[Pnews] Torment "never heals" -- Palestine's longest-serving female prisoner
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 12 10:58:07 EDT 2017
Torment "never heals" -- Palestine's longest-serving female prisoner
Budour Youssef Hassan
<https://electronicintifada.net/people/budour-youssef-hassan> 11 May 2017
After 15 years of imprisonment, Lina al-Jarbouni is struggling with life
in the outside world.
She finds it difficult to sleep at night and to be in a room with an
open door. She is still getting to know her nieces and nephews. As they
were born while she was in jail, she had only seen photographs of them
before her release.
New technology baffles her. She has been given a smartphone by her
brother but she has no idea how to use it.
Lina, now aged 43, only heard about social media in 2015. She was
introduced to the concept by some younger Palestinians who had recently
been detained in Hasharon
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/hasharon-prison>, a prison inside
Lina had been detained there since 2004.
Some of the younger women and girls in Hasharon wrote and performed a
play for her. It told the story of children visiting an ill grandmother,
whom they had not seen in a long time. Rather than speaking – or
listening – to their grandmother, the children spent all their time
fixated on their mobile phones.
The younger prisoners “would constantly use words like Facebook,
WhatsApp or Instagram and I felt like they were talking in a foreign
language,” Lina said. “This world, where people can make video calls and
stare at their phones for hours, was completely unknown to me.”
“Traumatized and devastated”
Lina became close friends with many of those women and girls. She also
defended their rights.
The Israeli authorities tried to move the younger detainees from
Hasharon, which is reserved for Palestinian political prisoners, to a
jail for convicted Israeli criminals. Lina and a number of other
prisoners campaigned – successfully – to thwart the planned transfer.
The girls were under 18 and had mainly been arrested by Israel on
charges of carrying a knife or accused of involvement in a stabbing
Most had not been involved in political activism and were “traumatized
and devastated” when they arrived in prison, Lina said.
Her own experience was somewhat different. A member of Islamic Jihad
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/islamic-jihad>, she had been
politically active for some time before she was arrested in 2002.
Convicted of joining a proscribed organization and of housing and
assisting resistance fighters, she was sentenced
<https://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=771185> to 17 years of
Lina was raised in Arrabeh
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/arrabeh>, a town in the Galilee
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/galilee> region of historic
Palestine. Arrabeh witnessed mass protests and intense clashes between
Palestinian youths and Israeli forces during the second intifada. At one
such protest in October 2000, two teenagers were shot dead
by the police.
The second intifada had a profound effect on Lina. Yet she had already
been politically conscious for many years before it broke out.
Growing up, she often heard of the events that became known as Land Day
In March 1976, a general strike was observed in Arrabeh and other parts
of the Galilee. The strike was declared in opposition to Israel’s
large-scale theft of Palestinian land.
Israel opened fire on the protests, killing six Palestinians.
“People in Arrabeh have always been involved in the Palestinian struggle
and never hesitated to sacrifice for the cause,” Lina said. “I realized
that I could not simply be a witness to the injustice inflicted on my
people. I had to fight it actively.”
“All under occupation”
Because Arabeh is located within present-day Israel, Lina is officially
a citizen of the state. Nonetheless, her Palestinian identity was “never
in question,” she said.
“I learned that all Palestinians are under occupation regardless of the
color of their identification card. It doesn’t matter whether you live
in the Galilee, the West Bank, Gaza or a refugee camp in exile. We are
all Palestinians and resistance is our only choice.”
Lina was the longest-serving
<http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=776462> Palestinian woman in
Israeli detention before her release last month.
Although she was not physically beaten while in custody, she was
subjected to sleep deprivation and psychological torture during her
“At times psychological torture is even harder than physical abuse
because it never heals and never leaves you,” she said. “The worst part
was that they arrested my brother and my sister and threatened to keep
them in prison if I didn’t confess.”
Lina was not the first member of her extended family to be locked up or
targeted by Israel.
