30 November 2020
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in early March 2020, after the discovery of seven cases in Bethlehem linked to a tourist group from Greece. In response, the Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency, imposed a citywide lockdown, and enforced a curfew. Between March and June, there were only 665 registered cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza, 180 cases among Palestinians in Jerusalem, and limited cases among Palestinians in Israel. However, the onset of a second wave from July resulted in rapid growth of the number of cases. By the end of November 2020, the territories, including east Jerusalem, had reported nearly 85,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 714 deaths.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has put in measures to slow the spread of the virus, including giving medical consultations by phone, delivering humanitarian assistance to avoid overcrowding at distribution centres, and blending school with remote learning. However, these measures have been criticised for being insufficient to prevent the spread. On 10 November 2020, the spokesperson for UNRWA reported that the agency had run out of cash on hand to keep vital services going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Numerous concerns, meanwhile, have been raised regarding healthcare provision in the OPT, particularly in Gaza, where medical infrastructure is chronically under-resourced and has, in the past, faced militarised attacks--as well as the effects of years of suffocating blockades. In April, it was reported that between the three hospitals located in East Jerusalem, there are only 22 ventilators and 62 beds prepared for coronavirus patients. Moreover, attempts by Palestinians to mobilise community health initiatives have been met with crackdowns on the part of the Israeli police.
At the end of August 2020, 355 Palestinians--including two minors--continued to be held in administrative detention in Israel Prison Service (IPS) facilities, according to B’Tselem. Administrative detention is permitted under Article 285 of Military Order 1651, which is part of the military legislation applying in the West Bank; the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law (Unlawful Combatants Law), which has been used against residents of the Gaza Strip since 2005; and the Emergency Powers (Detentions) Law, which applies to Israeli citizens. According to the Palestinian NGO Addameer, administrative detention is used almost exclusively to detain Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), although Israeli citizens and foreign nationals can also be held as administrative detainees by Israel.
In November, the Palestinian Detainees Committee reported that the Israeli Prison Authority (IPA) had sealed all sections in Gilboa’ prison in central Israel and cancelled all visits from detainees’ families, after more than 80 detainees in the prison tested positive for coronavirus. Conditions within the prison have previously been criticised for being overcrowded and dirty. In March, the Israeli government released approximately 400 offenders from prisons throughout Israel for a 30-day house arrest, after which they were officially released from prison.
- Addameer, “Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association,” July 2017, http://www.addameer.org/israeli_military_judicial_system/administrative_detention
- Al-Monitor Staff, “Dozens of Palestinian prisoners in Israel test positive for COVID-19,” Al-Monitor, 3 November 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/prisoners-hamas-israel-prison-gilboa-coronavirus-tzalmon.html
- B’Tselem, “Statistics on Administrative Detention,” 13 October 2020, https://www.btselem.org/administrative_detention/statistics
- IMEMC News, “Israel Seals Gilboa Prison As Dozens Of Palestinian Detainees Contract Coronavirus,” 10 November 2020, https://imemc.org/article/israel-seals-gilboa-prison-as-dozens-of-palestinian-detainees-contract-coronavirus/
- Medical Aid for Palestinians, “MAP Responding to COVID-19 Outbreak in Gaza Amid Fears of Health System Collapse,” 11 September 2020, https://www.map.org.uk/news/archive/post/1157-map-responding-to-covid-19-outbreak-in-gaza-amid-fears-of-health-system-collapse
- J. Sudilovsky, “East Jerusalem Scrambles to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak Before Ramadan,” +972 Magazine, 22 April 2020, https://www.972mag.com/east-jerusalem-coronavirus-ramadan/
- WHO, “WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard: Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” 23 November 2020, https://covid19.who.int/region/emro/country/ps
- I. Zonshine, “Israel to Release Hundreds of Prisoners to Curb Coronavirus Spread,” The Jerusalem Post, 28 March 2020, https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Israel-to-release-hundreds-of-prisoners-to-curb-spread-of-coronavirus-622611
- Magen David Adom Medical Workers at a Drive-Through Testing Site at the Entrance of an East Jerusalem neighbourhood on 2 April 2020, (Yonatan Sindel, Flash 90, "East Jerusalem Scrambles to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak Before Ramadan," +972 Magazine, 22 April 2020, https://www.972mag.com/east-jerusalem-coronavirus-ramadan/)
16 July 2020
Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, large numbers of Palestinians travelled to work in Israel on a daily or weekly basis. However, due to fears that such travel could further spread the virus, Israel’s emergency regulations required Palestinian workers to remain in the country and prevented them from returning to the West Bank. (Authorities issued stay permits for 30 or 60 days.) Although employers were required to provide workers with accommodation, reports quickly emerged revealing that Palestinians were being housed in inhumane accommodation—including some units without beds, toilets, or running water—which fell far below the standards of other foreign nationals’ accommodation.
