icrcbusSick prisoners in the Ramle prison clinic rejected International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representatives who came to visit them, in protest against the ICRC’s decision to reduce family visits for Palestinian prisoners from twice monthly to once monthly.

Fadi Obeidat, Palestinian lawyer, said that the sick prisoners were committed to continue to refuse ICRC visits until this decision is reversed or there is at least a real explanation provided by ICRC and not just “illogical excuses.”

The ICRC facilitates the family visit program for Palestinian prisoners held, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, inside prisons in Israel. Prisoners’ family members must obtain special permits from the Israeli occupation, which are often denied; when not denied, they take months to obtain. Family members must travel with an ICRC group on a bus to the prison where their family member is held where they remain for the day until all family members have had their 45-minute visit. These visits were allowed twice monthly; as of July 2016, the ICRC is providing only once-monthly visits for Palestinian men prisoners.

This action comes alongside the frequent denial of family visits by the Israeli prison authorities, either by prohibitions placed on individual prisoners or through the denial of visit permits, and so is viewed by Palestinian prisoners as being part and parcel of an ongoing attempt to isolate prisoners from their families and to collectively punish Palestinian families of prisoners. The ICRC has attempted to justify their decision as budgetary in nature, or complained that not all families engage in the twice-monthly visits. It should be noted that the visit days are a lengthy and unpleasant experience involving early departure, late return, multiple checkpoints and searches by Israeli occupation forces, and long periods of time sitting in prison waiting rooms that are often very hot and unsanitary. This is particularly challenging for the elderly parents or young children of prisoners. Rather than advocate for increased family visitation, longer visit periods, better conditions, and an end to the denial of family visits, the ICRC is cutting back on the time that is often most precious to prisoners and their families – the bimonthly visits.

Samidoun is petitioning the ICRC to reverse this decision. The petition can be signed at change.org.

While visiting the Ramle clinic, where very ill prisoners are held in often dangerous and neglectful conditions, Obeidat met with Jalal Sharawna, 17, who recently ended a ten-day hunger strike in protest of his conditons of confinement. Sharawna has been denied family visits despite his difficult condition; shot by Israeli forces invading his hometown in October 2015, his leg was later amputated a month later without the permission or consultation of his family or his lawyer. Sharawna’s father, Shaher, urged international attention to his son’s case, saying that he is only being given painkillers. He will have a hearing in his case on 18 July in Ofer military court.