150 Palestinian prisoners were wounded when Israeli Prison Service officers stormed the Ofer military prison near Ramallah on January 21. A day later, thousands of Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza rallied in support of the prisoners who, in response to Israeli repression, staged a mass hunger strike.
The latest ordeal was instigated by the Israeli government when Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan declared on January 2 that the ‘party is over’, meaning that Israel will ‘worsen’ already horrific conditions for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
According to the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Addameer, there are nearly 5,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including 230 children and 54 women. 481 prisoners are held without trial, governed by an unlawful Israeli practice known as ‘administrative detention.’
One certainly does take the Israeli minister’s comments seriously, despite the fact that the conditions under which thousands of Palestinians are held in Israeli jails – which itself is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – are already at a stage that can only be described as inhumane – they fail the minimum standards of international and humanitarian laws.
Palestinian prisoners are amply able to describe Israeli prison conditions, having experienced every form of physical and psychological torture, and spent years, sometimes decades, fending for their humanity every hour of every day.
Three freed Palestinian prisoners shared their stories, with the hope that the world would understand the true context of Erdan’s latest ‘plan’ and the ongoing crackdowns on Palestinian prisoners in Ofer and elsewhere.
‘They detained my family’
Shadi Farah was merely 12 when he was arrested from his home in the Palestinian city of Jerusalem. He was accused of trying to kill Israeli soldiers with a knife they found at his house.
I was arrested on 30 December 2015, when I was only 12-years-old and was released on 29 November 2018. At the time, I was the youngest Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails.
My interrogation took place in the Maskoubiah prison in Jerusalem, specifically in Cell No. 4. After days of physical torture, sleep deprivation and severe beating, they imprisoned my whole family – my mom and dad and sisters and brothers. They told me that my family was held captive because of me and they would only be released if I confessed to my crimes. They swore at me with profanities I cannot repeat. They threatened to do unspeakable things to my mom and sisters.
After each torture session, I would return to my cell so desperate to sleep. But then soldiers would wake me up by slapping my face, kicking me with their boots and punching me in the stomach.
I love my family, and when they used to prevent them from visiting me, it broke my heart.
‘I Was Tortured in Cell #9’
Wafa’ Samir Ibrahim al-Bis was born in the Jablaiya refugee camp in Gaza. She was 16-years-old when she was detained on May 20, 2005. She was sentenced to 12-years in prison after being convicted of attempting to carry out a suicide mission targeting Israeli soldiers. She was released in 2011 in a prisoner swap between the Palestinian Resistance and Israel.
I was only 16 when I decided to wear an explosive belt and blow myself up among Israeli occupation soldiers. It was all I could do to avenge Mohammed al-Durrah. When I saw him huddling by his father’s side, as soldiers showered them both with bullets, I felt powerless. That poor child. But I was arrested, and those who helped me train for my mission were killed three months after my detention.
I was tortured for years inside the infamous Cell #9, a torture chamber they designated for people like me. I was hanged from the ceiling and beaten. They put a black bag on my head as they beat and interrogated me for many hours and days. They released dogs and mice in my cell. I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. They stripped me naked and left me like that for days on end. They didn’t allow me to meet with a lawyer or even receive visits from the Red Cross.
They had me sleep on an old, dirty mattress that was as hard as nails. I was in solitary confinement for two years. I felt like I was buried alive. Once they hanged me for three days nonstop. I screamed as loud as I could, but no one would untie me.
When I was in the Ramleh prison, I felt so lonely. Then one day, I saw a little cat walking among the cells, so I kept throwing her food so that she would be my friend. Eventually, she started coming inside my cell and would stay with me for hours. When the guards discovered that she was keeping me company, they slit her throat in front of me. I cried for her more than I cried for my own fate.
A few days later, I asked the guard for a cup of tea. She came back and said, “stick your hand out to grab the cup”. I did, but instead she poured boiling water on my hand. Third-degree burns have scarred my hand to this day. I need help treating my hand. I cry for Israa’ Ja’abis, whose whole body has been burned yet she remains in an Israeli jail.
I often think of all the women prisoners I left behind.
‘My mother died proud of me’
Fuad Qassim al-Razam was born in the Palestinian city of Jerusalem. He spent 31 years in prison.
I have experienced both psychological and physical torture in Israeli jails, which forced me to confess to things I did and didn’t do.
The first phase of detention is usually the most difficult because the torture is most intense and the methods are most brutal. I was denied food and sleep and I was left hanging from the ceiling for hours. At times I was left standing in the rain, naked, tied to a pole, with a bag on my head. I would be left in that condition the whole day, while occasionally getting punched, kicked and hit with sticks by soldiers.
I was forbidden from seeing my family for years, and when I was finally allowed to see my mother, she was dying. An ambulance brought her to Beir Al-Saba’ prison, and I was taken in shackles to see her. She was in terrible health and could no longer speak. I remember the tubes coming out of her hands and nose. Her arms were bruised and blue from where the needles entered her frail skin.
I knew it would be the last time I would ever see her, so I read some Quran to her before they took me back to my cell. She died 20 days later. I know she was proud of me. When I was released, I was not allowed to read verses from the Quran by her grave as I was deported to Gaza immediately after the prisoner exchange in 2011.
One day I will visit her grave.
(Abdallah and Yousef Aljamal contributed to this article)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.