Druze Draft Refuser on the Mend After Hospitalization

Lawyer of jailed conscientious objector claims prison authorities repeatedly ignored her client's requests for medical attention.

Omar Sa'ad at a recruitment center.
Omar Sa'ad at a recruitment center.Credit: Twitter

Omar Saad, a Druze jailed for refusing to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, is out of danger after having been hospitalized in life-threatening condition on Friday, but it’s still not clear whether he suffered irreversible damage or when he will be released from the hospital.

He was hospitalized three days after he began complaining to prison authorities of severe pain, and his family and lawyer say they suspect the authorities of deliberately ignoring his complaints.

Saad has been jailed seven times since December 2013 for refusing to serve in what he terms “the army of occupation and oppression.” The last time, on April 13, he was sentenced to 40 days.

At about noon on Tuesday of last week, he told the staff of the IDF’s Prison 6 that he was suffering severe pain throughout his body, along with dizziness and chills. But only that evening did he finally receive medical attention, from a paramedic.

The next day, the prison doctor gave him painkillers and throat lozenges. He told an intern in his lawyer’s office that when his pain intensified, a paramedic told him it was because of the drugs, but that it would pass.

His condition continued to deteriorate over the next two days: His temperature rose, and he began having chest pains and breathing trouble. But only last Thursday night was he rushed to a clinic in Haifa. The doctor there suspected liver trouble and prescribed antibiotics and further tests, but he was taken back to prison. Finally, at noon on Friday he was taken to Haifa’s Bnei Zion Medical Center, and by then he was in serious condition.

In a letter sent to IDF legal officials earlier this week, attorney Smadar Ben-Natan quoted the attending doctor as saying that Saad suffered life-threatening liver failure due to a severe infection.

“According to the attending physician, on Friday night, the possibility was considered that Omar might need a liver transplant,” she wrote. “My client was taken to the hospital very belatedly, endangering his life. My client’s repeated complaints elicited no response, either from the [prison] officers or the medical staff. My client lay for many hours in his cell, burning with fever, without his condition receiving even minimal attention.”

At Bnei Zion, doctors originally planned to transfer Saad to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, but scratched that plan when his condition improved. Nevertheless, the prison intelligence officer, accompanied by military policemen, showed up in his room Saturday night to make the transfer. Saad’s father, Zahar a-Din Saad, said the intelligence officer told him the prison commander had ordered the transfer, and he believes the commander did so because his son’s friends had demonstrated outside the Haifa hospital earlier that day. But Saad was ultimately left at Bnei Zion after his father summoned a doctor who deemed the transfer unnecessary.

Haaretz asked the IDF Spokesman’s Office whether it was possible that Saad’s complaints were ignored due to a general policy of suspecting inmates of feigning illness, or even as an act of vengeance against a draft-dodger. The office responded that every IDF prisoner “is treated professionally regardless of the circumstances of his imprisonment,” and that goes for Saad as well.

“Any claim to the contrary is baseless and doesn’t reflect reality,” the statement said. “From the inmate’s first complaint, medical officials gave him the best medical treatment based on his complaints. He was examined several times by a paramedic and a doctor after he complained of feeling bad, and on the doctor’s orders was taken to the hospital. From the moment he was hospitalized, every medical decision in his case, including his transfer from place to place, was made solely by his medical team, and not by the army authorities.”

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