When Palestinian Amir Naji was released from an Israeli prison he was told not to hug his family, but emotion overwhelmed him and he clutched his mother tight.
After a moment his father pushed away the 18-year-old, who was wearing a face mask, plastic suit and gloves.
Naji briefly waved to other family members in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank before being hurried to a nearby hotel for two weeks of isolation alongside other released prisoners.
Israel’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has included efforts to prevent outbreaks in prisons, including regular disinfection, checking temperatures of staff daily, and stopping visits from family and lawyers.
But advocates are calling for more — urging the Jewish state to release at-risk prisoners.
More than 5,000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli jails.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has urged that those over 65 or with health conditions be released.
“Those measures are meant to reduce the number of detainees and to limit the potential exposure for the most vulnerable,” said David Quesne, head of the ICRC’s mission in Jerusalem.
“We would like them released to the extent possible and if not then removed from the risk.”
Pain has ‘multiplied’
Israel has over 15,000 COVID-19 cases, while in the West Bank and Gaza around 350 have been reported, though testing rates are lower.
Palestinians are fearful that the disease will be brought into the West Bank by Palestinians returning from Israel, including the tens of thousands who work in the Jewish state and those released from prisons.
Naji, who was jailed for a year after being accused of throwing stones at soldiers during a protest, was released not due to the coronavirus but because his term ended.
He said there was real fear of an outbreak in the prisons.
“Life for prisoners in Israeli prisons is tough, but after the spread of corona(virus) their pain multiplied,” said Naji, who holds American and Palestinian citizenship.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, a Ramallah-based organization, said dozens of prisoners had been released since the coronavirus arrived in Israel.
Like Naji, they were all tested after being released and sent to quarantine, said the group’s Amani Sarahneh.
She said one released prisoner, who had been detained for just four days, later tested positive for the virus.
Israel poured scorn on the claim, saying the man was healthy when he exited the prison.
The Israel Prison Service told AFP it had “prepared for months to prevent the entry and spread of the coronavirus in its facilities.”
Each prisoner was given two multi-use facemasks and new prisoners are isolated for 14 days, it said, condemning what it called “false reports” in Palestinian media and elsewhere.
However, a 21-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank who was arrested by Israel and brought to a Jerusalem jail on Wednesday was on Friday confirmed to have the coronavirus.
He has been transferred to a quarantined ward in the detention facility, the Israel Prisons Service said, without giving the reason behind the man’s arrest.
The Israel Prisons Service said the man had been alone in a cell for two days and that officials were checking who he came into contact with during his arrest and arrival at the facility.
Staff who were confirmed to have been in contact with him will be quarantined, the Prisons Service said. The Kan public broadcaster said seven staff members were sent into isolation.