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8.4.2021

Although family visits to prisons will not be resumed anytime soon: Israel will only allow “security” inmates one brief telephone call to their families during the month of Ramadan

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Palestinian residents of the oPt who are held in prisons inside Israel and classified as “security” inmates, are kept almost entirely without contact to the outside world, including with their families. This severe violation of the right to family life is the result of Israel’s persistent refusal to allow these inmates to telephone their families, although prison visits have been suspended due to the pandemic and are not expected to resume anytime soon. Family visits from Gaza have been suspended since the start of the world health crisis, and those from the West Bank have been suspended since December 2020 and were conducted only partially beforehand, in the intervals between the lockdowns imposed in Israel. In the framework of a court petition filed by HaMoked and other organizations in March 2020 demanding phone calls for all “security” inmates, the state committed to only granting minors a 10-minute-long telephone call to their families once every two weeks, so long as visits are unavailable. This commitment has been partially fulfilled

In December 2020, the petitioners filed an amended petition to allow all security inmates to maintain telephone contact with their families so long as the suspension of visits continues due to the pandemic. In its response of March 1, 2021, the state argued that the petition must be summarily dismissed and also substantively rejected, among other things, because every inmate has the recourse of filing a prisoner petition to the District Court, and also on the grounds that a sweeping arrangement as requested by the petitioners was uncalled for given that “the threat to the security of the State existing in the security prisoners’ contact with the outside [world] does not cease [to exist]”, even during the current pandemic crisis.” The state also announced its decision to allow a single telephone conversation to security prisoners held in IPS medical facilities and to women who are security inmates. In its updating notice of April 5, 2021, the state also announced that, as it did last year, during the upcoming month of Ramadan it would allow a single telephone call with the family to “adult security detainees and prisoners, who do not receive family visits as stated and request it…” (with the exception of security detainees under interrogation, and security prisoners from Gaza affiliated with Hamas who are denied visits at all times).

During the hearing of April 7, 2021, the panel of three justices stressed that the situation was dynamic and changeable and that “for this particular point in time, a substantive solution has been given”. The petitioning organizations argued that the state offered no real solution, except for a token Ramadan call, and that last year, only some 10 percent of the inmates were actually given the opportunity to talk with their families as guaranteed. To this, Justice Vogelman said that a prisoner who would not receive the guaranteed telephone call, could file a prisoner petition to the District Court.

At the end of the hearing, the petition was deleted with the petitioners’ consent following pressure from the Justices. The state’s undertaking was recorded in the judgment and it was noted that “Preparations should be made already at the present stage for continuing the decision-making [process] for the times ahead, subject, of course, to current data at each point in time”.
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