Response from BMA to Medact letter re: Palestinian hunger strikes in Israeli prisons and detention centres

On 17 April 2017, over 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centres declared the beginning of an open hunger strike to protest poor conditions in prisons and violations of basic rights. The prisoners’ demands include: proper medical care, an end to Israel’s practice of administrative detention, stopping the use of isolation and better visitation rights. The mass hunger strike was called to an end after 41 days as the Israeli government offered a compromise deal improving prisoners’ visitation rights.

During the 41-day hunger strike, there were serious grounds for concern that planned Israeli actions (including force feeding and force treating) were designed to break the hunger strikers and that the involvement of the medical community would constitute a violation of medical ethics. Primarily, that of the Declaration of Tokyo and Declaration of Malta, of which the latter calls for the prevention of the coercion of hunger strikers, clinical independence, confidentiality and trust-building, while emphasizing that force-feeding is ‘unjustifiable’.  The Malta Declaration, which states, amongst others, that “Whatever their role, physicians must try to prevent coercion or maltreatment of detainees and must protest if it occurs” (principle 1) and that “physicians or other health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on the hunger striker to suspend the strike” (guideline 6).

Medact wrote to the BMA to urge the World Medical Association (WMA) to instruct its affiliate physicians to refrain from force feeding and call on free access of independent physicians to hunger strikers.

We also wrote to the WMA in support of the Physician for Human Rights, Israel’s (PHRI) appeal for support against the planned actions.