In April, a coalition of NGOs launched a petition urging the Israeli government the ensure the health and living conditions of Palestinian workers. The petitioners wrote, “The State of Israel is exploiting the most disadvantaged workers, keeping them under conditions akin to slavery. Their dignity is trampled upon as they are given accommodation in unsupervised construction sites, their health is neglected as no one provides them insurance during a global health crisis, and their liberty is denied when their employers process their papers but, in fact, bind them to their workplaces.”
Authorities responded, issuing new legislation that required employers to pay for their employees’ health insurance—and eventually amending the emergency regulations to specify the living conditions that employers are required to provide. This was an important step: As countries such as Germany and Singapore have witnessed, poor worker accommodation units have frequently become virus hotspots.
More recently, on 28 June, as cases began to rise again, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development informed all organisations employing Palestinians that employees would be required to remain in Israel for three weeks, and that they were to be provided with health insurance and adequate accommodation. Reports indicate that Palestinian workers have faced movement restrictions. They have been required to remain within the boundaries of their workplace and nearby accommodation, and may not leave the premises to purchase food or medication—their Israeli employer must instead provide such supplies.
- M. Niezna, “Under Control: Palestinian Workers in Israel During Covid-19,” Border Criminologies, 7 July 2020, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/07/under-control
- The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “Success: Petition to Provide Palestinian Workers Health Insurance,” 5 May 2020, https://www.english.acri.org.il/post/__166
- R. Bassist, “Palestinian Workers Stay in Israel for Three Weeks in a Row,” Al Monitor, 7 July 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/israel-palestinian-authority-mohammad-shtayyeh--coronavirus.html
- Palestinian Labourers Line Up to Enter Israel through the Mitar Checkpoint in the Occupied West Bank City of Hebron, (H. Bader, AFP, "Palestinian Workers Stay in Israel for Three Weeks in a Row," 9 July 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/israel-palestinian-authority-mohammad-shtayyeh--coronavirus.html).
04 June 2020
After deconfinement began on 27 in Israel, new Covid infections increased sharply. However, the real number of infections in the country is difficult to assess because of fears amongst workers about the consequences of presenting themselves for testing. Migrant workers and asylum seekers appear to have a much higher infection rate than the rest of the population. The government's National Information and Knowledge Center reports that 25 percent of tested foreign workers were positive for COVID-19. However, due to the fear of losing their jobs if they are infected, many asylum-seekers do not get tested. Official estimates put the number of foreign workers in Tel Aviv alone at roughly 40,000.
In a joint press statement on 11 May, UN officials called for the release of all children detained by the Israeli authorities in prisons and detention centres. Mentioning the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the statement said that “since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Israel, legal proceedings are on hold, almost all prison visits are cancelled, and children are denied in-person access to their families and their lawyers. This creates additional hardship, psychological suffering, and prevents the child from receiving the legal advice to which they are entitled.”
