Kamil Abu Hanish: Racism and medical mistreatment in the occupation prisons

Kamil Abu Hanish

One of the most difficult aspects of imprisonment that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails face is medical neglect and mistreatment. While cases like those of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh and Jaafar Awad are well-known, Palestinian prisoners struggle daily with access to proper medical care. They frequently report being given only painkillers if they receive treatment at all as well as lengthy delays in receiving necessary procedures.

Currently, Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Bisharat, 32, from the town of Tammun. He has reportedly been returned to the Assaf Harofeh hospital after he again lost consciousness. He is suffering from renal failure and kidney disease in both of his kidneys. He had been returned from Assaf Harofeh hospital to the Ramle prison clinic last Thursday but continued to suffer from poor vision, difficulty speaking and severe weight loss. He is currently held in the intensive care unit, Asra Media reported. Bisharat is serving an 18-year sentence; he has been imprisoned since August 2001, at the age of 16.

Bisharat’s life is at urgent risk; he is one of the most severely ill Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. His family noted that he must receive dialysis three times a week and he and his family were prevented from testing for the possibility of a kidney transplant from a living donor.  Among other severely ill prisoners is Moatassem Raddad, 35, suffering from colon cancer, severe pain and infections

In this context, we present the below essay by Palestinian prisoner and prisoners’ movement leader Kamil Abu Hanish on medical neglect and mistreatment in the occupation prisons, focusing on the case of Jalal al-Faqih:

Racism and medical mistreatment in the occupation prisons
By Kamil Abu Hanish

From: Handala Center for prisoners and former prisoners

The catastrophic health conditions of Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails require in-depth studies to reveal and expose the crimes committed by one of the most prominent institutions of the occupation over the prisoners for the past decade. This article seeks to sound the alarm for all involved, focusing on the situation in recent years in regard to Palestinian prisoners’ health. The prisoner Jalal al-Faqih, who has been detained since 2003 and is sentenced to life imprisonment at age 37, suffers from several health problems, including back pain and hemorrhoids, for years. This struggler is frequently in the clinics and hospitals of the prison service without succeeding in extracting his human right – the need for surgery for his hemorrhoids. Every time, the prison administration in Gilboa prison, where he has been held for years, procrastinates and delays while al-Faqih’s situation worsens.

Since the beginning of 2015, they have been preparing him for the surgery in the language of numbers. He visited the prison clinics about 70 times between 2015 and 2016. In the same period, he was referred for further treatment 15 times, and each time, they hint at an approaching date for surgery. This date was treated as a highly important security secret and left as one promise after another, his condition worsening all the while until the life and health of the prisoner was in danger.

After pressure exerted by the prisoners on the prison administration, they informed Jalal that his operation will take place in November 2016. Jalal approached the date with assurance but his hopes were disappointed. The months of November and December 2016 passed, and we entered the new year 2017. Every day, the administration further procrastinated and invokes the argument that it is not in charge of the surgery, but instead the hospitals and their bureaucracy are responsible for. The struggler has no choice but to go for an open hunger strike to seek a date for surgery. He was promised treatment in February without a specific date, but then al-Faqih was ordered to undergo further tests prior to treatment, which means a journey of severe suffering before the procedure. In the first week of February, Jalal was taken for tests in Afula hospital and a week later taken to a final test in the Ramle prison clinic, on a dangerous road journey where dozens of prisoners are crammed in the transport vehicles.

Jalal must go on this hellish journey standing on his feet with his hands and feet shackled because he cannot sit on the cold iron seats for the full eight-hour journey. The transport vehicles stop at a number of prisons before they arrive at Ramle prison and are held overnight in the prison cells, which are not suitable for people suffering from health conditions.

The next morning, they took him from the cell to the hospital to meet with the doctor, who only sat behind his desk, flipping through te papers of Jalal’s medical file without examining him or asking any questions. After two minutes of this inhumane interview, he was told again to come out despite Jalall’s protest. He found himself shackled again, returned to the cell, to stay another night, and the disastrous journey back again to prison the next day, returned to us with a much worsened health condition after this journey of more than sixty hours of suffering to be viewed by the doctor for the period of a few minutes only.

After a few days of suffering and on the morning of 22 February, Jalal was told that he must prepare quickly to travel to Afula hospital for the operation. The operation was carried out the next day on Thursday, 23 February, and the hospital management did not accept to host him for more than one night. He was removed on the morning of Friday, 24 February, after a complicated procedure to remove internal and external fissures and damage. In the normal circumstances of a similar operation, the patient stays at least a week in the hospital. However, in the “democratic, human-rights-respecting Israeli” hospitals, the prisoner stays only one night. The prisoner Jalal was returned once again. His situation was difficult after the operation and we thought that he needed several days of care and attention by his comrades and he will start to recover. However, his condition worsened day by day and he suffered day and night.

On the seventh day after the operation, his condition worsened and his pain was unbearable. After a two-hour delay, the clinic transfered the prisoner for treatment and then shocked him again, as the doctor refused to examine him in the clinic and only provided him with pills. Jalal refused to return to his section without a medical examination. The doctor then threatened to throw him in the cells, and in front of this fascist doctor, a security officer and several jailers appeared and raised the stretcher on which Jalal was laing, lifting it vertically from the front and throwing him to the ground despite his extreme pain and then sending him to the section. He told us from his pain and tears what happened to him, which instantly raised a tense atmosphere as prisoners closed the section and demanded the administration would be responsible for what will happen in the prison if Jalal is not immediately transferred to the hospital.

The prison administration was forced to move Jalal to the hospital after calling an ambulance, and there he was subject to new tests and found to have infections and given new medications, mostly painkillers, and returned him on the same day. The atmosphere was tense on that day, as the prison administration and its officers attempted to contain prisoners’ anger and justify what had happened and to emphasize their own human feelings after being confronted with their lack of care. Especially after his condition is now improving, slowly, day by day.

The case of the prisoner Jalal is one of hundreds of such difficult cases in the occupation prisons. This is an example of what has become known as a deliberate policy of medical or health neglect or negligence, which has led to the martyrdom of dozens of prisoners in past years.

The policies and violations by the prison administration against the Palestinian prisoners are expressed as a form of retaliation. The doctors in the clinics are cold as well as lacking necessary medical qualifications, and we also note their lack of human care, which is one of the most important elements of the medical profession.

The concept of medical neglect is not a passing concern and only harms the prisoners. It is a daily fact of human rights violations and crimes. This is a call upon the Prisoners’ Affairs Commission and all human rights organizations to engage in a serious investigation into what is happening in Israeli jails. They can begin to take statements from thousands of former prisoners and hundreds who are still in prison to uncover all of the terrible facts that expose the crimes of the occupation and its repressive institution, the Prison Service, against the prisoners, for more than five decades. We must start by compiling hundreds or even thousands of files that will expose Israel’s false democracy and its crimes against humanity and hold it accountable for prosecution.

Kamil Abu Hanish is the leader of the prison branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Abu Hanish, from Beit Dajan, is serving nine life sentences in Israeli prisons for his role in the Palestinian resistance, especially during the second Intifada. He is known as a writer on political, social and economic affairs and has written several books, including poetry collections and short stories, all written behind bars in occupation prisons.