On Palestinian Prisoner Rights day, Canada appears to remain silent as COVID spreads among prisoners in Israeli jails

jvp political prisoners

April 17th is Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. There are an estimated 4,520 Palestinian prisoners in crowded Israeli jails, including men, women and children as young as 14. In the face of well-founded concerns that COVID is spreading in its prisons, a global outcry is rising demanding Israel release Palestinian prisoners, particularly women and children and those held without charge under so-called “administrative detention”. So far, Canada, which claims to be a “friend of the Palestinian people” has not shown any interest. Read more…

In the face of the spread of the COVID 19 virus inside the Israeli prison system, April 17th, known as the Palestinian Prisoners Day, has taken on special urgency for the estimated 4,250 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, jails, and interrogation centres. 

israeli prison map

Palestinian prisoners are held in over a dozen prisons across Israel and the West Bank. Interrogation centres, where torture is often used, are indicated with a red triangle.

For years Palestinian human rights organizations have used this day to shed light on what it alleges are Israel’s repressive policies toward its Palestinian prisoners in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, these include:

  • Inhuman and cruel detention conditions;
  • Psychological and physical torture, and solitary confinement;
  • Administrative detention;
  • Unjust military orders and decisions; and
  • Ban on visits from medical professionals

A recent appeal from Addameer, a West-Bank based prisoner rights organization, called on the international community “to join us in an urgent campaign to free all Palestinian prisoners in order to protect them from COVID-19, particularly in light of the increased restrictions on their rights by the Israeli Prison Service.”

The Addameer appeal noted that as of early March 2020, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS):

  • halted all family and lawyers’ visits for Palestinian prisoners,
  • postponed all trial proceedings in the military courts
  • stopped bringing Palestinians undergoing pre-trial detention or interrogation for their detention extensions. (…) 
  • barred Palestinian prisoner’s legal representatives are barred from direct communication with their clients

Around the world, human rights organizations have taken up the issue of the spread of COVID among prisoners with alarm. “I urge all states to release all those detained without a lawful basis, including those held in violation of human rights obligations,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN Commissioner for Human rights. 

(In fact, Israel did announce the release of approximately 400 Israeli prisoners to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but this does not appear to have included any Palestinians.)

In the USA, the Friends of Sabeel North America, a Christian organization has launched a petition urging that the USA bring pressure on Israel to release its Palestinian prisoners.

The US Campaign for Palestinian Human Rights (USCPR) has launched its own campaign toward the same end.

And how concerned is Canada…? Apparently not very

A letter sent to Canada’s Mission in Ramallah three weeks ago asking them to investigate the situation of Palestinian prisoners, has gone unacknowledged and unanswered.

A copy of the letter follows:

Canadian Mission to the Palestinian Authority,
Ramallah, Palestine
March 31, 2020
Dear Mr. (name withheld) 
When our Come and See group was in Ramallah last fall, we met with representatives of Addameer, the Palestinian prisoner rights organization. We got an excellent, detailed briefing on how accused Palestinians are “processed” by Israeli authorities. Most are held for months without charge under “administrative detainment”. All are under duress, with poor medical attention. Many are tortured. Now it appears that family visits have also been suspended, which makes any outside surveillance almost impossible.
I have just received an urgent appeal from Addameer indicating that some of these prisoners (still not charged) have now become infected with the COVID 19 virus while under interrogation.
I urge you, as representatives of the Canadian government, to investigate the veracity of these allegations and to make representation to the Israeli government to release those not convicted of any crime.
Thank you in advance.
Peter Larson, group leader

Canada – come in please

So far our email asking for urgent action has gone unacknowledged. CTIP recognizes that under the threat of COVID 19, our representatives there have to be focussed on the safety of our own employees and that of Canadians visiting the region. In that context, it isn’t important that our mission answer our letter.

What IS important, however, is whether Canada, which claims to be a “friend of the Palestinian people”, is showing any interest in the dire situation of Palestinian prisoners.

Anyone who thinks so, might want to send a note to our Prime Minister, our Foreign affairs minister , our Canadian Ambassador in Tel Aviv, or to our Chief representative in to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Copies might also be sent to your local MP.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue.

Want to learn more about what we do? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.

Contact us at: ofip.chair@gmail.com.


  1. Will we get accurate information from Israel (or the PA) about the numbers of Palestinian sick and/or dead in prisons? Or in Gaza?

      1. It’s an excellent question, Peter.

        You opened your piece with the words “ In the face of the spread of the COVID 19 virus inside the Israeli prison system”

        Can you please support that claim with facts? What outbreak? Which prison?

        As of today there isn’t a single outbreak in any of the prisons of the Israeli prison system, and you know that

      2. Hey Ahik, Thanks for your question. It is not my policy to make up facts, or consciously misrepresent them. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Israel without the need to exaggerate. If it is clear that there are no cases of COVID in Israeli prisons, I will be happy to say so in a future correction.

        However, the main point of my post was to ask the Canadian mission to investigate. If there are no such cases, so much the better. However, this would be surprising in light of other Israeli actions including, the release of some ISRAELI prisoners, and closing some other sites where people are in close proximity – including the Al Aqsa Mosque.

        Several Palestinian human rights organizations, including the ones cited have claimed that COVID is festering in Israeli prisons. Defense of Children International has also launched a special call on Israel to release child detainees.

      3. Peter,

        My response to Ahik (the link) suggests an explanation if the number of cases in those prisons is low. The article told of a prisoner who appeared to have gotten the disease in the prison and was quickly released as a result. That would explain Ahik’s false claim.


  2. Whether or not any are sick today, the danger is clear. There is COVID-19 in Palestine (including Israel) and it would be a miracle (kind of a reverse of the Passover story) if nobody in the prison will be infected. Even if that miracle occurred, holding people without trial, lawyers, hearing and medical care is unacceptable. It is truly troubling that not one party in Canada dares to speak up for those prisoners.

  3. Mr. Parnas’s comment is well taken and it is indeed disturbing that no party in Canada is speaking out for the prisoners, especially the women and children.

    1. Hey Stephen,
      Of course I agree with you. But I hasten to note that I am not aware of any church, mosque, synagogue or union having spoken up about this either. I haven’t seen anything from the NDP or Green Party either (though have not done a thorough scan). This makes it harder to fault the Canadian government for not speaking out.

      But I do think we CAN FAULT THE GOVERNMENT for not investigating or showing any interest in whether the allegations, which seem credible, are true. And since Canada is on the ground there, this is a lot easier for them to do than for, political parties or churches.

  4. Hi Peter
    Point well taken . However I think some of Canada’s churches , mosques , unions etc. who are advocates for human rights, should join the ” global outcry ” as you called it, to release certain Palestinian prisoners.

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