Israel’s Attorney General Says Minister’s Order Not to Vaccinate Prisoners Oversteps Authority

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit says vaccines must immediately be provided to prisoners, despite Public Security Minister Amir Ohana's orders

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Public Security Minister Amir Ohana during a visit to Northern District Police headquarters, January 4, 2021.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana during a visit to Northern District Police headquarters, January 4, 2021.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Attorney General Avichai Mendeblit said on Friday that vaccination against the coronavirus should immediately be provided to prisoners, after asserting that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s order not to vaccinate them in tandem with the general population had no standing.

The attorney general also rejected Ohana’s request to have someone other than Mendelblit represent his case when the High Court of Justice hears petitions against the minister’s decision next week.

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Some 2 million vaccines have been administered throught the country since the vaccine drive began in late December.

Ohana, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, has refused to allow the prison service to vaccinate those prisoners who are eligible according to official Health Ministry directives. But following objections by the public and the High Court of Justice, Ohana began negotiating with Health Ministry officials this week to obtain thousands of doses to vaccinate prisoners and wardens.

More than 150 prisoners and 160 wardens have contracted coronavirus in several different jails over the past few days – the biggest outbreak among prisoners since the pandemic broke out.

The High Court is set to hear petitions on Tuesday against Ohana’s decision filed by several human rights organizations, prisoners and the Israel Bar Association.

“I’d like to emphasize that the requirement to abide by the law applies at any time and does not depend on the pending petitions,” Mendelblit wrote Friday, adding that the Health Ministry was the one authorized to make public health decisions and that Ohana’s order was both outside his authority and contrary to the law.

Meanwhile, prisoners have complained that in addition to a lack of vaccines, they aren’t receiving basic medical treatment and the wardens aren’t taking reasonable precautions. One prisoner said the infections most likely originated with the wardens, who come and go from outside. “The wardens circulate among us without masks, and that’s it,” he said. “Living conditions are terrible. It’s crowded. This is a death trap.”

People in contact with the Hamas prisoners accused the Prison Service of denying them disinfectants that used to be sold in the prison canteen.

The prison service said its staff has been adhering to regulations rigorously and has devoted many resources to preventing spread of the virus within wards.

Mendeblit informed Ohana on Friday that his opinion was that the minister’s decision was invalid. Ohana refused to budge, responding that he believed the matter was within his authority. Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, meanwhile clarified that the Health ministry’s directives for vaccination applied to prisoners, too, and that 1,000 vaccine doses had been set aside for the prison service – which had yet to request them.

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