Israel Detains Palestinian Teen With Coronavirus for Three Weeks Without Questioning

The 15-year-old, who is suspected of security offenses, was arrested before dawn on July 23 from the Jalazun refugee camp. He tested positive for the virus after his arrest

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Ramon Prison in southern Israel, January 15, 2019.
Ramon Prison in southern Israel, January 15, 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

A 15-year-old Palestinian boy with the coronavirus has been held in detention in Israel for three weeks without being questioned even once.

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The boy, who is suspected of security offenses, was arrested before dawn on July 23 at his home in the West Bank’s Jalazun refugee camp. After his arrest, he was tested for the coronavirus and found to be infected. Following a few days in Shikma Prison, he was transferred to Ramon Prison, where he was put in isolation in a special coronavirus cell block. Since then, his detention has been extended twice. Yet even though he was supposedly detained for questioning, he hasn’t been questioned at all.

This is apparently the first case in which a minor has been held in isolation because he had the coronavirus.

The Ofer military court is slated to hold a bail hearing for him on Thursday; he will participate via video conferencing. His lawyer, Iyad Misk of Defense for Children International Palestine, said he has asked the Israel Prison Service how the boy’s illness is being treated and what food he is getting, but hasn’t yet received an answer.

“A boy of 15 and a half who hasn’t been questioned ought to be released until he recovers,” Misk said. “In all cases heard in military courts, they claim the suspicions are serious, but not infrequently, nothing remains of them in the end.”

Ever since the coronavirus hit Israel, the Prison Service’s policy has been to put every person arrested in an interim cell block for 14 days, during which he is tested for the virus. But Palestinian detainees are sometimes tested in the military facilities where they are initially held, the service said, so their coronavirus status is already known when they arrive in Israel.

In April, the cabinet approved a temporary regulation allowing people detained for questioning to be held longer than usual if they weren’t questioned because they were in quarantine. But this regulation, which was valid only inside Israel proper, expired in June and hasn’t been renewed.

However, an identical military order issued for the West Bank has been extended every two weeks. That order, which applies only to Palestinian detainees, is currently in force until August 20.

“It’s true that the virus doesn’t distinguish between a Palestinian teenager and an Israeli one, but the two different legal systems that apply to Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories are clearly discriminatory,” attorney Roni Pelli of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said.

“Thus the law allows a 15.5-year-old teenager from Jalazun to be kept in detention without being questioned for three and a half weeks just because he tested positive for the coronavirus, whereas if a teen of the same age from nearby Beit El were arrested and found to have the coronavirus, the law wouldn’t let him be held that way. This is an absurd, unacceptable and discriminatory situation, and the military order must be rescinded immediately, just as was done in Israel, so that the coronavirus won’t serve as a pretext for prolonged detention.”

The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment.

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