Don’t vaccinate Palestinian prisoners: Israel minister issues directive

Israel’s Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has instructed prison officials to not vaccinate security prisoners against COVID-19. Even though the Minister’s statement does not distinguish between groups, all security prisoners in Israel are Palestinians.

The statement was made from his office on Saturday to the Israel Prisons Service, ordering them to only vaccinate prison staff and not the inmates until further notice.

He added that the prisoners will be vaccinated “in accordance with the progress of vaccinating the general public”, which is expected to begin in 7-10 days’ time.

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Earlier, health ministry guidelines had said prisoners would be among the second group of people to be vaccinated along with the prison staff, and other people whose jobs put them at risk of contracting the virus. The vaccination was optional for prisoners and some prisoners had expressed interest in getting vaccinated. So far, 140 security prisoners in Israel have gotten infected with the virus.

In response to Ohana’s directive, A Shas lawmaker Moshe Arbel, posed a question at the Israeli parliament asking Ohana to explain why there is no need to vaccinate inmates who are among the highest at risk of getting infected due to crowded and harsh conditions in Israel’s prisons.

“The state should weigh in on the difficult situation of the prisoners, among the most crowded and vulnerable groups in the country, and act to vaccinate them as soon as possible,” Arbel said.

Physicians for Human Rights, a US-based not-for-profit NGO, has condemned the move. Calling Ohana’s directive a politically motivated one, it said, “Minister Ohana’s politically motivated directive indicates once again why the responsibility for prisoner health should be moved from the Public Security Ministry and the Israel Prisons Service to a body whose first priority is health.” 

“We should be making sure that prisoners are given high priority for vaccinations in line with recommendations by health experts involved in the matter, especially in light of worldwide data showing that the risk of infection among inmates is higher than that of the outside population.” 

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