Her father, Ahmad, was imprisoned in the 1970s for his involvement in
the Palestinian national movement. Hussein al-Jarbouni, her uncle, spent
14 years in prison for resistance activities.
Another uncle, Omar al-Jarbouni, was a fighter with the Palestine
Liberation Organization <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/plo>. He
was killed by Israel during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon
Visits from her parents and what she called the “unconditional” support
of her family helped sustain Lina through the worst times of her
imprisonment. “When I was down, they lifted me,” she said.
Lina undertook a series of hunger strikes while in jail, the first of
which was in 2003.
On that occasion, she was among the Palestinian women who refused food
for six days in protest at how they were held in Neve Tirza prison,
along with convicted Israeli criminals.
“We were held in the same section: they [the Israeli prisoners] abused
us and cursed us,” she said.
“Simple demands matter”
Israel accepted their demands, then performed a U-turn. The Palestinian
prisoners were moved to Hasharon, yet were brought back
to Neve Tirza in 2004.
Lina was among the Palestinian prisoners to undertake a general hunger
strike in August that year. The protest meant that female prisoners were
returned to Hasharon on a long-term basis.
The hunger strikers also demanded that Israel lift its restrictions on
the amount of clothing that prisoners may receive from their families
and that vegetables be provided in prison canteens. “To those outside,
these may appear to be minor demands,” Lina said. “But when you are
behind bars, even the simplest demands and improvements matter greatly.”
Lina described the mass hunger strike now being undertaken
by Palestinian prisoners as a “battle for dignity.” The battle “must be
fought both to improve prison conditions and to keep the prisoners’
cause at the top of the Palestinian national agenda,” she said.
The harsh treatment of prisoners at Hasharon included their arduous
journeys on a vehicle known as the /bosta/. Prisoners have been kept
inside a metal cage
during such journeys – mainly from their cells to court hearings.
“The journey can take up to 18 hours a day in scorching heat or freezing
cold,” she said. “Detainees are crammed in the vehicle, shackled. And no
consideration is given to their health. It is especially tough if this
journey coincides with your period. We were denied extra sanitary pads
or a toilet break.”
Despite such ordeals, prisoners have often been determined to appear
strong in courtrooms.
“We smile [in court] because we see our parents,” she said. “We know
that if we cry or despair, this will destroy them.”
Lina expected to be released in 2011 when a prisoner exchange deal was
clinched between Hamas <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/hamas> and
Israel. Yet the Israeli authorities refused to free her.
“I was thrilled for the women who were released, especially since many
of them were facing life sentences,” she said. “But it is extremely
frustrating when you get your hopes up and build high expectations of
release only for them to be crushed.”
“Abandoned and stigmatized”
In 2014, Lina’s 48-year-old sister Wasila was hospitalized, having been
diagnosed with a terminal illness. The Israeli authorities prevented
Lina from visiting her sister in hospital.
When Wasila died, Lina was refused permission to attend the funeral.
Lina could not have coped with Israel’s cruelty had it not been for how
fellow prisoners rallied around her.
Finally outside of prison, Lina is planning to become a professional
chef. She wants to start a family and “give birth to quadruplets,” she said.
Her main concern, however, remains the plight of Palestinian women still
“We live in a patriarchal society and while many women prisoners are
celebrated immediately after release, they are quickly abandoned and
even stigmatized precisely for being in jail,” she said.
The Palestinian Authority
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestinian-authority>, she added,
has an obligation to continuously honor the sacrifices of female
prisoners – “not just on the first day of their release.”
Lina has vowed to ensure that her friends in prison – whom she refers to
as sisters and daughters – must never be forgotten.
“Release from prison comes with a great responsibility,” she said, “to
be the voice of those still languishing behind bars.”
/Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer based in Jerusalem. She
blogs at budourhassan.wordpress.com <https://budourhassan.wordpress.com/>./
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