Muamar Nakhleh, father of Amal Nakhleh, a Palestine refugee from Jalazone camp near Ramallah who has just turned 18 years old and spent the last year of his childhood in Israeli administrative detention – imprisonment without charge or trial. (Photo: AP)
Amal Muamar Nakhleh, a Palestine refugee from Jalazone camp near Ramallah who has just turned 18 years old, spent the last year of his childhood in Israeli administrative detention – imprisonment without charge or trial.
In a feature published on Wednesday, UNRWA said access to visit Amal in prison and updates on his health situation remain very limited. Three days prior to his 18th birthday, Israeli authorities renewed Amal’s administrative detention for a third time – to 18 May 2022.
Amal suffers from a rare and serious autoimmune disease and requires close medical monitoring. He contracted COVID-19 during a virus outbreak in the prison in late January, which put him in grave medical risk. Unfortunately, he has been unable to receive the medical care he needs. UNRWA engages in advocacy work on behalf of Palestine refugees, like Amal, throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Amal is one of many Palestinian children detained by Israeli Security Forces (ISF), but one of the few subject to administrative detention – a method of imprisonment where the detainee is not charged with any offense and the evidence against him or her is kept secret.
Amal has been subject to multiple extensions of his administrative detention without being provided with any justification other than a one-line general statement that he poses “a danger to the security of the area”.
Amal was 16 years old when he was first detained in November 2020 and spent 40 days in prison. He was arrested again and placed in administrative detention in January 2021. This administrative detention has been extended three times, in May 2021, September 2021 and most recently (just in time for Amal’s 18th birthday) in January 2022. Amal spent the final year of childhood and now his first months of adulthood behind Israeli prison bars.
Amal suffers from myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune disease which causes difficulties in breathing and swallowing. The disease requires regular medical attention and medication. His father and doctors have expressed concern about the lack of adequate medical follow-up. His medication was recently changed without the appropriate blood tests needed for such an adjustment. Treatment for Amal’s medical condition has left him with a weakened immune system and, consequently, has not been able to take the COVID-19 vaccine. This put him at increased risk of COVID-19 infection. His doctors have stated that the heightened stress caused by imprisonment and the added risk of exposure to COVID-19 in an institutional setting is putting Amal in a life-threatening situation.
After turning 18 on 16 January 2022, Amal was transferred to the adult section of the Israeli Ofer Prison, outside of the West Bank city of Ramallah. An outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in the prison eight days after he was transferred and Amal subsequently contracted the virus. Amal’s doctors warned that COVID-19 infection has the potential to aggravate his underlying health condition and lead to respiratory infection, which would place Amal’s health and life at serious risk. It was subsequently reported that Amal was transferred from Ofer Prison to Ramleh Prison Hospital on 26 January.
Physicians for Human Rights in Israel stated on Twitter that Amal’s condition requires urgent care not available in prison facilities. UNRWA, UNICEF and OHCHR have called for Amal’s immediate release and UNRWA has made specific bi-lateral appeals to Israeli authorities requesting Amal’s immediate release on urgent humanitarian grounds.
Under international humanitarian law, an occupying power may only administratively detain a person for immediate justified security needs and for short periods. Despite Israel’s legal obligations as an occupying power, Amal has remained in Israeli prisons for more than one year under the cloak of secrecy and without charge. Concerns are raised that this constitutes arbitrary detention and is coupled with violation of Amal’s human rights as a minor under detention until January 2021 and as a prisoner with serious medical vulnerabilities throughout his arrest.
Amal’s story illustrates how the detention of a child under military occupation reverberates in the lives of those closest to them and the emotional scars it leaves.
“In 2003, when his mum went into labour with Amal, she was only six months into the pregnancy. In the hospital they told me, “Muamar, be strong.” Two or three hours after his birth, they said a case like Amal’s usually means he will not survive. At that moment they asked me to give a name for his birth certificate. I told them I want his name to be Amal which means hope, so every time I mention him we have hope.
They arrested Amal while he was at high school and he misses school. Through our coordination with the Red Cross and human rights organizations, we succeeded to get Amal access to exams while in prison. We are so happy and proud that Amal graduated high school. Hopefully, when he is free, he will be a student at Birzeit University. All the time we tell him that Birzeit is awaiting him.”