by Alaa Al-Jaabari
24 Mar 2020; MEMO: The Israeli prison authorities have announced that a number of Palestinian prisoners in Megiddo Prison are infected with the coronavirus. This news will cause great anxiety for thousands of Palestinian families whose loved ones are being held by Israel, including political prisoners who resisted the occupation as well as Palestinians imprisoned for criminal acts.
Palestinian prisoners in particular are at very high risk of contracting the virus in Israel’s prisons due to the conditions in which they are forced to live. Indeed, the risk begins even before they get to prison. When being transferred from court to prison, or between prisons, they are kept in cells meant for a maximum of four prisoners. However, the Israeli guards routinely squeeze more than 20 in each holding cell; with no room to sit, they must stand together.
Moreover, they have metal handcuffs on, which are re-used on dozens of different prisoners daily. Without adequate cleaning and sterilisation, these cuffs are potentially a major source of infection.
The bus on which Palestinian prisoners are transferred is a threat in itself, as its seats are made of metal and are crowded. Prisoners sit very close to each other with their hands and feet cuffed. At the court, they are again placed in overcrowded holding cells as they wait for their hearing, sometimes for hours on end with 10+ people in space meant for four.
Once in prison, there are eight prisoners in every cell. They use the same bathroom facilities and share eating utensils, as there are not enough for every prisoner to have their own. They sleep on bunk beds, so are in close proximity to each other at all times; the chances of infection are very high.
The medical treatment likely to be offered to Palestinian prisoners with coronavirus will no doubt be as basic as that normally provided by the prison doctors. Even serious illnesses are treated with painkillers, antibiotics, ointments or eye drops. Any prisoners requiring more complex treatment are added to the list for examination in a hospital; they can wait for months before that happens. If they need a follow-up appointment, they wait yet again. When the virus spreads and Israeli hospitals are busy treating their patients, there is no doubt that the Palestinian prisoners will be at the very back of the queue.
Each section within Israeli prisons holds approximately 100 prisoners, and they share a single large washing machine for their clothes. This means that the clothes of sick and healthy prisoners are washed together. Moreover, 100 prisoners share five showers in their section.
This is why it will be a catastrophe if the coronavirus takes hold in Israel’s prisons, and our loved ones will be in great danger. No matter how much talk there is about deep cleaning and isolation, their lives are connected and the prison facilities, transfers, interrogations and trials are simply not ready for a pandemic...
This article was originally published in Middle East Monitor on March 24, 2020.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of UMMnews.