Israel to start vaccinating prisoners this week, including Palestinians

Decision comes despite directive by public security minister — widely panned as illegal — to refrain from inoculating inmates

Prison guards wearing protective clothing transport a prisoner suspected of having the coronavirus, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on March 30, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Prison guards wearing protective clothing transport a prisoner suspected of having the coronavirus, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on March 30, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The Israel Prisons Service said Sunday that it will begin vaccinating all inmates, including Palestinians, against COVID-19 this week, after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit challenged Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s directive delaying the process.

“I would like to emphasize that the duty to act in accordance with the law applies at all times and does not depend on pending petitions,” Mandelblit wrote in a letter Friday to Ohana, referencing legal challenges to the minister’s directive that were set to be heard by the High Court.

Highlighting reports of an uptick in coronavirus cases in the Israel Prisons Service facilities, the attorney general said there was “real urgency” for prisoners to be inoculated in accordance with the Health Ministry’s policy, which on Sunday will begin vaccinating all Israelis over the age of 45. For the past week or so, those above the age of 55 have been allowed to vaccinate.

“Your injunction suffers from a clear lack of authority and is contrary to the requirements of the law,” Mandelblit wrote, noting that his position was shared by the Health Ministry.

Outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit share an elbow bump during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

On Thursday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had said Israel would start vaccinating all prisoners this week, including Palestinian security prisoners being held in Israeli correctional facilities, despite Ohana’s order.

The prison service issued a statement Sunday saying, “Following the vaccination of staff… the vaccination of detainees will begin in prisons in accordance with medical and operational protocols established by the Prison Service.”

Illustrative: Palestinian security prisoners in Ofer Prison, north of Jerusalem, August 20, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

Israel has given at least one vaccine dose to more than two million of its citizens in the world’s fastest rate per capita.

More than 150 prisoners and 160 guards have tested positive last week alone — the largest outbreak since the start of the pandemic, Haaretz reported. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, about 250 Palestinians in Israeli prisons have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began.

Israeli and international rights groups, including Amnesty International, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization, had issued public calls for Israel to vaccinate the estimated 4,400 Palestinian security prisoners held in its jails.

Reacting to Sunday’s announcement, a spokesman for the Hamas terror group, which control the Gaza Strip, said Israel “had an obligation to provide vaccines to prisoners.”

— AFP contributed to this report.

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