At the end of March, UN officials estimated that 194 Palestinian were detained in Israel. On 16 April, a Palestinian NGO pressed Israeli authorities to ensure the rights of detainees. The organisation, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, highlighted “overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and inadequate access to healthcare” while pointing out that Palestinian prisoner are classified separately to regular prisoners. A petition was submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice to demand that inmates be allowed to communicate with their family. At the time of this update, the court only responded by allowing minors a 10-minute call every two weeks.
On 14 April, a coalition of NGOs issued an open letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urging the body to do more to protect “Palestinian prisoners’ right to health, particularly as many are minors, chronically ill, members of vulnerable groups, or held under administrative detention in contravention of international law.” The letter states that Israeli occupying authorities have disregarded Covid-19 guidelines in dealing with Palestinian prisoners and mentions that while the Israeli government released some 400 non-violent prisoners selected on the basis of health conditions and age, the government has not established the same release policy for Palestinian prisoners. Although some Palestinian prisoners had been freed, the government had not established any health or safety precautions to assist those infected or to protect the communities they are returning to.
- I24 News, “Israël/coronavirus: 116 nouveaux cas en 24 heures, la plus forte augmentation en un mois,” 3 June 2020, https://www.i24news.tv/fr/actu/israel/1591122646-israel-coronavirus-116-nouveaux-cas-en-24-heures-la-plus-forte-augmentation-en-un-mois
- UNICEF, “In Light Of COVID-19 Crisis, UN Officials Call For Immediate Release Of All Children In Detention, Including Palestinian Children,” 11 May 2020, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/light-covid-19-crisis-un-officials-call-immediate-release-all-children-detention
- Al Mezan Center For Human Rights, “Palestinian Prisoner’s Day: The International Community Must Urge Israel To Uphold Palestinian Rights Amidst Coronavirus Spread,” 16 April 2020, http://www.mezan.org/en/post/23707
- A. Rahman, “Israel’s Jail Conditions Will Kill Palestinian Prisoners Before Coronavirus Does,” 14 April 2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200414-israels-jail-conditions-will-kill-palestinian-prisoners-before-coronavirus-does/#comment-4876974513
- A. Alon, “Virus Cases Among Foreign Workers Ring Alarm Bells For Israel Officials,” 31 May 2020, https://www.ynetnews.com/article/B1Ois111nU
- Centre for Constitutional Rights, “ICRC: Urgent Intervention Needed to Proterct Palestinian Prisoners and Detainees in Israeli Prisons from Covid-19 Exposure,” 16 April 2020, https://ccrjustice.org/icrc-urgent-intervention-needed-protect-palestinian-prisoners-and-detainees-israeli-prisons-covid-0
- Migrant Workers in South Tel Aviv Queue to get Tested for Covid-19, (Negev Abbas, "Virus cases among foreign workers ring alarm bells for Israel officials," Ynetnews.com, 31 May 2020, https://www.ynetnews.com/article/B1Ois111nU)
12 April 2020
Israel has implemented several measures impacting migrants and asylum seekers as well as prisoners. While one NGO, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, has reported that they were been able to get some people released from immigration detention since the crisis began, the GDP has found no additional reports detailing what, if any, measures are being taken by authorities in administrative immigration detention centres. There have also been increasing calls by rights actors demanding that Israel release Palestinian children held in Israeli jails, in particular as prisoners’ exposure to the coronavirus has increassed.
In a 11 April interview with the Times of Israel, an advocate from the group Hotline explained that since the crisis began they have been emphasizing in their work getting asylum seekers released from detention: “Someone can be in jail for six months for a very light felony, and then they are suddenly transferred to administrative detention. All it takes is a decision by an official from the Population and Immigration Authority, who deems them a danger to society. … At that point, they can be held for a year or even two. So we try to get them released and give them legal representation. It’s become more urgent now, because there is a risk of mass contagion in prisons. In recent weeks we have been able to release seven people, and we are currently representing 10 more in an attempt to set them free.”
