Limited space, overcrowding, and poor hygiene make Israeli prisons a hub for the spread of COVID-19, the head of a human rights group that caters to the rights of Palestinian prisoners believes. But Israel’s Prison Authorities reject these claims saying they are doing everything in their power to keep the pandemic at bay.
April 17 marks Palestinian prisoners’ day when the Palestinian people collectively remember and honour more than five thousand prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails. Many are serving long sentences for the murder of Israelis, while others are being held without be charged or having been tried.
Every year Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that caters to the rights of Palestinian prisoners and provides them with legal support, raises awareness of what’s going on inside those prisons.
In 2015, for example, they represented Palestinian prisoners in their fight against Tel Aviv’s decision to ban the use of public phones inside prisons. That battle was won in 2019 with Israel’s Prison Authorities deciding to ease the restrictions, granting access to phones to some teenage and female inmates.
Pandemic Threatens Lives of Prisoners
This year, however, their fight is different and it is directed against COVID-19, which has been raging in Israel since February and has claimed the lives of more than 130 Israelis. Over 12,000 others are still being treated in hospitals across the country.
«[During this difficult period], Israel decided to stop all family visits. At the same time, they haven’t stopped arresting people. Those detained are brought to the already crowded prisons and held in difficult conditions. Some of them have no ability to shower or even change clothes», Sahar Francis, director of Addameer said.
According to official data released by the Ministry of Justice in 2019, prisoners in Israel, whether they are serving a sentence for terrorism or criminal offences, have as little as three metres of space for each. This number is not only low compared to other countries where prisoners have an average of eight metres, but it is also below what Israeli law stipulates ordering jails to provide their prisoners with at least four to five metres of space.