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Israeli Prison Service condemns Palestinian mothers and their children to the same plight

October 27, 2021 at 6:59 pm

People gather in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross building to stage a demonstration in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails in Gaza City, Gaza on October 25, 2021. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

Like eleven Palestinian mothers held inside Israeli jails, a newly released Palestinian mother was isolated from her six-year-old child shortly after being freed. Perhaps it is far better to be away from your child, than force a baby to serve nine months in the womb of an imprisoned mother.

At the Erez crossing, one of Gaza’s connections with Israel, a father and seven kids were longing to meet a Palestinian mother released from Israeli jails after serving six years behind bars.

They were a stone’s throw away from each other, but the family had to wait for some more moments, which were no less difficult than the six-year-long waiting time, until Israeli authorities let the mother into Gaza. Then, however, Israeli forces told the mother that she was denied entry.

Nisreen Abu Kmail, 46, was dying to hug her little boy, Ahmed, whom she left, or was separated from, when he was an infant. Ahmed was an eight-month-old when the Israeli authorities detained the breastfeeding mother at the Erez crossing, while she was paying a visit to her Haifa-based family, back in 2015.

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The detention of Gazans inside Israel is against International Law, as Geneva Convention IV stipulates that people living in a particular territory may be held in custody only within the boundaries of that territory.

The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) banned the mother from family visits throughout the six years, as well. Article 116, the first paragraph of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, provides: “Every internee shall be allowed to receive visitors, especially near relatives, at regular intervals and as frequently as possible.”

Nisreen kicked off her sit-in at the crossing and went on an open-ended hunger strike to press Israeli authorities to allow her to reunite with her family. She had spent a long, sleepless night on a metal bench before Israeli authorities agreed to let her in, conditionally.

After three days in a row, Israeli authorities let the mother-of-seven into Gaza, after blackmailing her into paying a hefty bail of 4,600 shekel ($1600) and pledging not to travel out of Gaza over the next two years.

“The Israeli occupation wanted to spoil the joyful moments of my reunion with the family by not granting me a permit to enter Gaza. They played with my kids’ feelings. And my entry [into Gaza] was not for free. It was conditional,” Nisreen said.

Horrible conditions

The Palestinian mother spoke of horrible conditions in Damon prison, where she stayed over the last six years of her life.

Damon is “unfit for human habitation,” according to human rights group, Addameer.

Located on the coastline of Haifa, north of Israel, Damon prison is an old penitentiary which was established during the British mandate for Palestine. The interior walls are shabby; it is boiling hot inside the cells in the summer time, and moisture tears our bodies apart, Nisreen explained.

IPS flagrantly violates the female prisoners’ privacy by installing surveillance cameras in the yard and in solitary confinement cells. “We were forced to put on our hijab [veil] whenever we went out into the yard and sometimes inside the cells when we hear of a coming inspection.”

“Although the temperature is high, every two detainees have one small fan only … when the detainees complain, Israeli jailers do nothing and reply that detainees must cope,” she continued.

IPS now detains 36 Palestinian females in Damon prison; eleven of them are mothers and six are held in administrative detention, according to freed Palestinian prisoner and activist, Ayman Al-Sharawna.

According to the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights (B’Tselem), administrative detention is “incarceration without trial or charge, alleging that a person plans to commit a future offence. It has no time limit, and the evidence on which it is based is not disclosed.”

But Al-Sharawna emphasised that administrative detention is a “confidential file”, that neither the detainee nor the lawyer can read. “Administrative detention is psychological torture, because the prisoner does not know why she/he is held in custody.”

Moreover, Al-Sharawna stressed that Israeli jailers at Damon are notorious for ill-treating Palestinian detainees. “When anyone, including ladies, reports any medical condition to the Prison Service, they reply with either of two words: “תכח אכמול” (take paracetamol) or “תשתה מים” (drink some water).”

“I was lucky,” though

Recalling the pregnancy period of freed female detainee, Anhar Al-Deek, 25, Nisreen sighed: “Despite the odds, I was lucky that I delivered my baby eight months before detention.”

Anhar is a pregnant Palestinian prisoner who was held in administrative detention this year, between March and September. An Israeli military court ordered her release to house arrest on $12,500 bail. She has been under house arrest, since then.

Nisreen stayed with Anhar in the same cell during her detention and bore witness to her physical and mental pain. “Anhar had acute pregnancy-related depression in the jail.”

On her release, after Israeli authorities bowed to pressure from international bodies and human rights groups, Anhar told Al-Jazeera that giving birth to her baby in jail was a nightmare, haunting and causing depression to her. “I feared that the newborn infant would be separated from his dad. I never imagined delivering my baby while my limbs are shackled.”

Some ten Palestinian mothers have given birth inside Israeli jails since 1967: Zakiyeh Shmout, Omaimah Al-Agha, Mirvat Taha, Magida Al-Salayma, Samer Subih, Fatimah Al-Ziq, Manal Ghanim, Sameeha Tayeh, Aisha Al-Kurd and Entisar Al-Qaq, according to the Gaza-based Prisoners’ Media Office.

Al-Sharawna narrated a story about a pregnant prisoner who was forced to give birth while handcuffed and surrounded by male jailers, “who were making jokes” in the same room. The Palestinian activist declined to mention her name to preserve her privacy.

The newly released Palestinian mother said that luck was also in her favour, as her child, Ahmed, who is as old as Nisreen’s jail sentence, recognised her on her release, referring to the touching meeting between female Palestinian prisoners, Israa Al-Jaabis and her few-years-old, Mutasim.

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Israa Al-Jaabis, 36, was arrested in 2015, five hundred metres away from an Israeli military checkpoint in Jerusalem. A gas cylinder accidentally exploded in Israa’s car, while she was moving furniture to her home in Jabal Al-Mukaber neighbourhood in Jerusalem. The Israel court accused her of intentionally setting fire to her vehicle and sentenced her to eleven years in prison.

The Palestinian mother now suffers from first and third-degree burns on 60 per cent of her body. Israa’s injuries are only visible on her face and arms, because she wears hijab regularly. Moreover, she lost eight of her fingers, and her right ear got detached in the explosion.

“I felt relieved when my little boy, Ahmed, called me ‘Mum’… [but] Israa only burst into tears after her son was unable to recognise her at their first meeting.” A special meeting between Mutasim and his mother was coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) a year and a half after her detention. However, IPS has repeatedly denied Israa meeting with her 11-year-old child.

Mirvat Sadeq, a Ramallah-based journalist, told Al-Jazeera that ICRC is “lacking in taking action” to help Israa’s child visit her regularly and provide urgent medical care to her.

Both Nisreen and Anhar, who stayed in the same cell with Israa, reported that Mutasim’s mother faces medical neglect and mental health issues. “On some mornings, Israa gets up shouting: fire, fire, fire,” Nisreen explained.

“She needs thirty plastic surgeries to treat her sharp and blunt trauma,” according to a diagnosis by Doctors Without Borders.

Due to severe injuries and separation from her child, Israa feels broken and humiliated in the Damon prison.

She was once attending classes in prison, but she suddenly quit her study and rushed to her cell crying bitterly. “I was unable to catch up … they [other prisoners] have ten fingers to write down notes, but I have two and eight half-fingers,” Israa wept in humiliation.

The dire conditions inside Israeli prisons greatly worsen the plight of Palestinian mothers and their families. The Israeli authorities have always been urged to permit regular family visits and provide medical care for this group, in particular. However, the IPS’s demeanour towards female detainees highlights that both children and their mothers are similar in the eyes of their Israeli jailers. All of them should suffer without measure.

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