[Pnews] Claims of medical neglect of Palestinian detainees as the pandemic reaches the occupation prisons
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 10 17:05:46 EDT 2020
of medical neglect of Palestinian detainees as the pandemic reaches the
occupation prisonsAugust 10, 2020
When Kamal Abu Waar received confirmation that he had Covid-19, early last
month, he had already been struggling with throat cancer for two years. The
46-year-old Palestinian from the town of Qabatia, near Jenin, is behind the
occupation bars since 2003, spending his six life-sentences, and facing two
deadly diseases, in the middle of what human rights organizations describe
as systematic medical neglect.
Abu Waar is the latest in a long series of Palestinians having to
experience the consequences of falling sick inside occupation prisons.
Exactly a month ago, another Palestinian, Saadi Gharabli, a 74-year-old
Palestinian from Gaza, died of cancer in Israelí prisons. He had been
arrested in 1994 and spent 12 years in solitary confinement. Last November,
the 37-year-old Sami Abu Dyak fell to cancer too. In the previous months,
he had entered the deadly phase of his disease, which sparked a popular and
legal campaign demanding his release for humanitarian reasons. His last
wish was to die in the arms of his mother, which he was denied.
*Pandemic, neglect and contradictory orders*
According to Palestinian prisoner support and human rights group, Addameer,
near 70 Palestinians have died in Israelí prisons since 1967 as a result of
medical neglect. Kamal Abu Waar could be next on the list, and more could
follow. Especially after the Israeli supreme court ruled, last July 23 that
Palestinian prisoners had no right to physical distancing protection
against Covid-19. The court ruling came four months after the occupation
began to ban family and lawyer visits, last March, supposedly as a Covid-19
precaution. Then, a month later, the same occupation authorities issued a
military order, allowing the military court to extend the detention of
Palestinians despite having a barrier against that, for pandemic reasons.
Nisreen Abu Waar, Kamal’s sister, states that “we were informed that my
brother had Covid-19, by his lawyer”, adding that “we knew his condition
deteriorated lately and that he was submitted to medical exams, but we
thought it was due to his previous cancer condition or to stomach
problems”. Abu Waar’s lawyer was only capable of visiting him last week,
almost a full month after he tested positive. His family hasn’t been
allowed to visit him yet.
*Old policy, new form*
Ehteram Ghazawneh, head of the legal documentation unit at Addameer
explains that “Medical neglect is a systematic policy for the Israelí
occupation. Not only it causes health deterioration to prisoners who are
already sick, but it often causes healthy prisoners to fall sick because of
unhealthy detention conditions”.
These conditions include old and improper detention facilities, like the
Damon prison that was built back in the 1930s as a stable for horses. They
also include dirty clothes and mattresses and poor quality food. But under
the pandemic, this neglect has taken new forms, with new risks for
Palestinian detainees. “The Israelí court decision to reject physical
distancing of prisoners is in itself a new form of medical neglect”, says
Ehteram Ghazawneh, adding that “cells were sterilized only a few times, and
now guards continue to search them without wearing masks or taking any
preventive measures. The quantities of masks and alcohol given to each cell
are not enough either”.
*Make it cheaper*
Palestinian prisoners and human rights groups have been battling against
medical neglect for years. More than particular practices, it is the health
system of the occupation prisons itself that has been the main point of
this struggle. Ex-prisoner Waleed Sharaf gives witness to this system;
“When I was arrested in June 2018, I had a chronic skin disease. I needed a
special medicine for my condition, but the only thing the prison clinic
gave me for months was pain killers. Then I started to have severe pain in
the stomach, so they gave me more pain killers. When I finally couldn’t
hold the pain anymore they transferred me to the Ramleh clinic, which they
The Ramleh prison clinic is a medical facility for Palestinian prisoners
with chronic and serious health conditions. Ehteram Ghazawneh clarifies
that “In each prison, there is a clinic with nurses. The Ramleh prison
clinic, on the contrary, has some 14 to 15 doctors, but without specialized
equipment, That is why when a prisoner’s condition becomes very critical or
needs surgery, they are taken to a regular, civil Israelí hospital”.
It is the case of Kamal Abu Waar, who received all his specialized
treatment in Israelí civil hospitals; “he received his 50 radiation
sessions for his cancer in the Israelí Rambam hospital”, explains his
sister Nisreen, “when he was diagnosed with Covid-19 they transferred him
to Ramleh, but then they took him to the Afuleh civil hospital, then to the
Assaf Harofeh civil hospital, then back to Ramleh”.
Waleed Sharaf remembers that “in Ramleh, I was handcuffed to my bed all the
time. They never told me what I had and I didn’t receive any treatment.
Later they took me to a civil hospital, where I received no treatment
either. Until one day, in the middle of an argument about the point of
keeping me in the hospital, the doctor told me that had a liver
dysfunction”. According to Ehteram Ghazawneh, “The entire logic of the
occupation prison health system is to make it as cheap as possible to the
occupation state. This is why in every case there is a delay in diagnosing
health problems, delay in transferring sick prisoners, and delay in
treatment, which often comes too late”.
The impact of medical neglect includes prisoners’ families. Nisreen Abu
Waar recalls that “The occupation authorities never gave us any information
on my brother’s situation. Even when he was diagnosed with cancer. We knew
when he told me personally, during a visit”, after holding her breath for
few seconds, like avoiding to get emotional, she adds; “that moment was the
hardest for me. I had been preparing for the visit for months, not thinking
of the hours-long security check, anxious of seeing him for 45 minutes, to
find out he had throat cancer”. After another brief silence, she concludes;
“I could only pray and trust my brother’s life in God’s hands”. For Ehteram
Ghazawneh, “the occupation uses the prisoners’ health conditions as a tool
to torture them and their families psychologically. It’s a means of
revenge, and as a collective punishment, it’s a war crime too”.
A collective punishment increased under the pandemic. “Since we knew that
Kamal had Covid-19, our lives have practically stopped,” says Nisreen Abu
Waar, “we didn’t even celebrate my son’s high school graduation. It’s
constant anguish, especially that we aren’t allowed to visit him and his
lawyer can only get very little information”.
*“Holding our breath”*
As the pandemic continues to spread, Palestinian prisoners become more
vulnerable to medical neglect. “The occupation conducts around 20 arrests
every night in the West Bank”, explains Ehterma Ghazawneh. “Although
detainees are held in quarantine for 14 days”, she adds, “they are later
exposed to interrogators without preventive measures. We know at least
about three prisoners who tested positive after direct contact with
infected Israelí interrogators”.
Meanwhile, thousands of families across Palestine continue to live through
the pandemic expecting news from their beloved ones behind the occupation
bars. Or as Nisreen abu Waar puts it; “holding our breath, and praying”.
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