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

Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli occupation’s Ofer prison have announced an escalation of protests and the closing of their sections after a Palestinian detainee held there was diagnosed with coronavirus upon his release.

Nour al-Din Sarsour, 19, who was released from Ofer on 31 March 220, tested positive for COVID-19 after going to the hospital following his liberation. He was arrested on 18 March and was held at the Benjamin interrogation center before being transferred to Ofer.

Fellow Palestinian political prisoners celebrated his release with him, as neither he nor his fellow detainees were aware of his condition. Because there is no systematic testing for COVID-19 in Israeli prisons – even for prisoners known to be exposed to Israeli jailers with coronavirus – Sarsour and his fellow prisoners were never tested.

This situation persists despite the repeated entry of multiple Israeli jailers, guards, military court judges and interrogators into the prisons and the rooms and sections of the prisoners; some of these have later been diagnosed with coronavirus. Palestinian political prisoners and the organizations defending their human rights have called for their immediate release and even basic health protections, yet the Israeli apartheid regime has continued to intensify its repressive tactics against the prisoners while denying them access to cleaning supplies, proper health care and sanitation.

Sources inside Ofer prison confirmed to Samidoun that they have decided to close their sections to express their outrage at the lack of protections for the prisoners. There is very serious concern and even panic inside Ofer prison, especially following the news that Sarsour was held in section 14, a section for new detainees, along with 36 fellow prisoners. He was held there for the 12 days before his release. Nevertheless, the Israeli administration has announced no plans to release or even test the prisoners held there.

As reported by Wattan News, prisoners in the Negev desert prison are also closing their sections in response to the ongoing violations of their rights and the threat to their health posed by the deadly combination of COVID-19, incarceration, occupation and apartheid. There is a great deal of tension inside all Israeli prisons after the report of Sarsour’s diagnosis, especially as there are a number of seriously ill prisoners, elderly prisoners and child prisoners who are even more vulnerable in the close, crowded conditions in which Palestinian political prisoners are jailed.

One of the Palestinian detainees in Ofer who was held in Section 14 with Sarsour was then transferred to another section. When the prisoners asked for him to be quarantined, the administration reportedly refused, forcing the prisoners to develop their own isolation and quarantine system for the potentially infected detainee. Palestinian prisoners are being forced to devise their own methods of self-protection due to their denial by the Israeli occupation, despite the complete responsibility of the latter for the detainees’ lives and health.

In addition, repressive raids on the prisoners’ sections have continued. Guards from repressive units ransack prisoners’ items, exposing them to contact with their hands as well as a stream of additional people who could potentially be exposed to coronavirus. Not only may Palestinian prisoners not “socially distance” – they are held six to eight to a room – but they are constantly threatened with exposure to guards, soldiers and other Israeli occupation forces that regularly interact with the outside world.

Palestinian prisoners are demanding that all prisoners in Ofer be tested for COVID-19, especially the children held in section 13, located next to section 14; that the daily count be conducted via cameras and that window searches be conducted from outside rather than inside the rooms, in order to reduce their exposure to Israeli guards and soldiers who continue to interact with the outside world.

The Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners constitutes at minimum severe negligence to the health and lives of Palestinian political prisoners, in line with its long-standing practice of medical neglect.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network emphasizes that the systematic medical negligence and abuse conducted by the Israeli occupation regime against Palestinian political prisoners not only amounts to a serious threat to their health and lives, but also reflects a political decision to further dehumanize, repress and marginalize Palestinian detainees. The global pandemic of COVID-19 requires that Palestinian political prisoners be immediately released to protect their health from the danger of deadly spread inside the jails, especially child prisoners, elderly prisoners and ill prisoners.

We reiterate our demand for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners, jailed for their resistance to occupation and apartheid. The coronavirus pandemic only further underlines the present urgency of this demand.

We urge all supporters of Palestine to join in Addameer’s call to action for Palestinian prisoners: http://addameer.org/news/urgent-action-free-our-prisoners in the era of COVID-19.

As we confront COVID-19, we know that it is important, perhaps now more than ever, to stand with Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinian people, who are facing apartheid, racism, settler-colonialism and Zionism, a deep threat to public health that has persisted in Palestine for over 70 years. If we seek a future in which we can truly stand together for humanity, we must stand with the Palestinian people to bring that system to an end, as well as the imperialist system that funds, arms and empowers it.

Freedom for all Palestinian prisoners! Freedom for Palestine, from the river to the sea!

We also republish the below call from ill prisoners inside Israeli prisons:

Hurryyat: an urgent call from detainees in the Israeli Occupation prisons to human rights advocates around the world

Save us from the coronavirus so that the Prisons don’t turn into Cemeteries!

