Israel keeps sick prisoners in “slaughterhouse” conditions

Alyan al-Amour was imprisoned by Israel for a total of 16 years. 

Abdallah al-Naami

Adjusting to reality outside the confines of an Israeli prison is not easy. Alyan al-Amour has found that out.

“The sense of freedom I have now is strange,” the 43-year-old said. “When I walk, I find it hard to believe I can move without anyone stopping me.”

On the day after his release in September, Alyan met his fiancee Deena for the first time. The couple got engaged while Alyan was in prison but Deena was never able to visit him.

Alyan and Deena married within a few weeks of their first meeting. It was an important step toward ensuring that Alyan can rebuild his life.

The horrors he encountered behind bars cannot be erased from his memory.

His long period of detention began in September 2006. Alyan was at home in al-Fukhari – near the Gaza city of Khan Younis – when Israeli troops invaded the area and arrested him.

He was quickly brought to Ashkelon prison inside Israel, where he was kept for 35 days. During that period, he was held underground and was repeatedly beaten and threatened by his Israeli interrogators.

Alyan believes that his interrogators wanted to coerce him into confessing to something he had not done.

Over the next three years, Alyan was brought to court on numerous occasions.

The bus used to transport him “looked good on the outside,” he noted. “But inside there were iron bars, handcuffs and armed soldiers.”

Although the trip to court should have been short, the Israeli authorities would often keep Alyan handcuffed inside the bus for long periods. It was not unusual for Alyan to be held in the bus for three full days as the drivers transported him and other Palestinians between the court and various prisons.

Three years after his trial began, Alyan, who had worked in the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, was sentenced to a lengthy jail term over allegations that he was involved in resistance activities.

He spent a total of 16 years behind bars – mostly in Ramon prison.

Throughout his time in jail, Alyan was held in harsh conditions.

As he was in reasonably good health, Alyan was arguably a little more fortunate than other prisoners. He became increasingly conscious of how the conditions exacerbated the health problems of prisoners who were unwell.

Alyan wanted to help those with medical issues. Yet for most of the time, all he was able to do was communicate with them remotely – via lawyers or by sending verbal messages when he met other prisoners on buses heading to and from court – and offer some moral support.

That changed in 2019.

Early that year, he submitted a request to join a group of prisoners who work in Ramle prison clinic. His request was accepted by the authorities.

Leaving in coffins

Initially, he was excited by how he had an opportunity to do what he wanted. His excitement turned to shock as soon as he saw the cruelty inflicted on patients in Ramle.

“It was like a slaughterhouse,” he said. “I will never forget the sight of patients on my first day there. Their hands were cuffed to the beds. Their faces looked sad and exhausted. And I could see from their thin bodies how severely ill they were. There was no doubt that the hospital was not taking care of them.” . Along with a few other prisoners, Alyan assisted patients who required help to eat and take medicine or who had mobility issues. At times, he would raise patients’ complaints with lawyers or with the clinic’s administration.

A number of the patients Alyan met in Ramle had cancer. The services offered to cancer patients were, he noted, completely inadequate.

For chemotherapy and other essential treatments, cancer patients were transferred to hospitals that were larger.

Once a week, guards at the Ramle clinic would carry out an inspection, generally at nighttime. During it, patients were moved to a yard for a number of hours, no matter what the weather was like.

Prisoners with medical needs frequently face an ordeal. The Israeli authorities can stall on processing prisoners’ applications for hospital treatment.

It is not uncommon, according to Alyan, for 18 months or two years to elapse between an application for such treatment and a final decision. Sometimes, the authorities reject requests.

“There are hundreds of prisoners with health problems,” he said. “But they are afraid of the Israeli hospitals because of the deliberate negligence. I haven’t seen a patient get better in the hospital. The patients only leave in coffins. It is very sad.”

“Death sentence”

Three of Ramle’s patients died in the few years that Alyan worked in the clinic.

Among them was Bassam al-Sayih, 46, from Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Al-Sayih had leukemia and died in September 2019.

“Bassam used to say, ‘I want to go back to Gaza with you and eat fish on the beach,’” Alyan said. “That was in the last few days of his life. I held back my tears and told him it would be wonderful if we could go to the beach in Gaza together.”

As well as visiting patients in Ramle clinic, Alyan reached out to some other prisoners who were ill.

One of them, Sami al-Amour, was a relative from Deir al-Balah in Gaza.

Alyan would send verbal messages to Sami via other prisoners.

Last year, doctors recommended that Sami should have surgery for blocked arteries. But rather than being taken to hospital, Sami was kept in prison.

Alyan argued that keeping Sami in prison was tantamount to a “death sentence.”

“They knew how critical his condition was,” Alyan added.

Sami died in Israeli custody during November last year. He was only 39.

The horrors which Alyan al-Amour encountered have been witnessed by so many others.

According to the most recent statistics, there are now 4,760 Palestinian political prisoners.

With Israel enjoying huge support from the US and the European Union, it faces no consequences for the abuse of prisoners. Apart from issuing timid statements of “concern,” the powerful allow Israel’s cruelty to go unchallenged.

Abdallah al-Naami is a journalist and photographer living in Gaza.