Beyond the Cusp

June 17, 2014

Jerusalem Protests Over Force-Feeding Hunger Strike Prisoners

I was blessed to spend yesterday with a group touring Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם) and part of my visit took me in the vicinity of the Knesset Building. As we was about a block away making our way to take pictures and hear a presentation on the large Menorah, which is the official National Symbol of Israel, we passed one of the protest groups which one usually can expect to run into in the government center of any democratic and free nation. The current protest is against the forced-feeding of prisoners being held in Israeli detention facilities. The hunger-striking prisoners includes a mix of detainees and prisoners with most of them falling into one of three categories; convicted terrorists where their crimes span from attempting to perform a terrorist strike all the way to multiple murders, political prisoners who are mostly terrorist organizers who have committed any of a number of actions in support of terror, and security prisoners who have committed acts against Israel attempting to alter her political institutions and undermine the elected government. The reasons behind the hunger strikers vary depends on which group of such prisoners each hunger-striking prisoner chooses to commit themselves to. One of the main reasons currently given is to get one particular Hamas prisoner released from solitary confinement.


Be that as it may, the question before the Knesset is about whether to force-feed these prisoners once their health has deteriorated sufficiently that they have been transferred to a hospital. It currently appears that the legislation has sufficient support to pass providing there are no drastic changes of opinions. The main groups opposing the forced-feeding are many of the physicians including the Israeli Chairman of the Medical Association Dr. Leonid Idelman. Dr. Idelman has written a letter for all physicians who have hunger-striking prisoners under their care and has instructed them to choose not to force-feed these inmates. He wrote, “In recent weeks, many dozens of hunger striking prisoners have been transferred from the Israel Prisons Service to the hospital wards nationwide, and their number is growing daily. As you know, treating hunger strikers is a special challenge that the doctors are as yet unfamiliar with. The situation is unusual and requires unconventional measures.” Dr. Idelman adds referencing a recent conference which addressed this “complex situation” with Senior Officials from the Health Ministry, Hospital Directors and Assistant Deputies, along with ward directors, heads of scientific unions in the IMA and others participating where it was concluded, “A procedure of force feeding hunger strikers despite their objection involves a real danger to their health and is opposed to the overriding rules of non-maleficence and maintaining the patient’s autonomy over his body, upon which the doctors’ ethical code is based. Force feeding is forbidden in the ethical rules of the Medical Association, and those accepted worldwide, including Tokyo Declaration 1495 and Malta Declaration 1441 of the International Medical Association.”


Well, let me be clear, I have no reason to doubt Dr. Idelman when he quotes such esteemed issuances such as the Tokyo Declaration 1495 and Malta Declaration 1441, but I am certain there has to be something less dated and results from modern precedents. As it turns out, there are such issuances with the most recent being convened to discuss the forced-feeding of hunger-strikers in Guantanamo Prison, an American facility just off the southern tip of Florida on the Cuban Islands. The consensus was that such actions are forbidden unless two physicians determine that the prisoner, patient according to rulings, is determined to no longer be able to choose whether they should receive nourishment or not. Included in the determining factors to be weighed is the threat to the patient’s life or the determination of imminent death. The boards also realized that there could be cases where the patient never lost consciousness and refused food to the end and as a result dies due to their hunger-strike. According to the rulings where this has been discussed, every board I could find lays the blame for the prisoner’s death resulting from their choice to commit to a hunger strike lies with the prisoner and not the physicians or the nation holding the hunger-striking prisoner.


Now this is where the real fun begins. Let us simply take the few dozen demonstrators I saw about one block from the Knesset building carrying signs with most in Hebrew or Arabic but some of the largest signs were in bold red English letters. One can only wonder for whom the English letters were intended. Could it be their friends in America and the English speaking world which includes much of Europe or were they aimed at the local population many of which speak Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, French, Farsi, and virtually every other language in the world other than English. We know that those signs were for the international market, particularly CNN, FOX News, ABC, NBC, CBS, BBC and the rest of the international press. The real question is how long after a single hunger-striking prisoner managed to remain in control and starved themselves to death before those protest signs demanding that the prisoners’ rights be observed and their hunger-strike remain under their wishes and equating forced-feeding with torture were swapped out declaring the Israeli physicians and prison officials along with the usual Knesset and government officials including especially Prime Minister Netanyahu as murderers and insisting they be brought to trial before the Hague International Criminal Court on charges of prisoner abuse and human rights violations. The Israeli government is facing simply another lose-lose situation where no matter which path they choose, they are going to be condemned. If any single prisoner dies from lack of nourishment, then they were obligated to preserve this prisoner’s life and to have force-fed them but as long as they are alive they must obey the wishes of the prisoner and not force-feed them come whatever. So, basically the Israeli officials, government, physicians and everyone else involved in this situation must decide, do I go against international law and feed these prisoners to at the very least a sustenance level in order to cause them not physical harm and face charges of torturing them or do I allow them to waste away and die because that is their expressed desire and once they die face charges of inhumane treatment and murder warrants be sworn against me by much of Europe? Which would you choose?


On a more somber note, the three abducted Israeli teenage children, Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, are still missing and the manhunt continues with the radius under suspicion continues to widen. While in Jerusalem the group visited the Kotel and the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall which is somewhat more appropriate at this time, where we all offered up prayers in private. There is a tradition of placing special prayer which we desire Heavenly assistance onto small strips of paper and wedging them into the Wall. My prayers on my piece of paper were for the health, safety and speedy return of these youths unharmed none the worse for wear. I also included a few other thoughts and opened my prayers with a short Hebrew phrase of praise to G0d. It is odd the feeling one gets when attempting to write even simple words while in the vicinity of such a holy place as the Western Wall which is literally a few tens of meters from where the Holy of Holies, the inner Sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was placed and where no mortal man would tread unless they were the Cohen Gadol, and even he feared for his life when treading within the one day each year he was required to enter this inner sanctum, was located during the times of the First and Second Temples. You find you are nearly paralyzed and frozen out from choosing mere words and you have to concentrate and focus one’s thoughts and slowly your note takes shape. Meanwhile, all your thoughts are known on High and this is the real and actual note which is received. Now if only my thoughts are able to convey the hurt which has fallen across all Israel with so many sharing the grief as if these young boys, Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, belonged to our own families. And once they are returned we will all celebrate because then we all will feel as if our own family has again been made whole.


Beyond the Cusp


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