Yet another Palestinian political prisoner has died in an Israeli prison due to the medical negligence of the Israeli prison administration.
75-year-old Saadi Al-Gharably was the latest victim in a series of similar cases, bringing the total number of victims to 233 since 1967. The Waed Society for Palestinian Detainees confirmed that Al-Gharably died at the Israeli Kaplan Medical Centre, while he was still handcuffed with his feet bound to his bed until his last breath.
Despite many humanitarian appeals by his family for his release, their calls fell on deaf ears. It seems that his family will have to submit new appeals as his body is still being detained even after his death, for Israeli authorities to conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. There has been no comment from Israeli prison authorities on Al-Gharably's death. Negligence has become the norm in Israeli prisons, with five prisoners having died in the past two years alone. The family have demanded the return of the body, and have refused for an autopsy to be conducted. "We have learnt that my father was in the intensive care unit on ventilators. The last time we visited him was in the year 2000 due to denial of family visitation by Israeli authorities. We demand the urgent return of his body so that we put him to his final rest," Suhail Al-Gharably, the son of Saadi Al-Gharably told the press.
The prolonged policy of medical negligence is well-known and documented by numerous human rights organisations specialising in prisoners' affairs. There have been weekly sit-in protests organised by the prisoners' families at the premises of the Red Cross offices in Gaza and the West Bank, demanding the release of their loved ones.
Al-Gharably was arrested by Israeli forces in 1994 after being convicted of killing an Israeli officer in Jaffa during the same year, and was held in solitary confinement during his imprisonment for 12 years. He spent 27 years in Israel's prisons – almost a third of his life – and was the second oldest prisoner there. Al-Gharably was one of 269 prisoners from Gaza serving their sentences, constituting six per cent of the total number of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.
According to a recent publication by the Palestinian Prisoners Club, Israeli authorities currently detain around 4,700 Palestinian prisoners who are distributed among 23 different investigation & detention centres and jails. Among them are 160 children and 41 female prisoners, in addition to 370 "administrative detainees" who are being held without charge or trial. 700 of the prisoners are suffering from chronic diseases, including 300 in need of urgent medical intervention. There are 20 prisoners suffering from various forms of cancer, such as 81-year-old Fuad Al-Shobaki, the oldest Palestinian prisoner languishing behind bars since 2006.
Of the 4,700 prisoners, 26 have been serving their sentences since before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, making them the longest-serving prisoners, while 544 inmates are serving life sentences.
The detention of the bodies of Palestinians is a technique Israel has employed for many years, especially recently, for possible future exchange deals to free detained Israeli soldiers, whether dead or alive.
In recent months, talks about prisoner swap deals between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza have resumed. Mediation started last April, in the aftermath of fears that Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails might contract the coronavirus. Two Israeli soldiers went missing at the time of the invasion of Gaza during the 2014 onslaught. Hamas refuses to disclose whether they are still alive. In addition, there are two Israeli citizens who were captured after separately crossing into Gaza under strange circumstances in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The issue of releasing political prisoners is an important one for Palestinian resistance movements, and for the Palestinian people as a whole. Tens of thousands of Palestinian and Arab citizens in other countries have been arrested, imprisoned and detained since 1948.
According to Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has adopted a policy of deliberate medical neglect against Palestinian prisoners and detainees, including denying responsibility for providing appropriate healthcare, periodic medical check-ups for prisoners and detainees, as well as the conditions of jails with regards to hygiene and overcrowding.
Rule 24 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which was adapted in December 2015 and known as The Nelson Mandela Rules, dictates that: "The provision of healthcare for prisoners is a state responsibility. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of healthcare that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary healthcare services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status." This resolution was passed to honour the legacy of the late president of South Africa.
It seems that as long as the unresolved 53-year conflict persists, and the struggle for freedom continues, Palestinians will be subjected to imprisonments, torture and mistreatment in prison, combined with the denial of family visitation and medical negligence as a means of pressure, punishment and revenge.
Al-Gharably will not be the last fatality of the IPS, as hundreds of Palestinian inmates are currently suffering with many types of illnesses. The United Nations bodies, as well as other international human rights organisations, should uphold their responsibility to intervene and to save the lives of political prisoners in poor health, providing adequate healthcare and advocating for their immediate release.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.