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Medical neglect and death in Israeli jails

January 23, 2014 at 4:47 am

If Israel had any ambition of appearing worthy of a humanitarian stance, it has failed miserably. Palestinian prisoner Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh was scheduled to be released from prison ‘in the following days’ after being diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. A few hours after the official statement was released, Abu Hamdiyeh died in an Israeli hospital.

Abu Hamdiyeh is said to have been a member of Fatah’s Jurmuq Brigade, working for the Palestinian resistance from neighbouring Arab countries. Visits to the West Bank would result in administrative detention and Israel exiled him to Jordan, allowing him to return to the West Bank after Yasser Arafat’s intervention in 1998. Upon his arrest and interrogation during the Second Intifada in 2002, Abu Hamdiyeh refused to elaborate on his political allegiance, with interrogators suspecting an affiliation to Hamas despite a known cooperation with Fatah. Subsequently sentenced to 99 years in prison, Abu Hamdiyeh was perceived as a leader by other prisoners and sought to further knowledge of Israeli oppression inside jails while bequeathing a wealth of knowledge to fellow prisoners.

Prisoners held in Eshel and Nafsa jails had started hunger strike protests in solidarity with Abu Hamdiyeh and demanded his release, warning that protests would escalate if he died in jail. Detainees were beaten and placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for the protests. Issa Qaraqe, Palestinian Authority prisoners minister stated that Abu Hamdiyeh died as a result of intentional medical neglect and called for an international investigation into Israel’s failure to provide effective treatment. Hamas was more vociferous in its statement, declaring that Abu Hamdiyeh’s detention was tantamount to Israel willingly torturing and assassinating him.

In March 2013, Abu Hamdiyeh alerted his lawyer to the fact that he was only given pain killers to ‘treat’ the cancer. Any effort to provide treatment when he was transferred to Soroka hospital proved futile. According to his lawyer Rami al-Alami, biopsies were performed upon Abu Hamdiyeh but doctors withheld the results until last month, informing him that death was swiftly approaching. This approach towards Palestinian prisoners seems to be a routine occupation trademark, as The Palestinian Ministry of Detainees have stated that at least 25 other prisoners are suffering from cancer but have been intentionally misdiagnosed in order to prevent any demands for treatment.

Israeli Prisons Service (IPS) has ‘a policy’ of appealing for the release of prisoners when it is ascertained that the prisoner is dying of a medical condition. There is no enforced policy which requires prisoners to be medically treated in a timely manner, as the occupation indulges in a form of torture which leads to a certain death. Complicity in war crimes in Israeli jails are reinvented into standard statements which simply confirm the death of a prisoner under normal, albeit unfortunate circumstances, in order to obliterate any reference to intentional neglect with the aim of causing death. According to IPS, “The prisoner was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in February and was under the medical supervision of experts at the hospital.” Nine months earlier, Abu Hamdiyeh had complained of throat problems. Severing all rhetoric pertaining to this case, it seems as if the occupation indulged in nine months of intentional medical neglect to eliminate another sliver of resistance.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.