Families of Palestinians in Israeli jails demand better health facilities for prisoners

There are about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in 22 Israeli prisons. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Families of Palestinians in Israeli jails demand better health facilities for prisoners

  • Israel is practicing ‘slow killing’ against the detainees, and is pushing the conditions inside its prisons toward an explosion

GAZA CITY: Families of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails have launched protests over the failure of prison authorities to take measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) among inmates.
In a move indicating the deterioration of conditions inside prisons, 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in 22 Israeli prisons warned the Israeli Prisons Authority to close sections, and said they would refrain from going out for exercise in the courtyards and would send meals back.
Najat Al-Agha 70, the mother of detainee Diaa, who has been imprisoned for 28 years, said that anxiety has prevented her from sleeping since the spread of COVID-19, because of her fears for her son and his mates in prison.
Al-Agha last visited her son in Nafha prison was in June, her first visit for two years.
She said: “The situation inside prisons is terrifying, and severe overcrowding brings diseases. It is 10 prisoners to a room, and the majority of them are sick and elderly.”
“The news that comes from inside the prisons is not reassuring, as the occupation has increased its pressure on the prisoners and its aggressive policies against them. Instead of taking measures to protect them from the virus, it withdrew a lot of food and sterilizers,” she said.
According to the Prisoners and Detainees Affairs Commission of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Prison Authority recently withdrew 170 items from prison cafeterias, including foodstuffs, sterilizers and soaps, and rejected the prisoners’ demands to supervise prison kitchens instead of criminal detainees.
The head of the commission, Qadri Abu Bakr, said that Israel is practicing “slow killing” against the detainees, and is pushing the conditions inside its prisons toward an explosion.
Abu Bakr described prisons as a “fertile spot” for the spread of diseases and epidemics, as they are old, decrepit and overcrowded.
He said Israel rejected repeated demands by the Palestinian Authority and international organizations to release the prisoners, or at least the sick, the women and the children, to protect them from the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons, and did not respond to the authority’s willingness to provide doctors, preventive materials and sterilizers.
“While the countries of the world are taking exceptional measures to confront the virus and limit its spread, including the release of prisoners, Israel is showing regular disregard for the lives of thousands of prisoners,” he said.
Since the spread of the virus, the ICRC has intensified its dialogue with the detaining authorities (the Israel Prison Service), especially after the suspension of the visits program for families and lawyers and the exclusion of the ICRC delegates who were visiting prisons to familiarize themselves with living conditions and ensure health care.
Suhair Zaqout, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza, said in light of the global health crisis caused by COVID-19, the detainees are the neediest category of attention and health care.
However, Zaqout said: “We do not speak publicly about the conditions of detention.”
“There are authorities around the world who released prisoners with the outbreak of the virus, and every authority does what it deems appropriate to prevent the spread of the virus, and the ICRC welcomes any action in this regard, and encourages the detaining authorities to be transparent,” Zaqout said.
The ICRC announced several days ago that it was discussing with the Israeli Prison Authority alternative mechanisms to ensure that prisoners would communicate with their families, following the suspension of the visits program.
The head of the International Commission for the Defense of the Rights of the Palestinian People, lawyer Salah Abdel Ati, stressed that real risks beset the lives of thousands of prisoners.
He said that Israel had not taken any measures to protect the lives of the prisoners, whether by releasing them, or at least providing them with tools of prevention, but had imposed more restrictions, which made them an easy “prey” for epidemics.
Israel violates these practices with regard to prisoners of international humanitarian law, and Abdel Ati expressed fears of a “disaster” among the prisoners, especially at this difficult time when the state of emergency looms over the entire world in response the dangers of COVID-19.


WHO: Middle East at ‘critical threshold’ in coronavirus numbers

Updated 10 min 46 sec ago

WHO: Middle East at ‘critical threshold’ in coronavirus numbers

  • Over 80 percent of all deaths in the region were reported in five countries — Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

CAIRO: The World Health Organization warned Wednesday the Middle East was at a decisive moment in the fight against the coronavirus, with cases surging as countries ease lockdown measures.
“We are at a critical threshold in our region,” the WHO’s Middle East head, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, said in an online press conference.
According to figures published by the global health body on Wednesday, the 22 countries from Morocco to Pakistan had recorded 1,077,706 novel coronavirus cases and 24,973 deaths.
Mandhari said passing a million infections marked a “concerning milestone” and urged countries to strengthen their health care systems.
“The number of cases reported in June alone is higher than the total number of cases reported during the four months following the first reported case in the region on 29 January,” he said.
He attributed the rise in confirmed cases to increased testing, the easing in recent weeks of lockdown measures and weakened health infrastructure in conflict-hit countries.
Over 80 percent of all deaths in the region were reported in five countries — Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — according to the WHO.
Iran, which has been struggling to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak, on Monday recorded its highest single-day COVID death toll of 162.
It now has a recorded a total of 230,211 infections and 10,958 deaths.
Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections.
The Islamic republic gradually lifted restrictions from April to try to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
In neighboring Iraq, authorities have refused to reimpose strict lockdown measures, even as hospitals across the country, battered by years of war, have been swamped in recent weeks.
While the virus had spread relatively slowly for months, on Wednesday the number of recorded cases surpassed 51,000 including more than 2,000 deaths.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 100 million inhabitants, has officially reported 68,000 cases and around 3,000 deaths from the COVID-19 disease.
On Wednesday, authorities reopened the famed Giza pyramids after a three-month closure, a day after resuming international flights as part of efforts to restart the vital tourism industry.
Lebanon, battling an economic crisis and public unrest alongside the novel coronavirus, reopened the Beirut airport after months of closure.
The small eastern Mediterranean state has recorded some of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the Middle East: 1,800 cases and just 34 deaths.
In contrast, neighboring Israel saw a jump of about 15 percent in case numbers in the last week to over 25,500 on Wednesday, according to government figures.
The West Bank too was hit by a sharp spike in infections, with the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday announcing a five-day lockdown across the territory.
Total confirmed coronavirus infections in the territory more than doubled within a week to 2,636 following the easing of previous restrictions.
In Qatar, residents cautiously returned to beaches on Wednesday as the Gulf nation, with one of the world’s highest per-capita infection rates and tough penalties for failing to wear masks in public, continued to reopen.
WHO officials at the virtual meeting urged governments to prepare more intensive care beds and emergency wards.
Mandhari urged individuals to be “cautious and vigilant” as lockdowns and curfews were eased, and to follow protocols recommended by health authorities.
“Easing of lockdowns does not mean easing of the response or easing of social responsibilities,” he said, warning cases could rise as public spaces reopen “even in countries where the situation now seems to be stabilizing.”
He also called for global solidarity.
“We have to face this pandemic as one government and one community,” he said.