Israel: Medical ethics violations committed by the Israeli Prison Service

April 18, 2013


Physicians for Human Rights – Israel recently published a new report exposing numerous medical ethics violations committed by the Israeli Prison Service.

On the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day (April 17th) PHR-Israel released a report exposing a long list of medical ethics and human rights violations carried out by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). The report focuses on the actions of prison medical practitioners that endanger the lives of prisoners and detainees on hunger strike. According to PHR-Israel, the violations are a direct result of situating prison medical services under the auspices of the IPS, which operates largely out of security considerations.

Hunger strikes

In 2012, five Palestinian detainees started prolonged hunger strikes in protest of their detention. In addition, some 1,600 Palestinians launched a mass hunger strike, as a show of support and solidarity with those already on prolonged strike. The hunger strikes made the Israeli and international publics conscious of the arbitrary policies that the State of Israel and the IPS pursue and implement vis-à-vis Palestinian prisoners, says PHR.

As the hunger strikes continued, PHR-Israel bore witness to many medical ethics and human rights violations. These included violations of the right to health and deviations from professional standards, carried out by the prisoners’ treating physicians. Violations even reached the point of placing the lives of prisoners and detainees in immediate danger.

The report surveys the hunger strikes waged by over a dozen Palestinian prisoners over the course of 2012, and includes an analysis of the conduct of Israel’s various health institutions and medical staff in this regard. The report suggests that the ways in which the IPS medical system dealt and handled these cases, underlines the high extent to which the prison medical system is amenable to the prison system, which is in turn amenable and subordinate to Israel’s political system.

Dual loyalty

The researchers encountered numerous situations of dual loyalty, in which physicians have responsibility to the patient on one hand, and to their employer on the other. A PHR press release states: “As long as the IPS medical system remains under the control and management of the prison system, with its political and security considerations, dilemmas of dual loyalty will be resolved by a drastic tilt in favor of the interests of the prison system, resulting in greater harm to the rights of prisoners, specially the rights of prisoners and detainees on hunger strike.”

PHR-Israel calls for the establishment of a committee that will examine the possibility of transferring control and responsibility for the medical services inside the prisons from the Israeli Prison Services to the Ministry of Health. “Such a transfer would make the level, availability, and quality of services, equal – if not on par – with the type of services accessed by the general population.”

In a letter sent by the Israeli Ministry of Health to PHR-Israel on April 3, 2013 in response to the report, the Ministry accepted several of the organisation’s main recommendations and even pledged to implement them. However, in an additional response letter received from the Ministry several days later, the Ministry maintained that supervision and control over the medical services of prisoners would remain under the auspices of the IPS.

Download The Palestinian Prisoners Hunger Strikes of 2012. Political, Moral, Medical, and Ethical Challenges Encountered While Treating Palestinian Prisoners on Hunger Strike in Israeli Prisons. PHR-Israel, 2013