Palestinian-Jordanian prisoner, Heba Al-Labadi, entered her 21st day of hunger strike on Sunday, to protest against her detention since 20 August, as well as the abuses committed against her in Israeli investigation and torture cellars. Al-Labadi was arrested during a family visit celebrating the wedding of her cousin.
Hanan Al-Khatib, a lawyer at the Commission of Detainees Affairs, from the city of Tamra within the 1948 land demarcation, explained that Al-Labadi arrived from Jordan with her mother and aunt to attend the wedding of her cousin, adding that she was eagerly awaiting her arrival to attend the wedding. However, Al-Labadi was subjected to forms of persecution beyond her worst nightmares.
Al-Khatib presented a shocking account of the physical and psychological abuse and torture committed against her client. According to Al-Khatib's account, Al-Labadi was arrested in the morning as soon as she arrived at the Allenby Bridge, and was detained for approximately two hours.
The lawyer quoted her client as stating "at first they locked the door and assigned a female soldier to guard me. During this period I was searched four times by the same female soldier while almost naked, as I refused to take down my underwear. I was then blindfolded, handcuffed with plastic handcuffs and feet with iron handcuffs. Then, I was taken to a military base about a quarter of an hour away. They took me down and kept me under the sun for about half an hour, and then a group of female soldiers came and took me to a room. They asked about my health, and then I was searched again. I told the soldier that I needed to change my sanitary pad because I had my period, so she agreed, provided that she enters with me to the toilet. The toilet was so narrow that it could barely accommodate one person. The soldier entered with her gun and kept watching while I was changing the sanitary pad. I was shocked, embarrassed, humiliated and I felt a flagrant violation of my privacy and human rights."
Al-Labadi, suspected of belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), explains what she was forced to endure on the first day, and how she was transferred to the Al-Maskobiya police station in Al-Quds, where they kept her waiting for three hours before being transferred to Petah Tikva detention centre, near Tel Aviv.
Al-Labadi further recounts her ordeal: "I arrived to Petah Tikva around 8pm. I was very exhausted because I was travelling from Jordan since the early hours, also due to my menstrual cycle and all the harsh treatment I was subjected to. They pulled me downstairs and into narrow corridors, through what seemed like underground cells, while the female soldier accompanying me had pushed me and treated me rudely and aggressively. I stayed in the cell for about half an hour, and then they took me for investigation until dawn the following day."
Al-Khatib confirmed that her client, Al-Labadi, was subjected to daily investigations during the first two weeks, from 9am to 5am the following morning. According to Al-Labadi "during these long hours, they took me to the underground cell twice a day to eat my meals for only about half an hour each time, and they did not interrogate me on Saturday. I was then transferred to the prison 'spies' in Megiddo and Al-Jalama prisons, known as 'Al-Asafeer', and then took me back to Petah Tikva for investigation. For about 35 days, I was arrested under very harsh conditions and the investigation took the form of psychological torture. It was very violent. From about 9 am until dawn the next day, I spent very long hours inside the interrogation room sitting on a small wooden chair, firmly tied to the ground, which caused me severe pain in the back, hands and neck."
Al-Labadi recounted that the interrogators screamed at her loudly, while positioned at very close proximity. They sat on chairs surrounding her, as if they wanted to deliberately touch her, so she struggled to move herself away from them. "However, they continued to provoke me and did not hesitate to spit on me, directing the dirtiest curses and insults to me. Some of the interrogators called me names like 'whore', 'loser', 'insect', 'animal', that I was very 'ugly' and 'go to hell'. They also told me that I will 'rot in prison cells'. I heard such extremely harsh words for the first time in my life. They told me 'you are an extremist and insulted Islam and Christianity'. They told me racist and obscene words like 'we, the Jews, are jewels and you are fanatics, you are garbage'."
Al-Khatib indicated that Al-Labadi has been subjected to various types of threats and warnings, such as the threat of arresting her mother, sister and aunt, in an attempt to extract a confession from her. Al-Labadi expressed "after losing hope, they threatened me with administrative detention. They told me 'we have no evidence against you, but we can impose administrative detention on you and the power to renew it for seven and a half years. Then we will arrest you in the West Bank, keep you under surveillance and prevent you from travelling to Jordan. We will also prevent your family from visiting you'."
