The International Day of Palestinian Prisoners on April 17 is marked annually to remember and express solidarity with the thousands of Palestinian men, women and children imprisoned in Israeli jails and detention and interrogation centers. Most of the Palestinian prisoners and detainees have been incarcerated by Israel not for any real crimes, but for resisting the brutal Israeli occupation. Palestinian resistance, in all its manifestations , has been brutally suppressed by Israeli state authorities. Those engaging in spreading awareness about the Palestinian cause and suffering under the inhuman Israeli occupation have also been penalized and face arbitrary arrests.
The International Day of Palestinian Prisoners assumes even greater significance amid the looming global health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that more than 5,000 Palestinians, including 432 administrative detainees, are currently in Israeli custody. Of them, 41 are women, 183 are children and 700 are seriously ill prisoners. 200 of them have chronic or life-threatening diseases. Prisoners with pre-existing medical conditions are at an even greater risk of contracting the novel coronavirus infection. In addition, extremely substandard and unsanitary prison conditions, coupled with grossly inadequate nutrition and health care, also exponentially increase the risk of fatality due to the infection. Lack of safety protection gear and low feasibility of physical distancing in overcrowded Israeli prisons is likely to accelerate the spread of the disease.
Despite the grave concerns, Israeli prison authorities have responded to the situation with complacency and disregard. Palestinian prisoners are denied sanitary materials, face masks, gloves and the like. Enough testing kits and additional medical supplies have also not been made available while the authorities have failed to implement proper containment measures. Most Palestinian rights and prisoner support groups have reported on the lack of preparedness for subsequent medical treatment and management in case of an outbreak.
This is when Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated under international law and human rights conventions to address the crisis faced by the occupied population under its control, including those that have been incarcerated. Not doing so would also be in violation of Israeli domestic laws.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, urgent calls have been made to the state of Israel, demanding the unconditional release all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody. However, these humanitarian appeals have gone unanswered as Israel not only continues to hold Palestinians, but furthers its oppressive and criminal policies of raiding Palestinian homes, villages and towns, detaining and arresting hundreds of Palestinians and carrying on its business of occupation as usual.