[Pnews] Two young Palestinian female ex-prisoners describe living conditions in Israeli prison

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 8 13:34:23 EDT 2020


          Story <https://qudsnen.co/?cat=18>


  Strong, independent, and behind bars


    Two young Palestinian female ex-prisoners describe living conditions
    in Israeli prison <https://qudsnen.co/?author=2>

    October 8, 2020 - https://qudsnen.co/?p=17391

“A grey, scratchy surface looking down at you. That is the first thing 
you see when you open your eyes in the morning. It’s the bottom of the 
bed of the prisoner right above you”. This is how 28 year-old 
ex-prisoner Salam Abu Sharar describes the first moments of a day at the 
Damon prison, the controversial detention facility where the Israeli 
occupation locks-up detained Palestinian women. “You don’t actually wake 
up. It’s rather the voices of the jailers, yelling in the corridors 
every day at 6 am that wake you up”, explains Salam Abu Sharar, “they 
come walking down the sections, opening the cells one by one and calling 
us out for counting. We have to be up and ready before they reach us, or 
we might get punished with solitary confinement”.

During 2019, the Israeli occupation has arrested 128 Palestinian women 
of all ages. In the first eight months of 2020, the occupation has 
arrested 90 women already. Since 2018, All Palestinian women who are 
imprisoned by the occupation are held in the Damon prison, near Haifa. 
The prison has been the center of controversy for years, because of its 
old and inadequate infrastructure. Human rights groups claim that female 
prisoners inside Damon face inhumane detention conditions, 
ill-treatment, and invasion of their privacy. Currently, the occupation 
holds 41 Palestinian women at the Damon.

“When we are called out for counting, jailers enter the cells and search 
it. They go through our clothes and personal things” narrates Salam Abu 
Sharar; “when they’re done, we have to go back in and the cells are 
closed. The cell is a room of 6x3m with up to 8 prisoners living inside. 
There is just enough space for 2 or 3 people to stand out of their beds 
at the same time. This is our world, most of the time”.

*The horse stable that became a prison*

In the latest mass-hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners, in 2018, the 
improvement of living conditions at the Damon was among the first 
demands of the hunger-strikers. The occupation authorities made many 
commitments to end the strike but honored none of them. Ehteram 
Ghazawneh, the head of the documentation unit at Addameer, explains that 
“Living conditions at the Damon prison haven’t changed for the past two 
years. The building itself is a problem. It is old, moist, and cold, 
lacking hygiene facilities, enough space, and privacy, which is simply 
inexistent. Palestinian women are transferred there after interrogation, 
which follows arrest”.

Palestinian 25-year-old student Samah Jradat recalls the first days of 
her own arrest, in September 2019; “The occupation army broke into our 
house before dawn, woke my family up, and took me away to a military 
base. I spent there several hours, moved from one room to another before 
they finally took me to an interrogation center in Jerusalem”.

Samah spent 22 days in the occupation’s interrogation center in 
Jerusalem, then she was transferred to the Damon; “I was transferred in 
the ‘Bosta’, the steel-box vehicle in which they move prisoners around. 
It’s almost completely closed, with a small opening near the top, where 
one can get a glimpse of the landscape outside, it was getting greener 
and greener, which meant we were heading towards the North. Then it felt 
like the road went up a mountain. We were climbing Mount Carmel, near 
Haifa”.

It is on the top of the Carmel that the Damon was built in the 1930s 
under the British rule, but it wasn’t meant to be a prison. It was 
initially used as a stable for horses and it later housed a tobacco 
factory. In 1953, the Zionist authorities opened it as a detention 
center. Then in the year 2000 it was briefly shut down, then reopened 
during the 2nd Intifada.

*“No privacy at all”*

Samah Jaradat describes the Damon’s inside; “It is a striking contrast 
with the surrounding green nature. Once I crossed the entrance I found 
myself inside an endless forest of steel. Everything is made of steel, 
pale blue and grey. Even the courtyard is covered with a steel wire net, 
through which we get our only one-hour daily glimpse of the sun”.

This one-hour daily recreation is the most precious time of a prisoner’s 
day at the Damon, as describes Salam Abu Sharar; “the “faura” as we call 
it, is the time between 8 am and 9 am when we are allowed to come out to 
the courtyard. There we can look at the sky and get some sun through the 
steel-wire net above our heads. We use this hour to use the showers, 
located on the other side of the courtyard, which means that guards are 
watching us as we cross to the showers and back”.

