The Plague of Occupation Prisons
Over 200 Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons, two of whom died in the past two months. Included in this number are Palestinians with serious illnesses who, if treated, can survive. Yet Israel only offers medical assistance in the form of painkillers, leaving Palestinians like Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh with no possibility of recovery.
Ramallah – The world remained largely silent as Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, a Palestinian held in an Israeli prisoner, died slowly in his shackles.
While in prison, Abu Hamdiyeh was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but only after it was too late. Neglected by the Israel Prison Service (IPS), his cancer had already metastasized and spread to his spinal cord. At the prison infirmary, but received nothing more than over-the-counter pain killers.
Abu Hamdiyeh finally succumbed to his illness at Saroka Hospital in Bir al-Saba. He was 11 years into his 99-year sentence, a term he received in 2002 for taking part in the Second Intifada.
After Arafat Jaradat, who was tortured to death in Israeli custody, Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh is the second son of the city of Hebron to die in occupation prisons in less than two months.
As soon as the residents of the city received news of Abu Hamdiyeh’s death, clashes erupted between Palestinian students returning from school and occupation soldiers in Bab al-Zawiya. The clashes spread to the Ofer checkpoint near Ramallah, and to the Masaken area of Nablus.
The protests also spread to Israeli jails, where guards used batons and teargas to put them down, resulting in injuries on both sides.
Issa Qaraqe, Palestinian Authority minister for prisoners’ affairs, announced that Palestinian prisoners would go on a hunger strike to protest Abu Hamdiyeh’s death, which he described as “premeditated murder.” Qaraqe also pointed out that Abu Hamdiyeh’s body would undergo an autopsy at Abu Dis Hospital, with the participation of foreign doctors.
Qadura Fares, head of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners Club, called for prosecuting Israel in international courts, given the rising number and frequency of violations against Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
For his part, Abu Hamdiyeh’s son Tariq told the official WAFA news agency that the occupation authorities have declined to give the family a medical report on his father’s condition during his illness and on his death.
Tariq went on to say, “Since my father was diagnosed with cancer last July, the occupation authorities didn’t provide him with treatment; they deliberately meant for the cancer to spread in his body.” The deceased prisoner’s son pointed out that there is a 90 percent chance for remission for esophageal cancer if discovered early.
In Israeli jails, there are around 1,300 Palestinian prisoners in ill health – about a quarter of the Palestinian prisoner population – according to the Palestinian Center for the Defense of Prisoners. Of those, 130 suffer from serious illnesses, such as cancer.
In truth, many prisoners go to prison in good health, only to emerge riddled with illnesses due to negligence, torture, and poor living conditions.
Often, Israel releases prisoners after their health dramatically deteriorates so they can die among their families – and allow Israel to deny responsibility. Such was the case of ex-Palestinian prisoner Ashraf Abu Darea, who was also from Hebron. Ashraf passed away a few weeks after his release.
With Abu Hamdiyeh, the occupation authorities ignored many appeals made by human rights groups and NGOs for his release.
The Israeli Response
Solidarity with Palestinian prisoners, particularly those on hunger strike, has been low-key. Consider Samer al-Issawi who has been on hunger strike for over eight months. According to the physician from the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs, Issawi’s condition is “near terminal.” Issawi is still holding out for support from the Palestinian street.
The office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to respond to Palestinians who blamed Israel for the prisoner’s death. Netanyahu’s office said that Abu Hamdiyeh died from cancer, claiming that “the Palestinian detainees imprisoned in Israel receive excellent medical attention and are visited by the Red Cross, whereas inmates in Palestinian Authority prisons receive nothing.”
In turn, the IPS sought to contain the fallout from Abu Hamdiyeh’s death. The IPS claimed that when it became clear his condition was terminal, the IPS began a process to secure his release, but Abu Hamdiyeh died before the process could be concluded.
Yet these justifications could not obscure the panic that hit the occupation forces following Abu Hamdiyeh’s death. Israeli Army Radio reported that Israel put its troops in a state of high alert amid fears that the prisoner’s death may spark riots on the eve of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, which occurs in about two weeks.