Israeli corporation profits from high price of prisoners’ food

By John Space, April 20, 2013, Palestine Monitor

Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails often purchase items from the canteen, an alternative to the meals provided by the Israel Prison Service each day. But the high cost of the canteen provides ample profits to the private Israeli company Dadash, which holds the contract to supply food and other items to the canteens in all Israeli jails.

A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service told the Palestine Monitor that the prices of food and goods sold in the canteens are lower than the prices outside the prisons because Dadash is able to buy in bulk. A Palestine Monitor investigation found that this is untrue, and prices in the canteen are often radically higher than the normal prices of goods in the Palestinian territories.

Prisoner Jawar J., who is currently held in Ofer prison, told the Palestine Monitor during a tour offered by the IPS at the prison on April 15 that the canteen offers goods at “Very high prices, much higher than the outside.”

al-Jabari quoted the price of a kilo of chicken in Ofer’s canteen at 63 shekels (17.38 USD), compared to roughly 20 shekels (5.52 USD) a kilo in Ramallah.

The Palestinian prisoners-rights organization Addameer is preparing a comprehensive report, to be released May 15, on private companies profiting off the Israeli prison system. The group’s data, provided by the Israel Prison Service, had chicken at 4.71 USD a kilo, compared to Addameer’s estimate of 4.56 USD in a Palestinian market, still a 3.76% increase.

Addameer legal researcher Mourad Jadallah said that contracting prison food services to a private company is illegal under international law.

“In contravention of international law, the Israel Prison Service gave the canteen for prisoners to a company called Dadash,” he said. “Based on international law, the canteen should be run by Israel based on prices less or equal to the price in the prisoners’ home country, the occupied territories.”

Israel is a signatory to the Third Geneva Convention, which relates to prisoners of war. The Convention is very clear that profits from prison canteens must not be used for the profit of private corporations. Article 28 of the Convention reads:

“Canteens shall be installed in all camps, where prisoners of war may procure foodstuffs, soap prices. The profits made by camp canteens shall be used for the benefit of the prisoners; a special fund shall be created for this purpose.”

Israel is therefore clearly in violation of international law in its use of privatized canteens in its prison system.

This is, of course, far from the only war crime routinely committed by the Israel Prison Service. Jadallah, the legal expert at Addameer, said most of the goods sold in the canteens are produced in settlements. Settlement building is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Third Geneva Convention also prohibits the transfer of prisoners out of their home country, meaning that Israel’s common practice of moving prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza into prisons inside Israel is also a war crime.

Furthermore, prisoners in Ofer and other prisons are routinely held in solitary confinement, which is considered a form of torture by the United Nations. There was also the case of Arafat Jaradat, who was tortured to death in February while being interrogated in Israel’s Meggido prison. More recently, 64-year-old Maysara Abuhamdia died of cancer earlier this month after being denied treatment for two years inside an Israeli prison.

According to Article 30 of the Third Geneva Convention, “Prisoners of war suffering from serious disease, or whose condition necessitates special treatment, a surgical operation or hospital care, must be admitted to any military or civilian medical unit where such treatment can be given… Prisoners of war may not be prevented from presenting themselves to the medical authorities for examination.”

Jadallah said prisoners are sometimes placed in solitary confinement as punishment for joining a hunger strike. An Israel Prison Service spokesperson claimed that this is not the case, and also claimed that almost no prisoners actually participate in hunger strikes. The spokesperson said that, although prisoners sometimes refuse meals prepared in the prison cafeteria, they still eat food bought at the canteen. Jadallah said this is impossible, because prisoners on hunger strike often have all their personal belongings seized by the Prison Service, including any food they may have bought at the canteen.

The Palestinian Authority provides Palestinian prisoners with about 300 shekels (82.76 USD) a month to spend in the canteens, Jadallah said. He said the food provided by the Prison Service free of charge is not sufficient and the average prisoner needs to buy an additional 800-1000 shekels (220-275 USD) a month of food from the canteen.

“The food provided by the IPS is not good. The only way to feed themselves is to buy from the canteen,” he said.

Israel’s privatization of the canteens in Ofer and other prisons is in direct contravention of the Third Geneva Convention, but it is only one of many war crimes committed by Israel on a daily basis, and indeed it is only a small part of the myriad human-rights violations committed by the Israel Prison Service.

“The canteen is just one tool to exploit the prisoners,” Jadallah said.