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Israeli Prison System Accused of Deliberate Medical Negligence

Palestinians charge that interrogators use prisoners’ poor health to get information

The Palestinian health minister, along with doctors, nurses and activists, joined in a protest on October 31 against what they charged was the Israeli prison system’s negligence in providing medical treatment to sick prisoners.

Under the slogan “The Ill Prisoners: An Unstoppable Medical Crime,” Palestinians gathered at the tomb of the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah to highlight what they called the “serious” issue of medical treatment provided to Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons.

Nafez Zahran, head of the Palestinian Medical Syndicate, told The Media Line that “there is a deliberate failure to provide medical services for Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli prison administration. Their poor health is being used as a pressure tool during interrogations to obtain confessions.”

He charged that “when a Palestinian prisoner becomes ill, the prison administration intentionally neglects the prisoner’s health condition until it becomes really bad, to the point that complex treatment or surgery is required. The prison administration provides the prisoners with painkillers, which resolves the pain temporarily, but doesn’t treat the illness.”

Zahran said that after being released, many Palestinian prisoners “suffer from serious health problems as a result of intentional medical negligence inside Israeli prisons.”

When reached by The Media Line, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service disputed the claims. “All [Palestinian] prisoners in Israel Prison Service custody – no matter if they are on hunger strike or not – are given medical treatment upon request in keeping with Israeli and international law.”

Qadri Abu Baker, head of the PLO Commission of Prisoners Affairs, told The Media Line that “there are currently about 700 ill prisoners who need medical treatment. About 40 of them suffer from severe illnesses, like cancer, and aren’t receiving proper treatment, which makes their conditions worse.”

He said, “Today’s demonstration, with doctors and medical figures dressed in their white uniforms, sends a message to the international community as well as the medical staff at Israeli prisons that doctors are supposed to be angels of mercy, the medical profession a humanitarian act, before anything else.”

Abu Baker urged the United Nations as well as the international community to “take action and impose deterrent sanctions on Israel. Israel doesn’t respect human rights or signed agreements and puts no value on the lives of Palestinians.” He said, “Prisoners’ families are being punished by being prevented from visiting their imprisoned relatives.”

The protestors demanded the right of Palestinian prisoners to receive medical consultation and examination from sources other than the Israeli prison health service, calling that “a basic right guaranteed by international laws and customs.”

The Palestinian Medical Syndicate also condemned what it called “the repeated attacks by the Israeli army against Palestinian health institutions and medical staff working in the Palestinian territories, including the capital, Jerusalem.”