Tag Archives: prison

Prisoners are COVID-19 sitting ducks

A fact of life in this COVID-19 world is that prisoners sitting behind bars are some of the most vulnerable potential victims of this deadly virus.  In the U.S., the highest number of COVID-19 related cases in the courts today are petitions by prisoners seeking release from confinement. Prisons are Super-Spreaders of the coronavirus. In response, some states and local governments have released prisoners, (check the status of these actions).

Israeli prisons house both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners.  “Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” human rights experts say.

I’m sending the following U.N. press release to Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Debra Haaland (D-NM) because McCollum has demonstrated her concern about Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons (see, H.R. 2407) and Haaland is my Congresswoman from New Mexico. I want them both to know what the human rights experts are warning.

GENEVA (24 April 2020) – A group of UN human rights experts* urged Israel not to discriminate against thousands of Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to COVID-19 and to release the most vulnerable – particularly women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails. They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” said the experts.

“Over the past month, Israel has released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step. It has not applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners. This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” they added.

The experts said prisoner releases should also include those in administrative and pre-trial detention. “Israel should be taking steps to release those facing arbitrary measures as well as vulnerable groups in its prisons to reduce overcrowding and ensure the minimum conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”

They noted that family visits have been banned since the COVID-19 outbreak and access to lawyers restricted for Palestinian detainees. “It is critical that any such measures are medically justified and, if so, alternative means for communication, such as video conferencing, should be made available. Special and more relaxed measures should also apply to children and women for visits.”

The experts also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem. In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has also arrested doctors.

“It is inconceivable that, in the current conditions, especially in light of the lack of testing kits and other equipment, Israel would undermine existing efforts to ensure that a larger portion of the Palestinian population is tested. Such efforts are especially needed when recent data suggests that rates of COVID-19 have significantly increased in occupied East Jerusalem,” they noted.

Palestinians under occupation, as a protected population under international humanitarian law, should have equal access to treatment and testing without discrimination. “Cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to ensure protection, prevention and treatment of all is critical. Such acts as raiding Palestinian clinics can only undermine such efforts,” the expert said.

(*) The UN experts: Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Adjovi, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Filed under COVID-19, Israel, People, United Nations

Living in an Open Air Prison

Gaza has been called an “open air prison” by many people, including Noam Chomsky, John Holmes (UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator), and David Cameron (UK Prime Minister).  How do I, an American living in Gaza, know it’s an “open air prison?

Barbed wire fence and lookout tower near the Rafah border, Gaza Strip.

I can’t see my jailers, but I’m quite certain they can see me with their drones and other 21st century equipment.

Unless I’m near the border (not too close because I don’t want to get shot) and looking carefully at the horizon, I typically don’t see the fence that surrounds this prison.

I’m not required to adhere to any daily routines that are common in US prisons, such as eating and exercising with the other prisoners.  No one in Gaza wears a prison uniform.

So why is Gaza the world’s largest “open air prison” and, more importantly, why do the nations of the world allow this to continue?

Gaza is an “open air prison” because:

  • Palestinians cannot move freely in and out of Gaza.  Palestinians who live in Gaza are not allowed to leave without super-extraordinary measures which make it nearly impossible, especially for males of a certain age.  They cannot even travel to the West Bank to visit family without permission from the jailers, which is rarely given.  Visitors cannot enter Gaza easily.  It took me two years, a warning from my government not to go to Gaza, review and approval by Egyptian authorities, and many, many questions before I was allowed to enter through the Rafah gate in August 2012.  There is only one other gate into Gaza — Erez from the north — which has been locked down for more than five years.
  • There are no flights, planes, or boats into Gaza.  Israel has blockaded all methods of travel into Gaza.  Israel destroyed the only airport that once existed in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.  There is no train service.  In 2010, Israeli commandos killed 9 Turkish citizens trying to enter Gaza from the sea.  Several Israeli officials are now being tried in abstentia in a Turkish court.
  • Fishermen who sail too close to the 3 mile limit may be shot and killed by the jailers.   It has happened since I arrived.
  • Farmers who tend to their fields in the “buffer zone” near the border may be shot and killed.
  • Postal service is difficult, if not impossible.  Try mailing a package from the United States to Gaza.  (I could use some new books if someone wants to try.)
  • Traveler checks are not honored by the banks in Gaza any longer because I’m told that Israel will not allow the banks to send the checks to New York for redemption.
  • Food, fuel, construction supplies . . . even toothpaste, must be approved by the jailer before it is allowed to enter Gaza.  The list of approved items is nonsensical.  Public documents show that Israel has deliberately put Gazans on a diet.

Six and a half years ago, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian national elections and took control of Gaza, a senior Israeli official described Israel’s planned response. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”   Please read the latest news here.

  • There is a siege mentality here among many of the people I have met.  They talk about the world “outside” as though it’s a foreign place inaccessible to them.  Many of the younger people are discouraged.  Finding a job in Gaza is very difficult, but leaving to look elsewhere is impossible.
  • There are very few “outsiders” in Gaza, which sharply focuses the attention on those few, just as visitors to a US prison might be the object of curiosity.
  • This prison is going to be unlivable by 2020 according to a UN report released this year.

Why does the community of nations allow this to continue?  I’m puzzled and extremely frustrated because I don’t know the answer.   If the US was keeping Brooklyn hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, would there be outrage?

I’m angry too because my country is complicit in this inhumane treatment of 1.7 million people.  When the history books are written, the US is going to be on the wrong side and it won’t be a proud moment for Americans.

Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Strip.


Filed under Gaza, Israel, Occupation, US Policy