Four Palestinian prisoners held inside of Israel may have tested positive for the novel coronavirus according to a Palestinian prisoner rights group, however, the diagnosis was quickly disputed by other Palestinian officials and Israel’s ministry of health.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) claimed that four prisoners in the Megiddo prison had tested positive for the virus, sparking fears that the respiratory disease could spread quickly amongst the prison population.
The group alleged that a prisoner contracted the virus from an Israeli officer during interrogation at the Petah Tikva interrogation center, and then transferred the virus to three other prisoners.
Israeli authorities quickly refuted the claims, saying that four prisoners were suspected of having the virus and were being held in quarantine, but had not actually tested positive for COVID-19.
Palestinian official Qadri Abu Bakr, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Commission, also backtracked on the initial reports, telling the media that he was informed by the Israeli Ministry of Health that the prisoners in question were not confirmed to have the virus.
Initial fears surrounding COVID-19 in Israeli prisons were sparked last week, after rights groups reported that dozens of Palestinian prisoners were being quarantined across several prisons after coming into contact with Israeli doctors and prison authorities who tested positive for the virus.
Prisoners rights group Addameer has reported a severely lacking response to COVID-19 on part of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS).
Since the outbreak began, instead of providing prisoners with additional hygiene supplies and implementing distancing measures between guards and prisoners, the IPS has instead banned all family and lawyer visits for prisoners.
“Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers constantly suffer from clear medical negligence,” Addameer said in a statement, adding that the policy of medical negligence has not changed since the coronavirus outbreak began.
“Despite the fact that prisons are overcrowded, rooms, cells and sections are small, and lack proper ventilation the Israeli Prison Services is yet to make clear preventive procedures,” the group said, adding that prisons “lack sterilizers, cleaning materials, and medications such as antibiotics and necessary nutrition.”
As of February, there were 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israeli jails, 180 of them minors — the vast majority under the age of 16.
Since the Second Intifada, Addameer has recorded the death of 17 prisoners, who died as a direct result of Israeli medical negligence.
According to 2016 numbers, at least 200 prisoners were documented as suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Health experts have reported the high COVID-19 mortality rates in people with pre-existing health issues and compromised immune systems.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has called on Israel to release all Palestinian prisoners, especially child prisoners and chronically ill prisoners, in order to protect them from getting infected with the virus.
There are currently 47 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the occupied West Bank.
This story was updated to reflect claims of Israeli authorities that the prisoners have not yet tested positive for COVID-19.