Autopsies of Palestinians Who Died in Israeli Prisons Indicate Medical Neglect, Bruising

12:00 Mar 20 2024 Israel Prison system: Ofer (כלא עופר), Megiddo (מגידו‎, מְגִדּוֹ), Sde Teiman camp

Autopsies of Palestinians Who Died in Israeli Prisons Indicate Medical Neglect, Bruising Autopsies of Palestinians Who Died in Israeli Prisons Indicate Medical Neglect, Bruising Autopsies of Palestinians Who Died in Israeli Prisons Indicate Medical Neglect, Bruising Autopsies of Palestinians Who Died in Israeli Prisons Indicate Medical Neglect, Bruising
Photos: Published by Haaretz
Ofer Prison, archive photo. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Mohammad al-Sabar.
Credit: Courtesy of the family

Detainees in the Sde Teiman facility.

A truck with Palestinian detainees from Shujaiyeh, Gaza. Credit: Moti Milrod

The deaths of an administrative detainee last month and a security prisoner in January in Israel Prison Service facilities come amid reports about deteriorating conditions and a lack of proper medical care, partly because of severe over-crowding in prisons since the outbreak of the Gaza war

by Hagar Shezaf and Josh Breiner for Haaretz
Mar 20, 2024 4:53 pm IST

A 21-year-old Palestinian man held without trial at Israel's Ofer Prison died last month after he did not receive medical care for a chronic illness he suffered from.

Mohammad al-Sabar, from Dhahariya in the southern West Bank, died on February 8. According to his father, Ahmed, al-Sabar was detained in May 2022 on suspicion of incitement on social media, and was taken into administrative detention despite being due to be released after a few months. His remand was extended five times.

Al-Sabar has suffered from Hirschsprung Disease, a congenital disease of the colon, since childhood, and underwent several surgeries. Al-Sabar's father said he required a special diet to survive.

"He cannot eat every type of food because of the disease, and he'd buy food in the prison's canteen," Ahmed said. "After the war, there was a change in the food and its quality, and [inmates] were forbidden to buy at the canteen."

A few hours before his death, al-Sabar was taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus. According to the report by a doctor from Physicians for Human Rights Israel who was attended the autopsy, al-Sabar was already in serious condition when he was hospitalized, and an abdominal CT scan showed a very large-diameter colon.

An autopsy found that al-Sabar's colon was extremely bloated, disrupting blood flow.

The report stated that on the basis of the medical material and autopsy findings, his death was preventable had his medical needs been scrupulously met and if he had been sent for urgent medical treatment when the worrying symptoms began. Chief among these was severe abdominal pain. "When he arrived at the emergency room, his condition indicated that there was already little chance of saving him," according to the report.

On January 1, security prisoner Abed al-Rahman Bahash, a 23-year-old from Nablus in the West Bank, died in Megiddo Prison. Signs of beating were found on his body, indicating violence against him, according to autopsies performed.

The autopsy found bruises on his chest and abdomen that led to several ribs being fractured and injury to his spleen. The autopsy also found signs of severe inflammation in both lungs, which is uncommon among healthy young men and may have been caused by conditions at the prison.

However, the autopsy did not unequivocally state the cause of Bahash's death. He was serving time for shooting at civilians, being in contact with a hostile organization, weapons offenses and throwing a Molotov cocktail. Israel's Prison Service said he was affiliated with the Palestinian Fatah party.

Another case of a prisoner's death while in Prison Service detention occurred on February 23, when 40-year-old Izz a-Din al-Bana, who used a wheelchair and was arrested in Gaza and brought to Israel, died at a Prison Service medical clinic.

According to a lawyer who recently visited the prison facility, prisoners there told him that al-Bana suffered from paralysis and had severe pressure wounds. One prisoner told the lawyer that al-Bana looked yellow and did not receive treatment despite groaning in pain.

Since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, overcrowding in prisons has become an acute problem. Data that the Prison Service provided to the Knesset shows that Israel held 20,528 inmates in February, 6,000 more than the Prison Service's maximum capacity of 14,500. These conditions have affected prisoners' medical care.

Prior to October 7, there were 16,000 inmates held in Israeli facilities. Within four months, 5,000 more were imprisoned, including members of Hamas' Nukhba Force, as well as security and criminal prisoners.

This extensive overcrowding means that the Prison Service is unable to comply with High Court orders mandating that 4.5 square meters of space be allocated to each prisoner. Currently, there is less than 3 square meters of living space per person.

In late February, around 40 Palestinian administrative detainees were released in a step that Israel's Shin Bet security service said was taken to ease overcrowding. The Prison Service is also trying to open up more space by trying to use the new wings in its facilities, without success so far.

A report published in February by Physicians for Human Rights presents dozens of testimonies of detainees and prisoners about humiliating treatment, violence, and medical neglect. "Israel has been systematically and cruelly violating the rights of Palestinian prisoners since October 7," the report stated.

Ten Palestinian prisoners have died in Prison Service facilities since the start of fighting. Among those who died in Prison Service custody, two – Abed al-Rahman Marai and Taar Abu Assab – exhibited marks of violence on their bodies. Another prisoner who died, Arafat Hamadan, was a diabetic who needed regular insulin treatments.

Additionally, as exposed by Haaretz, at least 27 prisoners from Gaza died in Israel Defense Forces custody.

Naji Abbas, director of the Prisoners Department at Physicians for Human Rights, claimed that the Prison Service applies "a policy of cruel violence, torture, holding in suboptimal conditions, and systematic breaches of basic human rights, including the prevention of critical medical care from sick prisoners."

"There is a real danger to the health and even the lives of every Palestinian currently held by the Prison Service," Abbas added.

In response, the Prison Service said that it "Acts pursuant to the provisions of the law, and any claims on the matter should be clarified through the proper channels."

Responding to al-Bana's death, the IDF spokesperson's office said that "The inmate was transferred to a medical facility at the Sde Teiman camp in early December 2023 after he was arrested on the basis of information linking him to involvement in terrorist activity, where he was held until his transfer to a Prison Service facility. This information resulted in the issue of an arrest warrant in his case."

"While at the Sde Teiman camp, the inmate was diagnosed and treated by the medical facility's doctors, and he received treatment as required due to his condition," the IDF continued. "The inmate was brought before a judge who approved the arrest warrant after he was given the opportunity to defend himself."

Haaretz reports rampant neglect in Israeli Prison system 3/20/2024
Medical neglect, physical abuse reported 3/20/2024
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