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Israa Jaabis: From victim to criminal, overnight

November 4, 2021 at 10:00 am

Israa al-Jaabis (L), arrives for her sentencing hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on November 7, 2016. [AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]

An Israeli court sentenced a severely burnt Palestinian mother to eleven years in prison for literally doing nothing in 2017. Only in Israel can one be incarcerated with no charges of criminality and be sentenced to sustain wounds forever, till death.

Israa Jabbis, 37, was en-route to her home in Jerusalem on 10 October, 2015, one day before the final submission of her research project for the Special Education module. Her car caught fire abruptly due to a technical glitch, five hundred metres from the Al-Zayyim military checkpoint in Jerusalem. The Israeli soldiers nearby thought of Israa as a potential danger and pointed their guns at the lady who lost control of the vehicle and was engulfed in flames.

According to Israa’s lawyer from the Addameer human rights group, a gas cylinder accidentally blew up in Israa’s car, following which she rushed out of her vehicle screaming for help. However, she was answered with the barrel of a rifle and yelling from an Israeli officer: “Drop the knife.” Israa laid her burning body on the asphalt for 15 minutes, waiting for the soldier’s mercy or imminent death. But, in the end, she got arrested.

Israeli forces accused Israa of a ‘murder attempt’. No evidence was presented, though. The Palestinian mother also vehemently denied these charges, emphasising that she was transferring furniture to her home in the Jabal Al-Mukaber neighbourhood.

This accident occurred during the so-called ‘Jerusalem Intifada’ which erupted in 2014, on the heels of outrage among Palestinians over Israeli provocations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The uprising continued up to the latter half of 2015.

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

Daily clashes and a wave of violence spread across the West Bank and at the Gaza borders. However, Israeli responses were often retaliatory and indiscriminative.

A double-amputee young man, Ibrahim Abu Thuraya, is an example of scores of Palestinians killed at the whim of Israeli forces. He was shot dead at Gaza’s separation fence while peacefully protesting Israeli violations in Jerusalem.

Gaza holds stand calling for medical care for Israa Al-Jaabis [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Gaza holds stand calling for medical care for Israa Al-Jaabis [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Israeli forces executed many Palestinians and teenagers in the streets across the West Bank, after being charged with ‘carrying a knife”. The death toll hit 222 Palestinians in the events.

Israa has been languishing in the Damon prison, north of Israel, with another ten Palestinian mothers and thirty-five female prisoners, according to Addameer.

She suffers second to third-degree burns on 60 percent of her body. Eight of her fingers melted from the burns, and she needs emergency medical care, according to a report by Doctors Without Borders.

There is no pain harder than this

Nasreen Abu Kmail, a newly released female prisoner who stayed with Israa in the same cell in the Damon prison, described Israa as the “most difficult case” behind bars. “She cannot eat or breathe properly and suffers from acute inflammations due to her injury.”

Despite her pain, the Damon prison administration does not provide the necessary medical care to treat her trauma. Israeli Prison Service (IPS) deliberately leaves Israa to suffer medical neglect.

“Whenever Israa requests medical treatment, either basic medical care or plastic surgeries, the prison administration replies that she has caused pain to herself,” Anhar Al-Deek, a female Palestinian prisoner released on bail last September, said.

Israa appeared in court in January 2018 to appeal her jail sentence. When asked about her condition at the hearing, Israa raised the remnant of her hands at the court, telling: “Is there a pain harder than this?” Her face and eyes told everything about how she feels and how much she suffers.

Israa’s sister, Mona Jaabis, told MEMO that Israa needs eight urgent surgeries, let alone thirty plastic surgeries to treat her extensive injuries, even partially. “Israa breathes through the mouth because the nostrils are entirely blocked. We are in a court battle now to pressure the IPS into allowing Israa to undergo necessary surgical operations to the nose, ears, throat and lower lip.”

The IPS neither provides any ointments for burns to Israa nor allows her family to do. “They don’t allow any type of medical care.”

Mona pointed out that her sister has experienced acute psychological trauma since her detention, quoting her sister as saying: “I feel scared when I look at my face in the mirror … and I have the memory of the accident as a daily nightmare.”

Abu Kmail and Al-Deek, who had spent their jail sentence in the same room with Israa, told that the Palestinian mother always gets up in the morning screaming: “Fire, fire, fire!”

Show me your hands, Mum.

Palestinian activists have been mobilising support on social media for the Palestinian mother. #Save_Israa topped hash tags on Twitter in early September. Israa’s family told MEMO that the campaign is still in progress.

Israa’s 13-year-old son, Mutasim, took the lead in these efforts. “I have been separated from my mother for six years. Every child in the world goes back home and sees their mother. But this is not the case for me,” Mutasim said in a videotape.

Since her detention, the IPS has denied Israa family visits in a flagrant violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, except for one special meeting between Israa and Mutasim coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), eighteen months after detention.

“There was a double-glazed glass between Israa and Mutasim and a telephone with a poor signal on each side of the barrier. The two spoke to each other via the phone. “Show me your face, Mum.” Israa reluctantly raised part of her head that she intended to hide behind a stone-made shelf below the glass barrier. Israa also covered her face with a self-made yellow mask. She drew a cartoon animal on the mask to cover up her wounds and not to scare the little child. Show me your face, Mum,” Mutasim repeated,” Israa’s sister, Mona, who accompanied the child on the visit, narrated.

Gaza holds stand calling for medical care for Israa Al-Jaabis [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Gaza holds stand calling for medical care for Israa Al-Jaabis [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

“At the moment, everyone in the visiting room broke down in tears, even the other visitors and Israeli guards. “I love you as you are, Mum,” Mutasim said, and put his hand on the one side of the barrier, inviting his mother to do the same.”

It was the first and last ‘handshaking’ between the two, since then.

Israeli authorities also withdrew Israa’s medical insurance, thus ruining any possibility for medical treatment in the future, on her discharge. The IPS wants to overwhelm Israa with sorrow and humiliation for the rest of her half-life. So, can being alive become more painful?

READ: What if the Palestinians agreed to live under occupation? 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.