The feeling of imminent threat and danger to our lives in Israeli prisons is growing day by day, even hour by hour. The coronavirus is spreading and is threatening the region and entire world. We are always hearing new instructions and regulations by the Israeli government to its population, like all governments in the world, on what to do to stop the spread of the virus. When it comes to our situation, the political prisoners in Israeli jails, we are not hearing or seeing any measures or even answers to our most basic questions; what if the virus spread in prisons? What are the practical and humane steps that will be taken by the prison authorities?

The only thing we are told from the prison administration is that they are taking all precautionary measures. But what are these precautions really? It is, in our opinion, “simple smoke in the eyes”. There are now hundreds of sick prisoners who are suffering many health problems, some of which are serious. Others have respiratory and heart problems not to mention those who are affected by hypertension, diabetes or many other chronic conditions.

We appeal to the whole world and to all those who deal with human rights as human beings. With the disease that threatens us day after day, what rights do we enjoy? No real protective measures have been adopted and we have not seen a minimum sign of common sense and prevention towards us. Medical negligence and delayed care have always haunted Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. Already in the past many prisoners have died precisely because of the lack of medical treatment. Imagine now that the Israeli health authorities have already declared that they are unable to absorb the growing number of patients affected by the virus.

As you know, the only way – and perhaps the only hope – to reduce the contagion and the spread of Coronavirus is to be careful, take the appropriate precautionary and precautionary measures and rigidly apply a series of hygiene-sanitary practices. But the Israeli prison administration does not provide anything: no means for sterilization and no masks. We are faced with formal actions that come closer to real threats rather than health checks or real preventive practices. Our only contact with the outside world is represented by our jailers. They do not hesitate to get in touch with us, without respecting the safety distance, with the risk of infecting us. Prison administration agents have the opportunity to isolate themselves and undergo proper treatment. We obviously don’t!

The responsibility for this situation lies entirely with the prison administration, the Israeli government and all those who claim to be human rights defenders.

We appeal to all free people: do not let us die in our cells, without any protective measure with the contagion that is spreading.

What does the world expect of us? To rebel as some prisoners have in some countries only to be killed by bullets before they were eliminated by the virus?

Ours is a cry addressed to the whole world. We enclose a list of the names of some prisoners affected by various pathologies. Those interested can thus become aware of our poor sanitary conditions inside Israeli prisons. In fact, the list is much longer.

The Palestinian Prison Committee for the Defence of Human Rights

These are some of the ill prisoners:

Mo’tasim Raddad / intestinal cancer and immune suppression
Khaled al-Shawish / disabled, catheterized, hyperlipemia and blood allergy
Mansour Moqadi / disabled, gastric prosthesis and catheterized
Kamal abu Wa’r / laryngeal tumor with respiratory problems
Ahmad Sa’adeh / heart attack
Walid Daqqa / cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems and chemotherapy treatment
Sa’di al-Gharabli / prostatitis, hypertension, diabetes and geriatric problems
Zamel Shallouf / cardiac arrhythmias with pace maker, breathing problems
Miqdad al-Hih / left hemisphere brain stroke, dyspnoea and gastrointestinal problems
Khalil Msallam Baraq’ah / respiratory and lung problems
‘Ala’ Ibrahim ‘Ali / tuberculosis, respiratory complications and gastrointestinal problems
Ayman Hasan al-Kurd / paraplegic, problems in the nervous system and gastrointestinal problems
Saleh Daoud / epilepsy, breathing problems
Mohammad Jaber al-Hroub / hepatitis due to medical carelessness
Ra’ed al-Hutari / respiratory problems, migraine, gout
Hamza al-Kalouti / gout gastroenteritis, dyspnoea
Ibrahim ‘Isa’ Abdeh / nervous pathology, gout
‘Ezzeddine Karajat / artificial respiration
Mutawakkel Radwan / heart attack and respiratory problems
Usama abu al-‘Asal / respiratory and heart problems
Khalil abu Ni’meh / respiratory problems
Fawwaz Ba’areh / brain cancer with syncope moments / coma
Mahmoud abu Kharabish / respiratory crisis
Fu’ad al-Shobaki / geriatric problems
‘Abd al-Mu’iz al-Ja’abeh / heart attack, hyperlipemia
Nasri ‘Asi / thyroid problems
Mamdouh al-Tanani / diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipemia, kidney problems and other illnesses
Ahmed E’beid / circulatory problems, hypertension, hyperlipemia
Muwaffaq al-‘Erouq / intestinal cancer
Ibrahim abu Mukh / leukemia
Musa Sufan / pneumonia
Israa Ja’abis / full body burn, amputation of some fingers
Yousef Iskaf / heart disease
Nabil Harb / artificial intestine
Yousri al-Masri / glandular inflammation

The Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights “Hurryyat”
25/03/2020