Julie Webb-Pullman reports

Palestinian Detainee Death: We are all Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh

By Julie Webb-Pullman

Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh died today shackled to his hospital bed, the latest victim of Israel’s cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment of Palestinian detainees.

Suffering from cancer since at least August 2012, he was not told of his diagnosis – or given any treatment other than painkillers and flu injections – until March 2013, when he was finally commenced on chemotherapy. This treatment might have had some chance of helping him if it had been administered early enough – but it did not begin until the cancer had already metastasised to his spine…then it was suspended ‘for the Jewish holidays,’ according to his lawyer Rami al-Alami.

Such blatant breaches of both medical ethics and human rights norms are both scandalous, and scandalously common.

The litany of medical neglect by Israeli Prison Services (IPS), which many ex-prisoners describe as a deliberate punitive policy by medical personnel in league with the Israeli prison authorities, is demonstrable in the 200+ prisoners who have died whilst in Israeli custody – 51 of them from medical negligence – and those who have died soon after release.

The latter include Hayel Abu-Zaid, Sitan Al-Wali, Murad Abu-Sakoot, Fayez Ziyadat, Zakariya Eissa Daud, Zuhair Labadah, and Ashraf Abu-Thurai’a who died in January 2013.

Palestinian Minister of Detainees’ and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs Dr Attallah Abu Elsebah has released numerous press statements over recent years advising of the medical negligence being suffered by more than 1000 of the 4500+ Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails. They currently include some 18 prisoners permanently resident in the Israeli Prison Service’s Medical Center (IMC) in Ramleh Prison suffering from life-threatening or malignant diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and kidney failure, and 85 disabled prisoners with mobility, mental, and sensory disabilities.

Israel’s own human rights and medical experts decry the practices of their prison authorities. Physicians for Human Rights–Israel reports that the Ramleh IMC operates with virtually no supervision, medical or otherwise, and is characterized by inadequate medical care, non-medical staff intervening in treatment, problems in transferring patients to outside institutions, neglect in cases of disability and rehabilitation, threats against patients that have filed complaints, and inadequate sanitation and living conditions. [1]

“The IPS, the main entity responsible for the custody of incarcerated persons, goes to great lengths to prevent outside inspections. The IPS does not allow open tours of its facilities, and only permits pre-coordinated visits with attorneys or doctors with individual prisoners, during which the attorney or doctors may not visit a prisoner’s cell in order to assess the conditions of incarceration,” they report on their website.

A Council for European Palestinian Relations description of the conditions for Palestinian detainees stated that health examinations are conducted through a fence, and any necessary surgery or transfer to hospital for additional medical treatment is usually postponed for long periods of time. [2]

“Demands made by Israeli organisations to provide health care to detainees have consistently been refused, in addition to petitions made by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),” they add.

Right to health care in prisons

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) has been deemed by the Human Rights Committee to protect the rights of prisoners to health care through Article 6 guaranteeing the right to life, the Article 7 prohibition that ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, and Article 10 guaranteeing the right to humane treatment of prisoners. These articles have led the Committee to hold that ‘adequate’ or ‘appropriate and timely medical care must be available to all detainees.’ [3]

The Committee has also held that ‘free access to doctors’ should be guaranteed in practice, immediately after arrest and during all stages of detention. [4]

In fact the Human Rights Committee found a violation of Article 6, the right to life, in a very similar case to that of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh. In Lanstova versus Russia, a man died in prison because of the failure of the prison authorities to take appropriate medical measures when his health dangerously deteriorated. [5]

How does Israel get away with it?

Whilst Israel has ratified the main human rights conventions, including the ICCPR, it is not a party to any of the Optional Protocols other than Children in Armed Conflicts, nor has it accepted the jurisdiction of any of the treaty body committees.

Specifically, Israel has not signed the First Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, thus complaints against Israel cannot be received by, or acted on, by the Committee.

Rogue State
How ironic that Israel is able to continue to be a member state of the United Nations, claiming all of the benefits of protection for itself under international law, while accepting none of the accompanying obligations and responsibilities towards others, particularly Palestinian detainees – and while Palestine itself cannot even achieve full recognition as a state.

One might wonder why a state that has breached over 80 UN resolutions, including the United Nations Charter itself at least 22 times, is left to continue ‘business as usual’ against Palestinian detainees –three of whom have already died this year – and is never held to account. Is the UN showing unmistakable signs of its advancing age, and heading for total impotence, and irrelevance?

Noam Chomsky has defined a rogue state as “a state that defies international laws and conventions, does not consider itself bound by the major treaties and conventions, World Court decisions — in fact, anything except the interests of its own leadership, the forces around the leadership that dominate policy.” [6]

Regardless of the impotence of the UN system to enforce international law, particularly in the face of the US power of veto that would inevitably be used should any attempt be made to oust Israel from their hallowed halls, the international community of states has no other moral choice but to act, and to act immediately, to rein in the rogue state of Israel, and force it, as they did apartheid South Africa, to act in accordance with the fundamental rights and principles that define world citizenship – mutual respect, and self-determination.

To do any less is to critically undermine not only the human rights system and its basis in universality, indivisibility, and interdependence, but also the very foundations of civilisation.

Because ultimately, we are all Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh.

[1] http://www.phr.org.il/default.asp?PageID=114
[2] http://thecepr.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=116%3Apalestinian-prisoners-in-israel&catid=6%3Amemos&Itemid=34
[3] HRC, Concluding Observations, Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, ICCPR, A/56/40 vol. 1 (2001) 98 at para. 86(16); HRC, Concluding Observations, Portugal, ICCPR, A/58/40 vol. 1 (2003) 56 at para. 83(11); HRC, Concluding Observations, Kenya, ICCPR, A/60/40 vol. 1 (2005) 44 at para. 86(19)
[4] HRC, Concluding Observations, Ukraine, ICCPR, A/57/40 vol. I (2002) 32 at para. 74(15).
Cf. HRC, Concluding Observations, Benin, ICCPR, A/60/40 vol. I (2004) 30 at para. 83(17).
[5] Lanstova v The Russian Federation Communication No 763/1999, UN Doc CCPR/C/74/D/763/1997 (2002).
[6] http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/200105–.htm

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