The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled against a petition demanding that the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) implement social distancing orders in the Gilboa prison, following an outbreak of the coronavirus in the prison.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights filed the petition on behalf of the families of two Palestinian prisoners who are being held in the prison, which currently has 30 prison guards and seven prisoners who are infected with COVID-19, and 489 guards and 58 prisoners who are in quarantine.
Adalah slammed the court’s decision as essentially ruling that “Palestinian prisoners have no right to social distancing protection against COVID-19.”
According to the group, the court accepted the narrative of the state, which claims that Palestinian prisoners “are no different than family members or flatmates living in the same home.”
This point of view, Adalah said, “completely [ignores] the fact that prisoners are held under duress and Israeli authorities are responsible for their health and the conditions of their incarceration.”
“Israel’s Supreme Court has chosen to accept the fiction pitched to it by Israeli authorities that COVID-19 social distancing policies – essential for everyone else – are not relevant to the Palestinian ‘security prisoners’ it holds behind bars,” Adalah attorney Myssana Morany said in a statement.
Morany expressed concern over the precedent that the ruling would set, saying it “endangers the lives and health of Palestinians held by Israel – and poses a threat to society as a whole.”
“It flies in the face of health and human rights professionals around the world who have called for social distancing within prisons, and leaves Palestinians held by Israel exposed to the virus with no option to protect themselves,” she said.
The Gilboa prison is one of dozens of Israeli prisons and detention centers that hold thousands of Palestinian political prisoners. As of May, there were 4,236 Palestinian prisoners being held in these facilities.
Additionally, Adalah says that the IPS continues to ignore a previous Supreme Court ruling stating that Israeli prison facilities must guarantee a minimum living space of 4.5 square meters.
In the Gilboa prison, each cell measures around 22 square meters in size, and holds at least six prisoners, who share a toilet and bathroom.
Rights groups like Adalah have argued that the conditions of Israeli prisons make it impossible to adhere to social distancing guidelines, putting the health and safety of prisoners at increased risk of infection.
Despite COVID-19, Israel has continued to conduct search and arrest operations in the occupied territory, detaining hundreds of Palestinians in recent months.