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High Court of Justice Hears a Petition to Allow Holot’s Detainees to Cook Their Food

On July 1, 2015 the Israeli NGOs Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Physicians for Human Rights- Israel (PHR-I) served a petition to the High Court of Justice on behalf of Anwar Suliman Arbab Ismail, an asylum seeker from Darfur detained at the time in Holot facility (HCJ 4581/15). The petition was filed against the Israeli Prisons Authorities (IPS), demanding that the residents in Holot facility, which is defined as an open residence centre, will be able to bring food into the facility and cook their own food inside the facility. Detainees were constantly complaining about the quality of the food served, claiming that it is spoiled or over cooked. The immediate incentive for filing the petition was the holy month of Ramadan during which the prohibition to bring food into the facility and cook the desired food during the desired time (after the end of the daily fast) became more acute. Many of the detainees in Holot, Muslim asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea as well, were fasting when meals were served in Holot and received no meals during the night, when those fasting are allowed to eat. The fasting asylum seekers were obliged to have their “Iftar” night meal every night outside of the facility, on the ground, without having basic cooking facilities. The petitioning NGOs claimed that IPS’ policy of prohibiting the entry of food into the facility, severely violates the honor of the facility’s residents, their freedom, autonomy and freedom of religion.

No remedy was offered for Holot detainees during the month of Ramadan in 2015. Only in a hearing held on March 17, 2016, as the month of Ramadan approached again, the HCJ requested that the government will offer solutions within 30 days. Since no solution was offered, the HCJ gave the government a conditional order demanding an explanation within 30 days why they will not allow the residents of Holot to bring their food into the facility, prepare their own food and consume it inside the facility.

On June 9, 2016 the government submitted an affidavit to the court claiming that allowing the detainees to bring their own food inside the facility may cause mass diseases as the food may not be cooked properly, or will be spoiled. In addition, the government claimed that cooking inside the facility may endanger the detainees due to risks involved in using knives and fire to cook.

On September 11, 2016, the government submitted an additional affidavit to court declaring that since June 1, 2016 the IPS uses the services of a new catering company in Holot and that the detainees express their satisfaction from the food served.

In a second hearing held on September 12, 2016, the NGOs’ advocates Oded Feller and Reut Michaeli presented the social appendix to the Holot building plan that specifically refers to this issue stating that there should be two kitchens for every sub-ward (row of 14 rooms), including an electric stove, a sink and cooking spaces. While the NGOs are aware of the improvement in the quality of the food served in Holot since the catering company was replaced, it does not change the fact that the existing policy prevents detainees from consuming the food they want when they want to consume it. While this prohibition becomes more onerous for Muslims during the month of the Ramadan, during all days, detainees who fail to wake up before 7 am, cannot have their breakfast before 12 at noon and can have only two meals a day, while it is determined for them what they will consume in those meals.

The HCJ’s judges, Dantsiger, Amit and Solberg, requested the government to provide an explanation until October 13, 2016 regarding the status of the social appendix to the Holot building plan and its implications to the present petition. The judges also recommended that the parties will try to negotiate to bridge the existing gaps between the petitioners’ request to cook their own food and the State’s claims that cooking inside the facility, by the detainees, should not be allowed.