HAIFA, Sunday, November 8, 2020 (WAFA) - In response to news reports indicating that 69 Palestinians held by Israel in just one prison have been infected with COVID-19, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) on 5 November demanding it acts immediately to halt the spread of the virus and to protect Palestinian prisoners.
On 2 November, an IPS spokeswoman revealed that 11 prisoners held in Gilboa prison and classified by Israel as “security prisoners” had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, 54 more prisoners were confirmed infected, and then another four more, bringing a total of 69 infected prisoners. This figure constitutes around 76 percent of the population of the wing in question and 15 percent of the total population of 450 “security prisoners” in Gilboa.
On 7 May, Adalah had filed an urgent petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding that Israeli authorities take all necessary actions to protect the 450 “security prisoners” being held in the overcrowded Gilboa prison from a COVID-19 outbreak.
But, on 23 July, the court ruled that Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons have no right to social distancing protection against the COVID-19.
In the urgent letter sent to acting-IPS Director Asher Vaknin, Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany called on the IPS to take immediate action to:
1. Isolation bloc: Ensure that the wing in which the infected prisoners are living, designated as a medical isolation bloc, allows for the appropriate conditions to provide sufficient protection and care for prisoners.
2. Medical care: Clarify the state of medical care provided to infected prisoners, including the availability of intensive case equipment, respirators, and disinfectant materials; conditions allowing safe distancing; sufficient and accessible information for prisoners regarding their rights and medical conditions; and mental health care.
3. Personal protective equipment: Ensure the availability of equipment to guarantee personal hygiene intended to slow or prevent the spread of the virus.
4. Family contact: Guarantee that: a) families receive updates on diagnosis and medical conditions of prisoners; and b) prisoners can maintain telephone contact with families to provide updates on their medical status.
5. Outbreak prevention in other wings: Provide updates regarding measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus to the other wings, including: a) detail the numbers of COVID-19 tests conducted in other wings; take action to pinpoint the source of the infections, and evaluate the possibility that inmates from other wards were exposed to the same source; b) identify steps taken to locate guards who were in contact with the infected patients; steps taken to lower the population densities in the other wings; and c) steps taken to protect at-risk prisoner populations.
6. Prison canteen: The outbreak is expected to harm the ability of prisoners’ families – particularly those from the occupied West Bank – to deposit money in the prison canteen. Adalah called on the IPS to provide updates on steps taken to ensure a continued smooth transfer of monies from families to prisoners so that they may continue to purchase basic essential items from the canteen.
Adalah also demanded that the IPS – which possesses exclusive control over information related to developments in its prisons – update its website in Arabic with the latest details on the spread of COVID-19 in all its facilities.