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Medical neglect and isolation: Inside Israel’s “slaughterhouse”

Jerusalem24 – Palestinian cancer-stricken detainee Nasser Abu Hmaid passed away on 20 December 2022 in Assaf Harofeh hospital inside Israel, after 20 years in Israeli prisons.

He was the sixth Palestinian cancer patient to die in Israeli detention in the last decade.

Following his diagnosis of lung cancer, Abu Hmaid was given “very minimal oncological care” as well as an inadequate monitoring of his condition, Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer at Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, tells Jerusalem24.

Ansari notes that Abu Hmaid’s is “not a singular case”: since 1967, 233 Palestinians have died in Israeli detention, 74 of them due to documented – and “deliberate”, says Ansari – medical neglect.

“In the case of Nasser Abu Hmaid, he was already suffering from deteriorating health conditions in July 2021 and even before, and he was only diagnosed in August 2021 with lung cancer.”

In addition to stalling medical treatment, Israeli authorities fail to provide adequate treatment for conditions when they are eventually diagnosed.

“It’s sad, every day we lose an important Palestinian figure in our lives due to the Israeli occupation.”

Most ill or injured Palestinian detainees are held in Ramla Prison Clinic, which the detainees have nicknamed “the slaughterhouse”. Ansari says the clinic lacks “adequate standards” of medical treatment, with a shortage of appropriate staff, equipment, and medicines.

“The slaughterhouse”

“Sadly, the Israeli prison services deal with sick and wounded Palestinian prisoners all in the same way,” says Ansari. “They immediately transfer them to Ramla Prison Clinic [where] they are subjected to more ill-treatment.”

“For example, in the clinic itself, there are around six Palestinians who are not ill and who take care of the rest of the Palestinians.”

This is due to medical staff not being on-site or on call 24 hours a day, explains Ansari.

This lack of attention to urgent medical needs compounds the “inhumane” treatment of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

“When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it takes a [huge] toll on their body. It’s also psychologically tough. So when they are isolated in this clinic, without allowing family visits, without allowing other Palestinian prisoners to visit, it does a lot to a person who is already suffering from so many deteriorating conditions.”

Ramla Prison Clinic is not equipped to provide radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or any other adequate oncological services, which leads to cancer patients undergoing frequent – and exhausting – transfers to and from other medical facilities.

When his health condition started severely deteriorating around a year ago, Abu Hmaid was transferred back and forth between Ramla Prison Clinic and Assaf Harofeh civilian hospital (which was able to provide him with radiation therapy) “instead of keeping him in one place and under constant evaluation and treatment.”

The logistics involved in the transfer of sick detainees are also similar to the transfer that all prisoners are subjected to, explains Ansari, who says a detainee’s medical treatment or condition “is not taken into consideration”, exacerbating their suffering.

A slow death in isolation

Abu Hmaid was kept in “even harsher conditions” following his diagnosis and the beginning of his inadequate treatment, says Ansari. “This is what we see the Israeli prison services do – even in hunger strikes: when a detainee announces a hunger strike, they immediately isolate them and punish them.”

This punishment might take the form of detainees’ families being prevented access on the day they were scheduled for a visit, even after acquiring the permits demanded by Israel. Abu Hmaid’s family were routinely turned down at the checkpoint on their way to the prison clinic.

The night before Abu Hmaid’s death, his mother Latifa was able to visit “and hug him”, but he was no longer responsive.

Calls for release on humanitarian grounds, both from prisoners’ families and local or international organizations, also typically go unheeded – even though according to Israeli law, prisoners in a critical health condition have the right to humanitarian release, highlights Ansari.

The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed to Israeli authorities to release Abu Hmaid in the last months, saying his “extreme fragile condition and state called for his humanitarian release.”

“Even Israeli doctors noted [Abu] Hmaid is in his last days of life, he should be released with his family,” says Ansari.

“[But] Israeli authorities kept insisting he is a former prisoner and he should stay in prison because he has been resisting the Israeli occupation all his life.”

Ansari says detainees are thus deprived of a final chance to spend the remainder of their life in a dignified way amongst loved ones.

“This is the sad reality and the sad life of Palestinians,” says Ansari, “that we get punished for speaking up against the occupation we are subjected to. We get punished for resisting this occupation.”

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