The deaths of six Palestinians in Israeli jails since the war with the Hamas began two months ago is a flashing warning light. At least two of the prisoners' bodies bore signs of violence, and an autopsy report on one of them disclosed that he had broken ribs and a broken sternum. Evidence of medical neglect in some cases raises the suspicion that at least two others died due to a lack of proper medical treatment. These extreme cases come on top of a growing number of complaints from Palestinian prisoners that prison guards and soldiers have been violent toward them.
These complaints have been put into writing in transcript after transcript from military courts and have been made orally to the judges, but they still haven't received a suitable response. The situation is so bad that lawyers say they have tried to get hearings held without the detainees present in order to spare them violence en route to the courtroom. And in two cases in which Gazan workers detained in Israel Defense Forces lockups died, the army concealed their deaths from their families until they were reported in Haaretz.
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This violence and neglect isn't happening in a vacuum. Ever since Itamar Ben-Gvir was appointed national security minister, he has been waging a campaign to worsen prison conditions for so-called security prisoners (people suspected or convicted of terrorism-related offenses). Upon his appointment, he celebrated steps to make their prison conditions harsher. One of those steps, closing down prison bakeries, sparked ridicule. But since the war began, the situation has gotten much worse. The Knesset decided that prisoners can be bedded down on the floor, while the Prison Service stopped providing electricity to outlets in cells, cut back the hours when the lights are on and reduced time in the showers. Prisoners say they have even been barred from leaving prison for medical treatment. It seems that public support for acts of vengeance is also contributing to this. A state that dismantles its institutions, including the courts and the prisons, and gives free rein to violence against people held in its custody, with no oversight, is a country that has lost its moral way. In addition, it endangers the Israeli hostages held by Hamas. Ensuring that Palestinians incarcerated in Israel have reasonable prison conditions is a public interest. The agencies responsible for the prisons and the Israel Prison Service must conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths in detention facilities and take action against anyone who contributed to neglect of or violence against the prisoners.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.