Cursing and threatening
Al-Labadi also revealed to Al-Khatib that several interrogators took turns interrogating her, including a colonel named Raul and another named Faham, who claimed to be Syrian and lived for a while in the Maghreb, in addition to other interrogators. However, those two, in particular, treated her very poorly, while excessively insulting and threatening her. During the investigation, they played the 'good cop, bad cop' routine.
Al-Labadi continued narrating her terrifying testimony in the cellar-like room: "they put me in a narrow cell, full of insects, where I woke up every day seeing cockroaches, ants and insects on my clothes. They gave me foul smelling and dirty nightgowns, and the walls were rough concrete that was hard to lean on. I slept on a thin mattress without a blanket, nor a pillow. The light was on for 24 hours a day and it was annoying to look at. The room was windowless and lacked natural ventilation. The humidity was high, and the toilet was broken and without water, the smell was horrible. "
Al-Labadi continued "I asked for a break for half an hour. They refused and put me in a cell next to a disturbing interrogation room. I could hear the screams of detainees and interrogators. They seemed willing to intimidate, humiliate and abase me." She also revealed that the so-called "bathroom" in her cell was "like a grave, a place that can barely accommodate one person, dirty and there is no place to hang clothes. Outside, some male prison guards and a female warden stand at the toilet door, hearing the sound of water. I felt afraid every time I took a shower that someone can open the door at any moment."
As for food, Al-Labadi described it as "disgusting", and that she only "ate small proportions of bread and milk to survive, while investigators used to eat their fine food in front of me."
As for the very harsh conditions in Al-Jamala prison in the Haifa district, Al-Labadi stated "I felt like I was inside a plastic house. The cell opposite the yard was entirely covered with plastic and lacked natural ventilation. The humidity was high and there is no air conditioner. Cockroaches, ants and insects are in very large quantities inside the cell, and the food was disgusting. I waited for about two hours inside the prisoner transport vehicle. After that, they told me that I had a court session, and they took me to Megiddo prison where I stayed for three days. The room was very cold. I asked for a cover, and they only gave me a sheet and a thin mattress without a cover or a pillow. The amount of ants was unusual. Afterwards, I was returned to Petah Tikva, to be investigated again. By then, I was shocked because they informed me that the investigation was over and that I was to be transferred to Al-Damun. When they returned me from the 'Al-Asafeer', the female soldier told me that she could provide me with tranquilisers if I could not handle the situation: 'everybody here is taking tranquilisers', so I replied 'give it to investigators who lose their nerve when they interrogate me, they need it more than I do'."
Inside the prisoner transport vehicle
Al-Labadi divulged that she was kept inside the prisoner transport vehicle, with the air conditioning set to a high temperature, while the investigators came down to complete the procedures. Al-Labadi detailed "I stayed another nine days in Petah Tikva, during which they interrogated me three or four times. However, they did not interrogate me at the last six days. They kept me in such harsh conditions, for no reason but to torture and take revenge on me". She stressed that the psychological violence was more severe than the physical, "It was more exhausting and has permanent effects."
Al-Labadi further added on her ordeal "I felt like I was confined by the doors, iron locks as well as their iron hearts. I have lost my sense of humanity, because they were not human beings. I told the interrogator that the psychological torture exerted upon me is greater and harsher than the physical one, and he answered me that he was aware of it." After Petah Tikva, Al-Labadi was transferred to Section 3 in Al-Damun Prison on 18 September 2019, with other female Palestinian prisoners. On her harrowing experience, Al-Labadi disclosed "every prisoner has a story, but I was greatly shocked when I saw wounded prisoner, Esraa Jaabis, and other wounded prisoners. Hearing the stories of the occupation from the outside is not living to experiencing them by yourself."
On 24 September, Al-Labadi was issued with a five-month administrative detention order. In protest, she announced an open hunger strike, amid attempts by Al-Damun Prison Intelligence Department and its officers to persuade her to renounce it. Al-Labadi refused to end the hunger strike, poignantly declaring "the tragedy of administrative detention must end, and I will keep going until the end – either victory or death. If I die, you will have my body to detain for as long as you wish."