Israel closed its borders in mid-March, barring all non-citizens from entering the country to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Population and Immigration Authority said that an exception would be made for non-nationals whose “centre of life is in Israel.” The Ministry of the Interior then extended all visas for non-citizens that are currently in Israel until 30 June 2020.
Also in early March, authorities suspended all family visits to the country’s prisons as well as lawyers’ visits. These and other measures provoked widespread protests in prisons, in particular after reports that prisoners had been exposed to security personnel who had tested positive for Covid-19. According to Haaretz (23 March), “Palestinian prisoners serving sentences in Israeli jails for security-related offenses are threatening to go on a hunger strike to protest measures enforced by the Israel Prison Service, seeking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The prisoners object to searches conducted in their cells by prison guards without any protective gloves or face masks, as well as a ban on leaving cells and meeting their attorneys and family members, who the prison service fears might infect prisoners or guards with the virus if allowed into prisons.”
On 1 April 2020, a Palestinian prisoner released from Ofer prison who had spent 12 days detained alongside 36 people, tested positive for Covid-19. However, even after being notified of this, the Israeli prison administration announced no plans to release or even test the prisoners held there.
Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) reported on 19 March: “Four Palestinian prisoners detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel northwest of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, were placed in isolation after they were in contact with a COVID-19 positive Israeli officer. … Megiddo prison is one of several detention facilities located inside Israel where Palestinian child ‘security prisoners’ are held. ‘We know the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for people to avoid being in close proximity to each other, said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. ‘There is no way Israeli prison authorities can ensure the health and well-being of Palestinian child detainees as long as they continue to be in a custodial detention setting.’ An investigation by DCIP previously found Palestinian child prisoners detained in Israel’s Damon prison were held in poor conditions, including small rooms without access to clean and private bathroom facilities. Conditions such as these increase risks and exposure to unsanitary conditions where the COVID-19 virus thrives.”
- Volunteers with the African Refugee Development Center prepare to deliver food packages to African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, April 3, 2020. (ARDC / Times of Israel https://www.timesofisrael.com/for-african-migrants-in-israel-covid-19-means-health-jobs-homes-all-at-risk/)
- The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, https://hotline.org.il/en/main/
- Times of Israel, “For African migrants in Israel, COVID-19 means health, jobs, homes all at risk,” 11 April 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/for-african-migrants-in-israel-covid-19-means-health-jobs-homes-all-at-risk/
- Times of Israel, “Israel Seals its Borders to all Foreigners Amid Coronavirus Outbreak,” 18 March 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-closes-borders-to-all-foreigners-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/
- Defense for Children International, “Israel must release all Palestinian child detainees amid COVID-19 pandemic,” 19 March 2020, https://www.dci-palestine.org/israel_must_release_all_palestinian_child_detainees_amid_covid_19_pandemic
- OHCHR, “Covid-19: Israel has a ‘Legal Duty’ to Ensure that Palestinians in OPT Receive Essential Health Services – UN Expert,” 19 March 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25728&LangID=E
- Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, “Israeli Prison Services’ Measures in Regards to Covid-19,” ADDAMEER, 16 March 2020, http://www.addameer.org/news/israeli-prison-services%E2%80%99-measures-regards-covid-19
Last updated: February 2011
DETENTION, EXPULSION, AND INCARCERATION STATISTICS
DEMOGRAPHICS AND IMMIGRATION-RELATED STATISTICS
DOMESTIC LAWS AND POLICIES
Core pieces of national legislation
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies
§20 […] (d) Ensure that the new legislation abolishes the system of automatic detention of asylum seekers and requires that in each case, detention is reasonable, necessary and proportionate in light of the circumstances, and reassessed as it extends in time2014
§70 […](d) Cease with immediate effect the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status; (e) Conduct individual assessments and evaluations of the best interests of the child at all decision stages of the migration process affecting children, and with the involvement of child protection professionals, the judiciary as well as children themselves. Primary consideration should also be given to the best interests of the child in any proceeding resulting in the child’s or their parents’ detention, return or deportation;2013