In Israel's Sinful Prison, the Innocent Are Freezing

The moral disgrace of banning the use of heaters for asylum seekers proves once again that the Holot prison must be dismantled and its 2,200 inmates released.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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A migrant near the Holot detention facility.
A migrant near the Holot detention facility.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

If ever there was an expression of the State of Israel’s dehumanization of the asylum seekers taking refuge here, or further proof that the Holot detention facility cannot meet the needs of those living there but is simply a jail whose inmates are subject to the whims of their jailers, the recent winter storm certainly illustrated this.

While people all over the country were trying to keep themselves and their homes warm, the inmates at Holot were banned from bringing heaters into their rooms, and forced to protect themselves from the extreme cold using layers of clothing and blankets. Most of them simply stayed in bed, using their body heat to keep warm.

All this because the Israel Prison Service, which is responsible for operating the facility, argued that it was not possible to bring heaters into the rooms because they posed a fire hazard and that there were heated areas for the residents. Following entreaties by human rights groups and MKs Michal Rosin (Meretz) and Dov Khenin (Hadash), the asylum seekers were given token means of heating, like heating pads, which barely relieved their distress.

Even given the policy of alienation and routine insensitivity that the state demonstrates toward these people, it’s hard to understand how human beings – after seeing the physical suffering in Holot during the freezing weather – wouldn’t do everything possible to prevent or relieve that suffering. Even if the state sees the asylum seekers as worthy of being incarcerated and deprived of their freedom, abandoning them to the extreme cold is an expression of inhumanity.

This moral disgrace is common to all the measures Israel takes against the asylum seekers. Their incarceration and restrictions, being tracked down and marked with numbers during their legal proceedings – these stem from an inhumane approach that is unacceptable, not only ethically but constitutionally. The High Court of Justice determined this twice when it struck down laws passed by the government that served primarily to oppress and abuse the asylum seekers.

Holot is a prison erected in sin that deprives innocent people of their freedom, without due process. The asylum seekers do not have “appropriate living conditions,” as the government argues. The recent storm proves once again that Holot must be dismantled and its 2,200 inmates released.

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