Palestinian Prisoners’ Day is a national observance held annually on April 17 to call for the rights and international law-based protections of Palestinian prisoners and detainees held by Israel. Since its inception in 1974 pursuant to a resolution by the Palestinian National Council, this annual observance has served to expose the appalling detention conditions and systematic human rights violations endured by Palestinian prisoners and detainees held in Israeli facilities.
On this day in 2020, Al Mezan and partners warned of the additional impact that COVID-19 would have on Palestinian prisoners and detainees. Today, more than a year after the outbreak of the pandemic, it is evident that Israeli prisons are high-risk environments for mass outbreaks of COVID-19—notably due to overcrowded cells, continued medical negligence, and lack of appropriate preventive measures.
Currently, there are approximately 4,450 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons— including 37 women and 140 minors—facing an elevated risk of infection. Statistics by human rights groups and community-based organizations show that approximately 700 Palestinian detainees suffer a medical condition; 300 suffer from chronic diseases, and 16 have cancer.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, incarcerated and detained Palestinians already endured systematic violation of their rights in Israel, for instance by being denied the right to an attorney or the right to a fair trial under Israel’s current administrative detention law. These orders can be issued for 21 days or longer and renewed indefinitely at the whim of Israel’s judges.
Palestinian prisoners and detainees, including children, are reportedly persistently exposed to ill-treatment, including medical neglect, and even torture in Israeli prisons and detention centers, despite these practices amounting to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which, as an occupying power, Israel is bound to respect.
Medical ethics and international law dictate that the physical and mental health of prisoners and detainees is protected, and that medical treatment is afforded that is of the same quality and standard as is available to those who are not detained. However, Palestinian prisoners and detainees consistently report medical negligence. In a recent testimony, Ahmed Majdi Ubaid, a 26-year-old Palestinian prisoner currently detained by Israel in Eshel Prison, told Al Mezan about his ongoing experience of medical neglect:
“I was transferred to Soroka Medical Center almost a year ago for a head CT scan, but no one shared the results with me. Since then, my health deteriorated drastically, and I started having rectal bleeding. They would just give me some sort of ointment, and six months later I was sent to the hospital for a laparoscopy. Three months after the operation, the doctor told me I had a tumor in my rectum and that I needed to have an urgent surgery. To this day, I have not been allowed to go to the hospital for the surgery even though I signed the consent form in September 2020 and the bleeding has not stopped.”
In 2011, following an exchange of prisoners between Israel and the authorities in the Gaza Strip, Al Mezan collected many alarming testimonies from the released prisoners, which evidenced persistent ill-treatment and even torture. In particular, the former prisoners reported beatings and medical neglect, regular denial of visitors, warrantless raids of their prison cells by guards and police dogs, and destruction of personal property, among other practices.
Al Mezan maintains that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, led by the Israeli Prisons Service (IPS) and other Israeli authorities, violates international law and the legal protections guaranteed to persons deprived of their liberty under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
On this year’s Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, Al Mezan reiterates its calls on the international community—including states, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross—to take action to ensure Israel’s respect for the rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, including habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial, and the right to health, as well as for the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment.
 Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Powers – Detention) Law 5756/1996
 Al Mezan’s lawyer visited Ubaid on 3 March 2021. Ubaid is a resident from al-Shujaiya, a neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, and is currently spending a six-year sentence in Eshel Prison.