The Israeli occupation and apartheid regime have not ceased their persecution and detention of Palestinians, even as COVID-19 spread across the occupied Palestinian territory, said the Palestinian prisoners rights organization Addameer.
In the occassion of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, April 17, the group said that in 2020, the Israeli occupation forces arrested 4,634 Palestinians, among them 543 children and 128 women, in addition to issuing 1,114 administrative detention orders.
Addameer said that the occupation authorities introduced a set of measures that exacerbate Palestinian prisoners’ conditions under the pretext of preventing the spread of COVID-19: most notably, the isolation of Palestinian prisoners from the outside world by banning visits by their lawyers and families.
Conversely, and paradoxically, it said that prison special forces continue to forcibly break into prisoners’ sections, posing a danger to prisoners by increasing their likelihood of exposure to COVID-19 during these incursions.
By the end of March 2021, the number of Palestinian prisoners and detainees reached 4,450, including 37 women, 140 children, and 440 administrative detainees, according to Addameer.
Among the prisoners are 15 journalists, hundreds of university students, and ten Palestinian Legislative Council members.
The group said that Israeli occupation authorities deliberately prolong providing healthcare to Palestinian prisoners, further exacerbating their health conditions, particularly sick prisoners transferred to Ramleh prison clinic, where about 14-16 prisoners stay permanently suffering from poor health and living conditions.
In 2020, four Palestinian prisoners were martyred in prison—Nour El-Deen Al-Barghouthi, Sa’ad Al-Gharabili, Daoud Al-Khatib, and Kamal Abu Wa’ar.
Since 1967 and to this day, the Israeli occupation authorities continue to withhold the bodies of seven martyred detainees.
Addameer said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Israeli occupation authorities have imposed complete isolation on Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
After declaring a state of emergency, detainees were banned from visits by their lawyers and families. The Israeli Prison Service implemented further arbitrary practices and decisions to impose greater repression and control over the prisoners, the most prominent of which has been halting the transfer of prisoners to Israeli military courts for trial. Instead, sessions are held via video conferences, where procedures are marred by clear violations of the right to a fair trial.
It also said that besides denying detainees’ confidential meetings with their lawyers, trials via videoconferencing often lead to issues where the detainee cannot hear or understand the ongoings of the trial session.
Moreover, the lack of precise translation of the proceedings means that detainees lose their right to understand the nature of the charges and evidence presented against them during the session.
Also, prison conditions continue to be inhumane and do not align with the bare minimum of adequate living standards.
Prisoners and detainees suffer from severe overcrowding, further compounding the vulnerability of Palestinian prisoners and detainees.Initial preventative measures taken by the Israeli Prison Service included the distribution of soap and small containers of chlorine to prisoners, in addition to the sterilization of cells and a reduction of interactions between prison guards and prisoners. Nonetheless, these minimal measures failed to prevent the spread of the virus between prisoners through prison guards and interrogators.
Addameer said that since the spread of COVID-19, nearly 368 prisoners have been infected across various detention and interrogation centers.
The highest numbers being reported in Gilboa, Negev (Ketziot), Ramon, and Ofer prison. In detention centers such as Etzion and Huwara, Palestinian detainees are subjected to harsh conditions.
The occupation authorities quarantined new detainees in filthy cells, with inadequate food (and the lack thereof), along with dirty blankets (and the additional lack thereof) in the face of extreme cold, before transferring them to prison. Furthermore, detainees were not provided with hygiene products such as soap, toothbrushes, and towels.
Addammer said that the crimes of the Israeli apartheid regime increase over time, legislating itself to claim a more “legal” form, as the world stays silent, neglecting to expose these practices or ensuring accountability or to work to eliminate this racist regime that stands in front of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and freedom from occupation.
Addammer called on the international community to take the necessary steps to declare this occupation, and all its policies and practices, an illegal reality that must end immediately, along with an end to prosecuting Palestinian civilians in military courts.
Addammer stated that the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination must be guaranteed, and the occupying power must be held accountable for its ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people.