

In their letter, the doctors demanded that the heads of Israel’s health system refrain from any move that will place doctors in a situation of violation of medical ethics and, along these lines, called to for the Israeli authorities cancel plans for a field hospital in Ketziot Prison. In its call to the World Medical Association (WMA), PHRI calls upon the organization to instruct doctors worldwide not to cooperate with the IPS program to “import” doctors from abroad that will force feed hunger strikers.

In their call, the doctors expressed concern over the recent directives issued by the Ministry of Health. “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.”

Regarding the intention to establish a field hospital in Ketziot Prison, the doctors wrote, “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 striker in those giving treatment.” They further stated that “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.”

Regarding the directive that a doctor who refuses to force treat must find a replacement who will, the signatories wrote “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.”

Regarding the force feeding of hunger strikers, whether by medical professionals from Israel or abroad, the letter states:

“This 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.”

For additional details, please contact:
Ran Yaron, Tel: +972546680857



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