By Miri -
During Israel's assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 a large group of Israeli activists was arrested for blocking the entrance to a military airport north of Tel Aviv. I was one of them. At the end of our first court hearing the judge decided to send us to jail for a couple of days in order to gain more time for "further investigations". The group consisted of both young women and men, but while the men were all jailed together in one prison, the women were scattered among three different facilities. I was lucky and ended up with four more girls in one cell in Neve Tirza prison. Since we were here for "political reasons" the prison service kept us separate from the other prisoners, "for our own safety", as they said. Throughout the two days we therefore barely saw daylight and for most of the time were kept in our cell, separated from the rest, who were convicted criminal offenders. However, most of the other detainees that we conversed with through the small barred window in our cell door seemed primarily curious, if not sympathetic; "we saw you on TV", they told us, provided us with cigarettes and even took care of our vegan diet. One of them secretly gave us a letter, describing the ill treatment that the prisoners, including herself, had to endure from the prison service.
On the second day a new prisoner arrived, who, like us was kept separated in a cell of her own. Trying to converse with her through the cell doors and across the hallway, we found out that she was a young Palestinian woman from Bethlehem, barely 18 years old. I do not remember the exact circumstances of her arrest, other than "political reasons", but I clearly do recall the strength and pride in her young voice, as well as the fact that she had not seen a lawyer yet and that no one had told her anything about the exact terms of her imprisonment. We noted down a phone number she gave us, so we could call her family and tell them that they should not worry and that she was doing fine. We did as she told us but eventually failed to follow up on her case and never figured out what had happened to her.
lack a gender-sensitive approach and, as such, women prisoners often suffer from harsh imprisonment conditions, including medical negligence; denial of education; denial of family visits; including for mothers with young children; solitary confinement; overcrowded cells that are often filled with insects and dirt; and lack of natural light. Personal health and hygiene needs are rarely addressed by prison authorities, even in cases involving the detention of pregnant women.
|Woman holding the photo of her imprisoned sister, Hebron, 2005|
When a woman from town is imprisoned, we go express our sympathy to her parents, or congratulate them on her release. It is a social obligation, but deep inside, we see nothing honorable or deserving respect in the behavior of such women.
|University students in solidarity with Hana al Shalabi, Gaza City, 2012|
Notwithstanding the manifold burdens that female prisoners face, they keep on resisting their unfair treatment and the poor conditions of Israeli prisons. Already during the First Intifada female prisoners started collective hunger strikes and coordinated external demonstrations and sit-ins with former prisoners and various activist groups across Palestine and beyond. Most recently Hana al Shalabi went on hunger strike for 43 days in order to protest her unlawful administrative detention and the ill treatment in Israeli prisons. Shalabi, who originally comes from a village in the West Bank, was eventually released under the condition that she would spend the next three years in exile in Gaza, a notion regarded as a “compromise” by Israel, but basically constituting a continuation of her imprisonment.
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