The ruling upheld by Israel’s top court flies in the face of basic Covid-19 health practices employed by prison authorities around the world.
Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Palestinian prisoners have no right to social distancing protection against Covid-19.
The decision was made on July 23 after a petition filed by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, demanded that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and Israel’s Public Security Ministry take all necessary actions to protect 450 prisoners – the majority of whom are Palestinians – in the overcrowded Gilboa prison.
At least 30 Israeli prison guards and seven Palestinian prisoners have tested positive for Covid-19 so far. Some 489 IPS employees and 58 prisoners have entered quarantine.
In a statement released following the ruling, Adalah attorney Myssana Morany said that the supreme court “has chosen to accept the fiction pitched to it by Israeli authorities that COVID-19 social distancing policies – essential for everyone else – are not relevant to the Palestinian ‘security prisoners’ it holds behind bars.”
Morany referred to the “precedent-setting” ruling as one that “flies in the face of health and human rights professionals around the world who have called for social distancing within prisons, and leaves Palestinians held by Israel exposed to the virus with no option to protect themselves.”
Morany added that the ruling was justified using absurd arguments like “equating prisons with family living rooms,” while prisoners “continue to be forced to come into daily contact with guards potentially exposed to Covid-19 outside the prison walls.”
Adalah mentioned that Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that Israeli prison facilities must guarantee a minimum living space of 4.5 square metres per prisoner, but Israel’s prison services have not abided by the ruling.
Conditions in Gilboa prison make it impossible for inmates to social distance, with six prisoners housed in each 22 square metre cell, in conditions which are “endangering their safety and lives,” Adalah pointed out.
The World Health Organisation, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN human rights experts have all issued guidelines and statements highlighting the need to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in detention settings.
On July 24, Defense for Children International called on Israeli authorities to immediately release all Palestinian child detainees in prisons due to the resurgence of Covid-19.
In April, a group of UN human rights experts called on Israel cease discrimination against thousands of Palestinians prisoners facing high-risk exposure to the virus and requested the most vulnerable to be released.
The UN experts highlighted that while hundreds of Israeli prisoners have been released as a preventative and protective step, similar measures were not applied to Palestinian prisoners in what they called “discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians” and a “violation of international law”.
According to the UN, there are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails.
Another 479 Palestinians, 9 from Gaza, were in IPS prisons for being in Israel illegally – whom the IPS classify as criminal offenders.
It is illegal under international humanitarian law for Israel to hold Palestinians from occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza in prisons within Israel, as the law prohibits civilians (including detainees and prisoners) from occupied land to be transferred to the territory of the occupying power.
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