Middle East, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Israel’s vaccine drive excludes Palestinian prisoners

Rights groups say Israel’s decision of not vaccinating Palestinian prisoners amounts to the worst form of ‘medical apartheid’

Salam Abu Sharar   | 15.01.2021
Israel’s vaccine drive excludes Palestinian prisoners

RAMALLAH, Palestine

Despite the fast rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Israel’s decision not to vaccinate Palestinian prisoners or those inhabiting the occupied territories has alarmed families and civil rights groups. 

The country’s Internal Security Minister Ameer Ohanna directed authorities not to inoculate Palestinian prisoners lodged in Israeli jails. He asked health officials to vaccinate only the jail staff.

Civil rights groups claim that such is the extent of “medical apartheid” unleashed by Israeli authorities that inmates in Remon jail had to fight with prison authorities a few days ago to force them to send Basel Ajaj, a COVID-19 infected Palestinian prisoner, to hospital for treatment.

He is now recuperating in the intensive care unit in the general hospital of Beersheba, 108 kilometers (67 miles) south of Jerusalem. Despite his deteriorating condition, the jail administration was not shifting him to the hospital.

Detained in 2002 and sentenced to life imprisonment, Ajaj was accused of participating in the second intifada.

“He lived with his family for less than three years. They cannot visit him due to pandemic restrictions. Moreover, his son and daughter were already banned from visiting their father because of security restrictions," the prisoner’s brother Mohammad Ajaj told Anadolu Agency.

According to international law, the Palestinians in the occupied lands come under Israeli responsibility as far as health issues are concerned.

“The jail administration tries to kill the prisoners, there is not enough treatment available in addition to medical negligence. This has been happening for over 13 years. I have witnessed it inside the jails, and it never stopped,” said Mohammad.

Family members allege that Israeli authorities were not even allowing Basel to call his family of lawyers.

“As a family, we urge the international community, the Palestinian Authority, and factions to show a serious response to rescue our dear ones in the jails. We need to feel that they are not forgotten,” he added.


227 Palestinian prisoners infected

In a statement, the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS) said that the number of infected inmates in Remon jail has gone up to 31. The total number of infected inmates since the beginning of the pandemic has reached 227.

“This is a racist attitude by Ameer Ohanna and against international norms and Israeli law itself. The judicial adviser of the Israeli government said that the Israeli authorities have to give the vaccinations to the prisoners,” Qadora Fares, head of the PPS told Anadolu Agency.

The PPS has sent letters to the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN, and the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC).

“The WHO has said that prisoners have the right to be treated, and Israel should allow this right. But Israel does not care anymore,” Fares added.

Yossef Jabreen, head of the International Relations Committee of the Joint List -- a political alliance of the main Arab-majority political parties in Israel – has also sent a letter to Emanoel Joffrey, UN's Special Rapporteur seeking his intervention to force Israel to include Palestinians in the COVID-19 vaccination program.

Palestinian Medical Relief Society has described Israeli attitude as “medical apartheid, a much worst form that even did not exist in South Africa."

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