The long strings of blue-and-white flags, set up for Independence Day, flap
incongruously against the background of barbed wire and tall gray
Inside, some 710 Palestinian prisoners, including 100
minors, wait for their transfer to other prisons or for their
Muhammad Jamal Al-Natshe, 55, a Hamas lawmaker from Hebron with
a trim white beard, says that his most recent arrest was last month, when he was
placed under administrative detention, meaning that no charges have been filed
“I spent eight years in jail, from 2002 to 2012, and then
another 23 months, and then just three months after being released, I was
arrested again,” he tells The Media Line. “There is no charge or no accusation
against me. I’m here just because [the Israelis] don’t want me
Natsche says he has been experiencing pain behind his ear and
has asked several times to see a doctor, but said his requests have been
The complaint comes after the death of Maissara Abu-Hamdiyeh,
63, earlier this month from esophageal cancer in a different Israeli
Palestinian officials insist that he did not receive adequate
medical care, and blamed Israel for his death, which sparked demonstrations
throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“Abu-Hamdiyeh complained for
months and he did not get treatment for cancer,” Gavan Kelly of the Addameer
Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association told The Media Line. “Would this
happen to an Israeli citizen? I very much doubt it.”
officials insisted Abu- Hamdiyeh, who died in an Israeli hospital three days
after being transferred there and beginning to receive chemotherapy, was given
appropriate medical care.
“Palestinian prisoners’ access to medical care
is better than what I can get as a citizen,” Ofer Prison warden Yakov Shalom
told a group of visiting journalists.
“There are some complaints about
long waits for certain operations in hospitals. But in truth, hospitals aren’t
really happy to get our detainees so they often bump them up on the lists [even
before Israeli citizens].”
Canadian-born Naftali Smulowitz, a
lieutenant-colonel in the Prisons Service, told the visitors that the service
takes its obligation to provide medical care seriously.
“I’ve seen people
who never saw a dentist in their lives and then they come here and get excellent
treatment,” he said. “We take all complaints about lack of access to medical
care very seriously.”
Shalom said that the death of any prisoner while in
custody is investigated both internally and independently.
spokeswoman Sivan Weizman denied claims of medical negligence.
Dayif of Physicians for Human Rights said their investigation shows that the
doctors at Ofer Prison diagnosed Abu-Hamdiyeh’s cancer only in
“By that point it seems that his cancer was very much advanced
– on his lungs, internal organs, spine and arms,” she told The Media
“So he should have been examined.
His position is that he
had been complaining for years. And he was first checked by a specialist – a
mouth specialist – but from then his situation got more complicated. They did
more tests, it seems. It doesn’t seem logical that a person of his age, with the
complaints that he’d given for years, was only diagnosed then.”
said that the Prisons Service often believes that prisoners are making
themselves look sick in order to get out of prison.
Addameer, since 1967, 207 Palestinian prisoners have died while in custody, 52
of them due to medical neglect. The organization charges that in addition to Abu
Hamdiyeh, another prisoner – 29-yearold Ashraf Abu Dhra, who suffered from
muscular dystrophy and other medical problems – died soon after he was released
from jail. He was diagnosed with lung failure, immunodeficiency and a brain
virus that eventually led to his death.
Prison officials were not
available to comment on this case. Another prisoner, 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat
died while in custody in March. Officials said he had a heart attack, while
Palestinians claimed that he was tortured.
There are a total of 4,998
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails today. Ofer Prison is the only one built
on land Israel acquired in the Six Day War, and most of its detainees are there
for short stints of up to a few months prior to and during their
Gavan Kelly of Addameer says conditions at Ofer Prison are
significantly better than at other places. On a tour of the facility sponsored
by the Government Press Office, journalists saw clean, well-kept cells and a
recreation yard with a ping-pong table.
In the youth wing, an adult
Palestinian prisoner was teaching a group of teenagers basic math. In a cell
with five neatly made bunk beds, the detainees seemed eager to talk.
was just walking down the street when they grabbed me and arrested me,” Salama
Indidoon, 16, wearing a brown Puma T-shirt told The Media Line. “They took me to
court and said I threw stones and gave me a month in jail. I just want to go
home and see my family.”
The minors have a small recreation room where
they can watch DVDs.
Their main complaint is that they are not allowed to
have cellphones and do not see their families enough.
prisoner is allowed a family visit of 45 minutes once every two weeks, Shalom
said. For the last 10 minutes, children under age 8 are allowed direct physical
contact with the prisoner.
The prison kitchen is run by the detainees
themselves. They can supplement the meals with food from the canteen. The
Palestinian Authority provides $110 each month per prisoner for their use at the
canteen, and families can deposit up to $360 each month as well.
prisoners are segregated according to political affiliation, with 30 percent of
them from Fatah, 30% from Hamas, 15% from Islamic Jihad and 15% from other
“We try to preserve respect for prisoners and all of their
rights,” Shalom said. “But they also know that they have obligations as well as
rights. They are punished for every transgression, usually by being locked in
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