When Doctors Say No: Hunger-Striking, Liberation, and the Struggle against Force-Feeding in Israel/Palestine


Thu, 30/04/2020 - 10:30 to 12:30


Dr. Guy Shalev

With 800,000 Palestinians detained since the 1967 Israeli occupation, imprisonment is a lived reality of the Palestinian people. Thousands of incarcerated Palestinian political prisoners are Administrative Detainees who are imprisoned without trial or charges. While Israel mastered a plethora of means to suppress the Palestinian struggle, it wrestled with how to crush the most despondent act of resistance – hunger-strikes.

In 2015 the Israeli parliament passed the Force-Feeding Act, allowing the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes. The two consecutive Israeli Ministers of Public Security who advocated for the legislation declared that the recurring strikes pose a security threat to the state. Both explicitly stated that the purpose of this law is to stifle Palestinian prisoners’ resistance. But state attempts to legalize and practice force-feeding were met with resistance from doctors.

This paper looks into various solidarity networks of physicians in the power struggle between medical professionals and the Israeli state. I examine doctors’ call for conscientious objection, and the moral and political justifications they employed. I analyze the acts of three networks of doctors: (1) the Israeli Medical Association, which invoked ideas of universal medical ethics and global networks of professional solidarity; (2) Civil society organizations, led by Physicians for Human Rights, which advocated for prisoners’ political rights; and (3) Palestinian physicians with Israeli citizenship who resisted in national solidarity with their non-citizen compatriots.

A rare case of physicians’ participation in the highly politicized Israeli ‘security discourse,’ these three solidarity networks gained different degrees of legitimacy in the public sphere. I show how medical ethics, the ethos of medical neutrality, and ideas of humanistic medicine played a role in forming and mobilizing professional solidarities.