Israel detains thousands in solitary confinement despite health risks, study finds

Palestinians take part in a demonstration demanding the release of Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jail Hisham Abu Hawash, who has been on a hunger strike for 141 days (issam Rimawi - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /  February 24, 2022

Thousands of detainees are forced into isolation for years, including minors, by the Israel Prison Service (IPS), according to the NGO Physicians for Human Rights.

Figures published by the prison service reveal 1,587 inmates had been held in complete solitary confinement in the first ten months of 2021, including 66 minors.

By the end of August of the same year, another 1,134 prisoners, among whom 53 were minors, were held in “individual seclusion” or “two-person seclusion”.

Forms of isolation are considered psychological torture prohibited under Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It is also inhumane and degrading behaviour prohibited under Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Palestinian prisoners and detainees are held in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure, or in isolation, for reasons of state, prison or prisoner’s security, authorities claim. Some are forced to carry out large parts of their sentence in such detention.

The figures provided by the prison service also indicate how long prisoners were held in “seclusion.”

Of the 1,134 prisoners, 63 inmates were held for more than two months, reported Haaretz, 17 were held for a period of more than six months, 19 were held for a period between one and three years and 18 prisoners were held in seclusion for over three years.

The Israeli authorities have established special isolation units in many of their prisons, most notably Nafha Prison opened in 1980, Nitzan-Ramle opened in 1989 and in Beersheba, opened in 1992.

Anat Litvin, who oversees the department for incarcerated persons within Physicians for Human Rights, said: “The prison service is holding hundreds of inmates in solitary conditions, with full knowledge of the destructive impact it can have on their health.”

The states were compared to the year 2020, which exposed that the number of prisoners confined in solitary confinement was not unusual. In 2020, 1,979 inmates were held in solitary confinement, among them 88 minors, and 2,015 inmates, 64 of whom were minors, were held in seclusion.

Frustrated at the lack of cooperation regarding Israel’s prison service’s response to its freedom of information request, Litvin added: “Although the prison service said it had manually reviewed over 1,100 inmate files in its response to the request, it could not provide data as to the number of inmates held in solitary confinement.”

“They also could not determine who or how many among them suffer from psychiatric illnesses and are under psychiatric care, which would place them among one of the at-risk groups whose solitary confinement is banned by the United Nations.”

This led NGO Physicians for Human Rights to conclude that, “In the best case, the prison service is trying to prevent the requested information from emerging and in the worst case, it is not conducting proper follow-up for prisoners held in solitary conditions, and knowingly putting their health at risk.”

Hundreds of Palestinians have been held in solitary confinement by Israel, to the extent that the policy is now part of the systematic approach approved by the legislature and implemented by the executive. Palestinian women are not excluded from this inhumane policy.

Israel is holding more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in its prisons, including 41 women and 140 children, all of whom are subject to the policy of isolation and are thus cut off from the outside world, which constitutes a form of psychological torture.