Palestinians in Gaza demand coronavirus protection for Palestinian prisoners, 19 March. Photo: QudsNews

Four Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo prison are reportedly in isolation for potential infection with coronavirus (COVID-19) after exposure to an Israeli interrogator who has been confirmed to have COVID-19. While the four prisoners’ diagnosis is not yet confirmed, at least one of the four is reported to have shown signs of illness after he was interrogated by the infected Israeli interrogator at Petah Tikva detention center.

Their family members have not been informed of their location. Previous reports have indicated that Israeli officials are using solitary confinement cells to quarantine prisoners, despite the fact that these cells are known to be dirty and infested with vermin. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes the complete responsibility of the Israeli state and the Israel Prison Service for the lives and health of Palestinian prisoners and for their reckless and repeated exposure of Palestinian prisoners to Israeli guards and officials with coronavirus infections.

While Israeli occupation forces have barred Palestinian prisoners from purchasing at least 140 different items at the “canteen” or prison store, including cleaning and sanitation supplies, and prohibited family and legal visits to the prisoners, they have continued to put Palestinians ate severe risk by continuing interrogations, maintaining dirty and overcrowded conditions and pursuing transfers.  These policies place Palestinian prisoners at severe risk for exposure to COVID-19 from Israeli prison guards and interrogators. All of these policies apply equally to the 190 Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons.

Earlier, 19 Palestinian prisoners were placed in isolation in Ashkelon prison after an Israeli psychiatrist, later diagnosed with COVID-19, visited Section 3 of the prison, where he interviewed a prisoner. While Palestinians in Gaza are refraining from most public events in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has not yet been detected within the besieged area, advocates for the prisoners protested outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday, 19 March to demand protection and proper infection control inside Israeli jails.

Palestinians in Gaza demand coronavirus protection for Palestinian prisoners, 19 March. Photo: QudsNews

Instead of protecting prisoners’ health, the Israeli policies – which have not been equally applied to Israeli civil and criminal prisoners but instead have been reserved for Palestinian political detainees – appear to be nothing more than a further attempt to undermine the severely limited rights of Palestinian prisoners. They reflect the ongoing mandate of Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan (who also runs Israel’s “anti-BDS ministry” and engages in international smear campaigns against human rights defenders) to “make conditions worse” for Palestinian prisoners.

The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society announced that prisoners plan to close their sections and return meals on Friday and Saturday, 20 and 21 March, in protest against the punitive measures carried out against them in the name of infection control while they are denied real resources to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Palestinian prisoners are instead demanding full sterilization, disinfection and cleaning of the prisons as well as proper health treatment for all detainees, according to the guidelines of the World Health Organization.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes that this situation is not simply a humanitarian concern for the health of the prisoners, but it instead reflects a systematic and racist Israeli policy of targeting Palestinian prisoners with complete disregard for their lives and health. Medical neglect and insufficient health care pose a constant threat to the prisoners, especially those who are also most vulnerable for COVID-19.

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Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes the urgency of a global response to COVID-19 that focuses on solidarity, mutual aid and public health, rather than capitalist values of exploitation, oppression and marginalization of the must vulnerable. We reiterate our long-standing call for the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, at severe risk in this time of pandemic, and especially administrative detainees, sick and elderly prisoners, and child prisoners. Defending public health must mean freedom for Palestinian prisoners, freedom for Palestine, and freedom for all oppressed peoples and nations.

Read our full statement on COVID-19 and Palestinian prisoners: https://samidoun.net/2020/03/israeli-apartheid-covid-19-and-palestinian-prisoners-freedom-now/