Prison - Limor Edri
A prisoner in an Israeli prison. Photo by Limor Edri
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In an unprecedented move, a court has ordered the Israel Prison Service to provide a Muslim inmate with festive meals on Muslim religious holidays. The Prison Service told the court that the decision will have wide-ranging implications for all non-Jewish inmates incarcerated in Israel.

Mahmoud Majadbah of Jenin is serving a 21-year sentence for rape, theft, physical assault and illegal residence. He has been in Nitzan Prison for 15 years, during which time he has lodged a series of complaints against the Prison Service. He is well-known to many judges, and has a reputation as a campaigner for improved prison conditions.

Among other things, he once asked the courts for permission to send fax messages from prison on urgent matters. He also protested regulations that limit prisoners' ability to give interviews to the media, and he filed a series of small claims against the Prison Service on various issues. He once received NIS 3,700 in compensation because he did not get a timely reply to his request to receive packages that had been mailed to him.

In his latest petition, submitted via attorney Abeer Baker to the Petah Tikva District Court, Majadbah complained that throughout his prison sentence, he has never received festive meals on Muslim holidays, even though Jewish prisoners do get special food on Jewish holidays.

Majadbah said he was not asking the prison to provide him with traditional holiday foods like the apples and honey that are given to Jewish inmates on Rosh Hashanah. But he would like to be given some extra meat, to create a holiday atmosphere.

Baker provided Judge Varda Meroz with testimony from both Jewish and Arab prisoners that supported Majadbah's claim of discrimination in holiday meals given to non-Jews. The attorney also showed the court Prison Service guidelines that say observing religious holidays, including by serving special holiday meals, would bolster prisoners' cooperation.

The Prison Service claimed in response that during the month of Ramadan, Muslim prisoners are served meat meals at night, after the end of the dawn-to-dark fast. Such meals are not provided to Jewish inmates during Ramadan, it said.

But Meroz concluded that Majadbah's claim of discrimination was justified. Prison Service regulations, which require special Sabbath and holiday meals to be provided to both prisoners and staff insofar as is possible, should be enforced in a uniform way, she wrote. This means that special meals can and should be provided to non-Jewish inmates on their holidays.

"Any other interpretation would not be consistent with the principles of the State of Israel's legal system, which is based on democratic values, inter alia that of equality," she wrote.