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Shackled and bedbound: How Israel treats hospitalised Palestinian prisoners

Photos of an injured Palestinian teenager shackled to his hospital bed have caused renewed outrage over Israel's treatment of prisoners
Images of 16-year-old Mohammad Moqbel shackled to a hospital bed have prompted criticism (Social media)
By Shatha Hammad in Ramallah, occupied West Bank

When Munir Moqbel secretly snapped photos of his son, 16-year-old Mohammad, handcuffed to a hospital bed in Jerusalem, the images sparked renewed outrage on social media over the treatment of injured and sick detained Palestinians by Israeli forces. 

During an Israeli military raid on al-Arroub refugee camp, north of the city of Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank, on 29 November, Israeli soldiers arrested and beat Mohammad severely; the teenager sustained four fractures on the left side of his jaw. 

Some 20 hours after his arrest, Mohammad was transferred to hospital for treatment. 

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In June, the Israeli prison administration amended its internal regulations on shackling sick or injured Palestinian prisoners. Naji Abbas, case manager in the prisoners department at NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), explained that there are currently no regulations on this issue. 

“This means that every prisoner who is transferred for treatment is shackled, regardless of their health condition,” he explained. 

In October, PHR called for Israel to re-establish rules regulating placing handcuffs on prisoners who are receiving medical treatment. The group received a brief response on 13 December from the prison administration, which stated that it was in the process of establishing new regulations. 

"We do not know if the new rules will include a change in dealing with sick prisoners during their transfer for hospital treatment,” Abbas said. 

Soldiers in the operating room

Moqbel, 47, is the father of five other children as well as Mohammad. He told MEE how he discovered his son’s situation.

“Twenty hours after Mohammad was arrested, I received a call from Hadassah hospital, asking me to go there immediately to sign a document enabling them to perform an operation on Mohammad,” he recalled.

Upon his arrival at the hospital, Moqbel said he learned from doctors that Mohammad had suffered fractures in his face as a result of being hit with rifle butts. The father said that when he arrived at his son’s room, he was surprised to see there were two Israeli soldiers in their military attire inside the room, carrying weapons.

'Seeing my child in metal handcuffs while he was sick and weak was a painful and provocative sight'

- Munir Moqbel, father of a detained Palestinian teenager

They removed him by force and forbade him from talking to Mohammad, he added. 

"On the first day, they tied Mohammad's hands to the bed with plastic zip tie cuffs. After that, they put metal handcuffs on his hands and feet, and these shackles remained on him for the duration of his time at the hospital," said Moqbel.

"Seeing my child in metal handcuffs while he was sick and weak was a painful and provocative sight for me. I asked the doctors to intervene and remove the handcuffs, but they told me that they could not intervene because this is a security situation in which the army makes the decisions.” 

Moqbel said his son was still shackled when he was taken into the operating room, and that he was accompanied by a soldier. 

During the five days that Mohammad spent in the hospital, his father was only given 40 minutes in total to visit and speak to him, before the Israeli army transferred him to Megiddo prison in northern Israel.

Mohammad has so far undergone four court sessions, during which he was charged with throwing stones at soldiers, according to Moqbel. 

Handcuffs and insults

Mohammed’s case is far from being an anomaly. On 3 November, 16-year-old Amal Orabi Nakhleh had his hands and feet shackled for hours when he was arrested by Israeli soldiers at a military checkpoint.

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Amal Nakhleh, a resident of the Jalazone refugee camp north of Ramallah, suffers from a thymus gland disorder requiring him to take medication four times a day. Without his medicine, he experiences difficulty breathing, loses the ability to digest and swallow food and the ability to open his eyes or to control his hands easily.

Amal, who was released on 10 December, told MEE that soldiers severely beat him across his entire body during his arrest, despite informing them that he was ill.

“They tied my hands behind my back with plastic cuffs and squeezed them tightly. They told me that they would not release me unless I signed a document stating I was not beaten,” the teenager said. "When they removed the shackles, my hands were blue; I was not able to move them."

He said that despite his breathing problems and weak limbs, soldiers continued to restrict his hands and feet. "When I arrived at Megiddo prison, I told the administration that I was sick and had to take my medicine, so they transferred me to the health clinic at Ramleh prison."

Amal said that throughout his time at the Ramleh prison health clinic, he remained shackled and was constantly subjected to insults and screaming by doctors and nurses. 

Amal and Mohammad’s stories are not uncommon. 

In a report published on 2 December by Ramallah-based prisoner rights group Addameer, the group highlighted multiple cases of Palestinian children being arrested and severely mistreated by the Israeli army. 

'When they removed the shackles, my hands were blue'

- Amal Nakhleh, formerly detained by Israeli forces

One example is 15-year-old SJ, who was arrested a week after he had undergone a hernia operation. According to Addameer, the child was made to run for 50 metres with his arms shackled behind his back. The soldiers beat him where he had undergone his operation to the point where he fainted.

The child was left on the floor in the open, shackled, for 30 hours, before being transferred to a hospital. 

Pressure by doctors 

In 2008, the Israeli prisons administration enacted regulations on shackling sick or injured Palestinian prisoners during transfer for treatment, in response to lawsuits filed by PHR over the course of seven years.

PHR’s Abbas told MEE that the prison administration’s initial regulations were to treat sick or injured Palestinian prisoners like any other patient who is hospitalised: not handcuffed. 

However, Abbas explained that prison authorities did not follow their own rules; handcuffs were consistently placed on prisoners who had serious health conditions, including those who were unconscious. 

PHR considers it unethical for doctors to provide treatment to a shackled prisoner. The group is therefore calling on doctors in Israeli hospitals to take a moral stance on the issue. 

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Media spokesperson at the Palestinian Prisoners' Society (PPS) Amani Sarahneh told MEE that sick or injured prisoners reported that being shackled was among the most difficult things - both physically and psychologically - that they undergo during their hospitalisation. 

Instead of being transferred in an ambulance, ill or injured prisoners are transported in a military vehicle. 

PPS reported on a testimony from the lawyer of one of the prisoners, who said that his client, Kamal Abu Waar, received cancer radiation therapy while shackled. After months of international groups calling for his release, Abu Waar died from his cancer in Israeli custody on 11 October. 

Sarahneh said that Israeli hospitals are complicit in mistreating prisoners, directing threats and insults at them and conforming with Israeli army regulations regardless of whether they comform to medical deontology. 

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 7 December that another Palestinian prisoner, who had undergone abdominal surgery at an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem in November, was forced to defecate into a diaper because prison service guards refused to remove his shackles and allow him to go to the bathroom. 

While the prisoner had stitches, his arms were cuffed to his legs diagonally. His doctor said they released him from the hospital early because “his remaining in the hospital was causing him suffering”.

“The team of doctors headed by me assessed that the indescribable suffering of continuous diagonal restraint without the ability to move is greater than the pain from the operation. This certainly wasn’t the ideal decision for the health of the patient,” the doctor, head of the hospital’s trauma unit, said.

While a number of medical professionals in Israel have begun to speak up, PHR says it will take more for Israeli prison authorities to change.

"A number of doctors have begun to document cases they see and to pressure accompanying prison guards to remove the shackles, in addition to pressure on the Israeli judiciary and the prisons authority, by filing individual lawsuits and complaints by doctors,” Abbas told MEE, emphasising that despite this pressure, the prison administration has yet to act.

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