Ramallah-Nisaa FM-The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) expresses its grave concern over the fate of Palestinian women and child prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention centers in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic’s transmission in the State of Israel, which currently has the 18th highest number of infections worldwide. In a letter addressed to the Special Rapporteurs, the United Nations Working Groups, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and other UN Agencies, WCLAC called for immediate UN intervention to secure the release of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons. The letter specifically concerned the immediate release of the 180 child prisoners, 26 of which are below the age of 16, and of 43 female Palestinian prisoners, 17 of whom are mothers to 50 children; all are enduring poor detention conditions. The Letter highlighted the obligations of Israel as an occupying power towards Palestinian political prisoners which are enshrined in the 1948 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War and Under Occupation; Israel is in effective control of the OPT and has legal duty to ensure that Palestinians receive “essential health services.” Attention is also drawn to Article (3) of the 1948 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that "Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed in 'hors de combat' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely”. The letter emphasized Article (27) which states that “protected persons are entitled in all circumstances, to respect for their persons… they shall at all times be humanely treated…”. This is taken account of alongside Article (76) that ensures the occupying power provides adequate food and hygiene to ensure the good health of prisoners. Further rights to health are guaranteed for women and children in Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Therefore, it follows that the Israeli occupying power as a contracting state party to these international conventions is responsible to take all necessary preventive measures to protect Palestinian women and child prisoners from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic within its prisons and detention centers. WCLAC reiterated Israel’s responsibility to take active measures to protect prisoners from the transmission of COVID-19, including guaranteeing the availability of hygiene essentials, such as detergents, sterilizers, and disinfectants. With an understanding of current conditions, examples including overcrowded detention cells, poor sanitary conditions, poor nutrition, and medical negligence, there is no way that Israeli authorities can ensure appropriate custodianship of Palestinian women and children’s health and wellbeing in prison. Conditions such as these actually increase risk of prisoner exposure to COVID-19, further exacerbated by the recent Israeli measure to withdraw almost 150 food and hygiene items from prison canteens. The protection of Palestinian prisoners from the spread of COVID-19 has become crucial to efforts to contain the virus and requires a prompt response. It is also important to take into the consideration the psychological impact on the 17 prisoners who are mothers suffering the and denial of visits and phone calls to their children and family members, further contributing to the deterioration of their mental and physical health. Simultaneously, child prisoners are suffering from severe states of emotional distress due to the pandemic’s transmission. This requires taking all of the measures necessary to immediately release these prisoners to rejoin their families in safety and security. In this regard, WCLAC called on the United Nations, through its Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups, to exert pressure on the State of Israel to immediately release all of the Palestinian women and child political prisoners from Israeli prisons and detention centers. This must be done in conjunction with COVID-19 tests on all released prisoners to see if they need to take the required isolation measures to avert further spread of the virus. Until the release of all female and child prisoners has been secured, WCLAC called upon the United Nations agencies, the Security Council represented by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Mladenov, the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human right in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the international community to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safety and the well-being of Palestinian women and child political prisoners and to pressure the occupying power to abide by its legal obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, specifically the Forth Geneva Convention. Additionally, it requested that the International Committee of the Red Cross increase the frequency of its visits to Israeli prisons and detention centers to ensure the safety and well-being of all political prisoners and that the necessary measures are being taken to appropriately respond to the ever-increasing risk of COVID-19 in the State of Israel.