At a time when the world is reeling under the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus disease, Israel has heightened its abuse of Palestinian prisoners and administrative/political detainees. Measures introduced by Israeli authorities, purportedly to fight the virus have furthered the ordeal of the prisoners. Cases have been reported of prisoners being denied access to cleaning products and asked to use socks as face masks. This is in addition to a ban on visits by families and lawyers.
On March 19, Thursday, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) reported that Israeli prison authorities had informed them that four Palestinian prisoners in the Megiddo prison in Israel have contracted the virus. According to the PPS, the prisoners in sections 5, 6 and 10 of the prison were infected after one of them came in contact with an infected Israeli investigator while being interrogated in the city of Petah Tikva.
As per the statement by the PPS, “The prison administration has officially informed the inmates about the infections, and everyone is on high alert. Prisoners are facing today the danger of infection from prison guards and investigators.”
The four prisoners have reportedly been isolated from the rest of the prison population.
Meanwhile, the prison authorities have denied that the prisoners have contracted the virus, claiming that the four are only suspected cases because of contact with an infected person, and that they are not showing any symptoms of the disease.
The same day, the committee of Palestinian prisoners’ affairs informed that Palestinian prisoners have reported to human rights and prisoners rights groups about incidences of Israeli prison authorities not providing them with cleaning supplies such as handwash liquid, soaps and hand sanitizers. Medical tests for at-risk and unwell prisoners are also being neglected unless in cases of high fever. The chief of the studies and documentation unit in the detainees and former detainees affairs committee, Abdel Naser Farwaneh, revealed that some prisoners were asked to use their socks as face masks. The PPS also reported that canteens in Israeli prisons have stopped supplying a total of 140 products this week, including cleaning supplies.
In protest, Palestinian prisoners refused the meals provided to them by the prison authorities. They also announced a lock-down of two of the prison’s sections. Palestinian rights group Addameer in a statement said that it had sent a letter to the Israeli authorities regarding the measures taken to protect prisoners from being infected. As per the response received by the group, the only step taken by authorities is to bar prison visits from families and lawyers.
The PPS has appealed to international human rights organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to pressure Israel to take up adequate measures to protect Palestinian prisoners from the Coronavirus pandemic. There are currently approximately 5,700 Palestinians held up in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including hundreds of women and children. Over 500 of them are being held in administrative detention, without any charge or trial.