65 Palestinian Women in Israeli Prisons on International Womens Day
Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association welcomes the release of Mrs. Abla Saadat, arrested on her way to the World Social Forum on 21 January 2003 and subsequently given a 4-month administrative detention order. She was released on the morning of March 7, 2003 and, just as in the case of her arrest, was not given a reason for her early release. However, as we also commemorate International Womens Day today, we also remember the remaining 65 Palestinian female detainees currently being held by Israel in the Neveh Terzah section of Ramleh Prison.
Of the 65 Palestinian women being detained, 10 are Palestinian minors under the age of 18, held in conditions that contravene international standards of detention and contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that all individuals under the age of 18 are considered children, must not be submitted to forms of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, nor should they be deprived of their liberty except as a last resort. The youngest of the detainees, Zainab Al Shouly and Aisha Abeyat, both turned 15 whilst in prison.
Six Palestinian women are currently being held under administrative detention orders, imprisoned without charge or trial. One woman, Tahani Al Titi, has been serving continuously renewed administrative detention orders since June 13, 2002. The use of administrative detention for Palestinian women has dramatically increased in the past two months, paralleling similar use during the first Palestinian Intifada.
Detainees also include mothers of young children, including Mervat Taha, who was arrested on June 13, 2002 while she was pregnant. She recently gave birth to her child whilst in prison and serving a 20-month sentence.
An apparent pattern has developed in which Palestinian women are now being detained in order to place pressure on relations who may be wanted by Israel, or under interrogation. This was evident in the case of Abla Saadaat, wife of PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Saaadat, as well as Asma Abu Al Hayjah, the wife of Jamal Abu Al Hayjah, who is detained by Israel. Al Hayjah also suffers from severe medical problems, as she was diagnosed some time ago with a cancerous brain tumor which was operated on twice, and was waiting for a third operation before she was detained.
The conditions of detention in which Palestinian women are held are inhumane. Female Palestinian detainees are held in two separate sections, with contact between the two sections banned by the Prisons Authorities. Female detainees are subjected to individual and collective punishment, including the prevention of family visits, being placed in solitary confinement for varying periods of time, and banning canteen privileges, meaning that women are not able to obtain supplementary food or hygiene supplies. Surprise searches are conducted regularly of the womens cells, and personal belongings are often confiscated or destroyed, such as mixing clothing with food and confiscating canteen supplies, personal items and clothing. Hot water and electricity to the cells are often cut off as a form of punishment.
Food provided to the detainees is not adequate in terms of quantity and quality and does not meet basic nutritional requirements. This has caused and will cause vitamin deficient diseases and other health problems amongst detainees in the long term.
The current health situation of female detainees is of grave concern. There is clear neglect towards Palestinian detainees in the provision of health services, and a clear discrimination in the form of services offered between Palestinian detainees and Israeli Jewish detainees held in the same facility. There are often delays in medical treatment when needed, and those in need of hospital care are often not taken to hospital or are offered pain killers for any illness.
Any attempt from female detainees to protest their conditions of detention is met by collective punishment. For example, in July 2002 female detainees began a hunger strike in protest of these conditions. In response, the Prisons Authorities threw tear gas canisters into the womens small cells, causing numerous injuries amongst the detainees. Four of the female detainees were transferred to other prisons and placed in isolation.
As a result of the fact that family visits have been prevented for over a year, female detainees do not have enough clothing or supplies that are normally provided by families. For over a year, permits for families of female detainees to travel from the West Bank to Ramleh Prison in Israel, where Palestinian female detainees are held in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, have not been issued. Residents of Jerusalem who carry different ID cards than West Bank residents and are normally able to travel and allowed visits, are often denied family visits as a form of punishment.
Lawyers attempting to visit the detainees are often met with harassment and humiliation from the Prisons Authorities. They are forced to wait for long periods of time before the detainee is brought to them, sometimes up to four hours. The delay means that lawyers are often not able to see all the detainees requested, as lawyer visits are set for a limited period of time. On 4 February 2003, Addameers lawyer Adv. Mahmoud Hassan was locked in the prisons family visit center at Neveh Terzah for 3 hours before his client was brought to see him, with no reason given for the delay or for his being detained in the visit room.
These are but some examples of the situation of Palestinian female detainees currently being held in Israeli prisons. Abla Saaadats early release is a welcome development, and offers hope in the face of Israels policy of arbitrary arrest and detention. Pressure, in the form of letter writing, awareness activities, lobbying local representatives and other activities, does work. At a time when the world is on the brink of war, allegedly for the sake of human rights and democracy, Addameer thanks all those who have worked diligently towards ensuring basic human rights in the only way these rights can be secured: through grassroots pressure and public awareness. Change can only come from people and not through war. On International Womens Day, Addameer stands in solidarity with Palestinian female detainees who remain firm in the face of oppression, and asks the international community for its continued support of these women.
AL-AWDA, March 8, 2003