Saturday, January 16, 2021

In Israeli jails, Palestinians are seen as not human

By Yehudit Tzfat - September 30, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [prisoners]

A nearly three-day-long journey in a metal box-like van tied to a metal chair. Hands and feet cuffed. As hot as a sauna in the summer, and as cold as a refrigerator in the winter. No toilet. No food. Hours and hours spent collecting other sick prisoners before finally arriving at Ramleh prison hospital, where inmates with severe health conditions go for treatment. And even there, the sick prisoner continues to wait — sometimes for days — for the right doctor to see him.

As Qaddoura Fares, president of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, described the trip in what is called a “bosta” or bus to Ramleh clinic, he mentioned how most ailing prisoners reject making the journey because of the transport conditions and complicated procedures. 

“A lot of prisoners refuse to get out because they understand what is waiting for them,” Fares said.   


Currently, more than 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails with 700 suffering from poor health and 297 of those in critical condition, according to 2019 statistics from Palestinian non-governmental organisation The Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights “Hurryyat.” 

Four prisoners are suffering from dangerous cancers, 10 have tumours but it is unknown if these tumours are cancerous, 68 have been shot or injured, 11 are paralysed and 17 suffer from psychological disorders. A few of these 17 individuals with mental illnesses garnered extra sentencing for being unable to control their behaviours. Other illnesses Palestinian prisoners suffer from include heart disease, kidney failures, blood pressure problems and diabetes. 

As of 2016, 58 prisoners have lost their lives in prison due to medical negligence. The most recent case being Palestinian journalist Bassam al-Sayeh who died in early September. Al-Sayeh was suffering from bone and blood cancer, weakness in his heart muscles and medical complications in his liver

Lana Ramadan, International Advocacy Officer for Addameer, a prisoner rights organisation, said the average yearly rate for prisoners dying from medical negligence is between two to four. This year, al-Sayeh and prisoner Faris Baroud have died from medical negligence. Many Palestinian human rights organisers believe prisoner Sami Abu Diak, who is serving a life sentence and suffers from cancerous tumours and renal and pulmonary failure, is next.

“Sami is in a really, really critical situation right now, but no one is paying attention,” Ramadan said. “Usually these things happen, the prisoner would be in a really harsh situation, he may or may not get treatment, maybe he dies, people would speak about and then things would calm down until it happens again. So it keeps on happening. It is systematic. It’s a policy the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has. They don’t give medical treatment to prisoners.”

Fares agrees with this notion that medical negligence and mistreatment are a systematic policy. 

“It’s a nonstop, continuous policy. It begins with the atmosphere inside the Israeli jails. The rooms, the space, the light, the air inside the rooms is not healthy,” Fares said.

Fares spent 14 years in an Israel jail for armed activism. During his time, he worked as a representative for prisoners. What he notices most from serving his sentence in the 1980s and 1990s compared to now is the nature of Israeli authorities. He believes they used to be more peaceful and civil. 

“Israeli individuals were more open-minded than today. We became more aggressive as Palestinians and they became more aggressive, more racist,” Fares said. “They worried about disrespecting the international parameters aggressively. They cared. Today they don’t care.”

He noted the root of this change in thinking stems from family ideology and Israelis growing up in settlements. 

“In their culture, they’re developing a mentality that there is a difference between the soldier and the prisoner,” Fares said. “In their mind, they think we are not human enough.” 

Helmi Al-Araj, Executive Director of Hurryyat, sees this lack of humanity in how prison doctors treat their patients. 

“These doctors deal with ailing prisoners with irresponsibility and no respect to prisoners because they deal with their enemies,” Al-Araj said. “They don’t take this as a humanitarian case. They deal with prisoners as enemies who are terrorists and did something against their government.”

Physicians in Israeli jails lack specialisation. Sick prisoners are typically just prescribed water and painkillers. Al-Araj said unqualified doctors are the norm because they are cheaper. 

This issue of denying basic human rights appears exclusive to Palestinian prisoners. 

“Israeli criminals have all the privileges that Palestinians are deprived of,” Al-Araj said. He mentioned how Yigal Amir who killed Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was able to get married while al-Sayeh languished in jail because he was accused of terrorism. In December, Israel passed a law prohibiting the early release of prisoners accused of committing terrorist acts. 

Ramadan stated how rights like education, family visits and phone calls are not considered rights in Israel’s eyes but rather viewed as privileges. 

“Many of the rights prisoners should have, the IPS views them as advantages,” Ramadan said. 

Fares believes, however, that the conditions can change if Palestinians become united in their struggle and dialogue is established between Israelis and Palestinians.

“What the Israelis need are security elements. What I need are human elements. That’s it,” Fares said. “Take your security. Give me my humanity. And we could organise the life in jail without everyday hearing about clash here and clash there.”

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