Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) strongly condemns the Israeli Public Security Minister’s decision to withhold coronavirus vaccinations from Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s custody, despite the elevated risk of infection they face due to crowded conditions.
The Minister’s office released a statement, on 24 December 2020, instructing the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) not to inoculate ‘security’ prisoners despite including instructions to initiate inoculation of ISP staff. Although the statement did not directly refer to Palestinian inmates, there are no non-Palestinian ‘security’ prisoners in Israel. In a follow-up statement, the Minister’s office stated “there should be no inoculating security prisoners without approval”. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, in response, Israel’s Health Ministry urged the Public Security Minister to follow its guidelines on prioritization of vaccination, which prioritize prisoners older than 60 years and those with serious health conditions.
Palestinian inmates endure dire detention conditions that make Israeli prisons a dangerous breeding ground for the virus, notably due to the highly overcrowded prison cells. Last November, Al Mezan warned against Israel’s persistent neglect and failure to adequately mitigate and prevent the outbreak of the virus in its prisons. The warning followed the IPS decision to close Gilboa Prison (HaShita junction) after 85 Palestinian inmates tested positive. Similarly, on 29 December 2020, Al Mezan’s lawyer was informed that the IPS closed Ramon prison in northern Israel following the detection of several coronavirus infections.
In this regard, Al Mezan stresses that Israel, the Occupying Power, is bound by international human rights law and obligated to provide Palestinian prisoners with adequate medical attention as set forth in article 81 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 91 of the Convention also stipulates that “Every place of internment shall have an adequate infirmary, under the direction of a qualified doctor, where internees may have the attention they require, as well as an appropriate diet. Isolation wards shall be set aside for cases of contagious or mental diseases.” Further, the Minister’s decision to single out Palestinian prisoners contravenes article 2(2) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which prohibits discrimination of any kind.
Al Mezan reiterates its calls on the international community to take action to ensure that Israel upholds the rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees by ending all discriminatory policies and by providing necessary medical treatment including vaccination to fight the spread of the coronavirus.