This violation of privacy has been a major problem for Palestinian 
female prisoners, even before they were moved to the Damon, as points 
out Ehteram Ghazawneh; “in 2018, Palestinian women in the Hasharon 
prison protested against the installation of surveillance cameras inside 
their cells. They were being watched at all moments during the day. The 
occupation’s reaction to their protest was to transfer all female 
prisoners to the Damon, where cameras are installed in all places, 
although inside the cells they are deactivated”.

Samah Jaradat highlights that “when I was introduced to the section were 
my cell was, it shocked me to see that we were watched all the time by 
cameras. Most Palestinian female prisoners use the veil, and they can 
only take it off inside the cells. But they have to keep it near them 
because the guards can make a surprise search of the cells at any 
moment. There is simply no privacy at all”, she explains, “it took me 
several days to get used to it”.

*Uncooked food, smelly blankets*

“During the hour of the ‘faura’ we take the chance to wash our clothes 
and hang them to dry in the courtyard, where they are regularly searched 
by the guards”, explains SalamAbu Sharar. “Then we go back to the 
sections, or the inside corridors between cells. We have to stay inside 
the cells, but we can move between cells. Then, at 1 pm they bring 
lunch. Or better said, what they call lunch”.

The degradation of prisoners’ food quality has been increasingly 
denounced by human rights groups since 2018, particularly in the Damon 
prisoners. Ehteram Ghazawneh indicates that “this degradation began to 
be reported in 2018 when the Israeli prison Administration implemented 
restrictive measures on all Palestinian prisoners. Food began to come in 
poor quantity and quality, especially for women”.

Salam Abu Sharar details that “rice is often uncooked, and chicken, the 
only meat we get, is barely boiled, with no spices or even salt”. Samah 
Jaradat also recalls that “we often found rests of feathers on the 
chicken skin. It was uneatable most of the time. We had to buy our own 
food from the ‘cantine’, or the prison store, with money our families 
deposit on our names. We mostly bought can food and cooked it again”. 
Salam Abu Sharar laughs as she remembers; “we invent new recipes from 
the almost raw food of the prison and the can food we buy. We can get 
pretty creative at prison cuisine”.

And what goes for food, goes for other things, as says Samah Jaradat; 
“except one small bottle of soap and one roll of toilet paper every 
week, we don’t have any hygiene material. We have to buy it from the 
‘cantine’. This includes more soap and toilet paper, to have enough, 
shampoo, toothpaste, napkins, and all kind of female hygiene. We don’t 
have enough blankets either and the little we have are moist, dirty and 
smelly”

For mothers, it’s “more a punishment than a privilege”

Another issue facing female prisoners at the Damon is that of family 
visits. Ehteram Ghazawneh indicates that “ since the Coronavirus 
outbreak, the occupation authorities reduced visits to the minimum. Now 
prisoners at the Damon can receive visits only once every two months. 
Visits are no longer than 45 minutes, from behind thick glass. Mothers 
of small children can have physical contact with their child for no more 
than ten minutes”.

For Salam Abu Sharar, “this is more a punishment than a privilege. A 
mother spends the whole month thinking of the moment of the visit, and 
then, after holding her baby for ten minutes, guards take him or her 
away. It’s like the repetition of the arrest experience every month, 
they are heart-broken each time”.

Samah Jaradat gives witness to this; “It struck me each time I saw my 
cell-fellow, 25-year-old mother and prisoner Inas Asafrah, come back 
from her visit. Instead of being happy for having seen her child and 
holding him, she was quiet, unreactive, and sad. She spent hours alone 
after the visit and talked to no one. Even when we were at the courtyard 
she stayed in the cell, often crying”.

*“You still have a part of you in there”*

One million Palestinians have gone through the occupation prisons since 
1967, more than 16.000 of them have been women. Mothers, students, young 
girls, and community leaders, Palestinian women experience detention 
conditions in the occupation prisons every year by the hundreds. “Those 
who have gone through it leave a part of us behind bars, even after 
release”, affirms Salam Abu Sharar; “Prisoners create a special bond. We 
become like sisters, and as long as you still have a sister in there, 
you still have a part of you in there”. A bond that Samah Jaradat 
describes, as she recalls her release day; “It felt just like the day of 
my arrest, because I didn’t want to leave the other girls, my second 
family, behind. In fact, I wanted to take them all out with me”.

-- 
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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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