On January 19, 2022, PHR-Israel and HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to compel the Ministry of Health, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the military to formulate written procedures ensuring families of inmates are informed by medical staff about the health condition of inmates transferred from prison to a medical facility. The petitioners also demanded that arrangements be made to ensure immediate and regular contact between families and hospitalized inmates as well as the medical staff, enabling the families to provide support to the patient and be involved in medical decisions. The petition was filed following lengthy correspondence between the petitioners and the authorities, which indicated that there were no such procedures in place, that the IPS was dragging its feet in setting up such procedures, and that according to the Ministry of Health (in a March 2021 response) “It does not appear that the common practice in hospitals… warrants writing a Ministry of Health procedure or circular”.
The petition presents data showing that in recent years, prison facilities in Israel usually hold some 14,000 people in total, many of whom are chronically ill and require regular medical treatment (in January 2019, for example, there were about 6,000 chronic patients in all IPS facilities). The petition explained that given the lack of hospitalization options in the IPS, inmates requiring urgent treatment or hospitalization were transferred to medical facilities and hospitals outside the IPS, where they received treatment guarded by either the IPS or the military. It was also noted that some hospitalized inmates could not communicate at all due to their physical condition or level of consciousness, and some were on their deathbed.
Whatever the case may be, the situation of hospitalized inmates is fundamentally different than that of hospitalized people from the community, because inmates cannot independently inform their families about their medical condition and whereabouts, due to the restrictions imposed on them. And the medical staff usually considers itself subordinate to the instructions of the Ministry of Public Security and the IPS, and does not attempt to enable contact between hospitalized inmates and their relatives, and often also refuses to allow contact initiated by the family. Consequently, the reality on the ground is chaotic, and whether families are informed depends on individual initiatives of a member of the hospital staff or an IPS officer, or on protracted administrative or legal intervention. Thus, it often happens that families of inmates, whether Palestinian or Israeli, receive no updates on the medical condition of their loved ones, increasing their worries about the latter’s fate. At the same time, the inability to inform their families about their situation, increases the anxiety and loneliness of hospitalized inmates, harming their chances of recovery. In addition, according to the petitioners’ experience, in the case of hospitalized inmates who are Palestinians from the oPt, when families are not informed about the health condition of their loved one, neither is the ICRC updated.
The petitioners stressed that the petition concerned “the undeniable basic right of the family to be involved and aware of the fate of their loved ones, as well as the inmates’ right to be supported and assisted by the family”. The petitioners added that the present situation trampled the basic rights of both inmates and their relatives and also violated their dignity and humanity.