On 27 December 2012, ‘Atef Khamis Dirbas (52 years old), who worked as a guard for an electricity company in Gaza City and lived in Jabalya, (North Gaza governorate), died while being held in the Gaza Central Prison ‘Ansar’ in West Gaza City. Despite the Prison Administration being aware of ‘Atef’s serious health condition, which included heart problems, he was remanded in custody without regular access to his medication. This was the fourth time that ‘Atef was imprisoned in 2012 because of a failure to pay his debts on account of his difficult financial situation.
According to data collected by Al-Haq, ‘Atef suffered from constant hypertension, hypertrophy in the heart muscle and varicose veins. During his last detention period, ‘Atef reported several times to his wife that he was unwell, both physically and psychologically. After two weeks of detention, ‘Atef’s health continued to deteriorate and he was transferred twice to the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. ‘Atef was eventually found unconscious in his cell by another Palestinian prisoner. The Prison Administration immediately transferred ‘Atef to hospital where he was declared dead.
Fat’hiya Muhammad Dirbas, (51 years old)
‘Atef’s wife, Fat’hiya, who is the mother of seven children, recalls that when her husband was arrested for the first time in September 2012, her family informed the Prison Administration at Jabalya Police Station of ‘Atef’s health issues. On that occasion ‘Atef was held in detention for three days until his family managed to collect 500 USD to pay his debt and have him released. One month later, ‘Atef was re-arrested for the same reason. However, on this occasion he had to stay in prison for a longer period until the same amount was paid by his family. During the second arrest, the Palestinian police raided and searched the Dirbas family home three times.
On 10 November 2012, ‘Atef went to the Palestinian police in Jabalya to inform them of the difficulty he faced in paying his debts for the month of November and to request more time to gather the money. As a result, ‘Atef was kept in police custody for four days. At the beginning of the Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip, code-named Pillar of Defense, ‘Atef was released temporarily when his family paid his bail. On 28 November, ‘Atef turned himself in to the police once again. He was detained and then transferred to Gaza Central Prison.
Two weeks later, Fat’hiya visited ‘Atef for 15 minutes with her 25-year-old son Yousef. They spoke to him through a small window with iron bars. Fat’hiya recalls that ‘Atef was suffering from pain in his chest, hypertension and pain in his feet because of the cold and lack of blankets. Fat’hiya was worried because the Prison Administration was not allowing ‘Atef to take his medication regularly. She was also shocked to discover that he had been hospitalised twice without his family being informed.
A few days after the visit, ‘Atef called his wife and told her that he was suffering both physically and emotionally.
On 27 December 2012, at around 9:30 am, Fat’hiya’s son Yousef received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as an officer from the Prison Administration. The officer informed him that ‘Atef had died and that his body was being autopsied at the forensic department of the al-Shifa Hospital.
Yousef and his uncles went to the hospital, but the police prevented them from seeing ‘Atef’s body. In the afternoon, the family brought ‘Atef’s body home and Fat’hiya saw that it was covered with blood. They cleaned the body and buried ‘Atef in Bet Lahya cemetery.
Approximately five days after the incident, the Dirbas family received the forensic report from ‘Atef’s autopsy that indicated that the main cause of death was heart failure. Fat’hiya and her family strongly believe that ‘Atef died due to medical negligence on the part of the Palestinian police and the conditions inflicted on him during his imprisonment in Gaza Central Prison. (Al-Haq Affidavit. No. 7982/2012, 7981/2012).
At the time of writing, an investigation has not yet shed light on the circumstances leading to ‘Atef’s death. Al-Haq expresses its grave concern at the number of deaths occurring inside Palestinian prisons. During the past year, Al-Haq documented the cases of Muhammad Sa’id al-Zaqzouq, (27 years old) and ‘Adel Salah Rezeq, (52 years old), who died of unknown causes while imprisoned by the Gaza authority.