Friday, June 5, 2009

Freed Palestinian woman speaks of “horrific mistreatment” in Israeli jails


by Khalid Amayreh

A recently freed Palestinian woman prisoner from Israeli jails has spoken of “horrific mistreatment” and “hair-raising episodes” in Israeli jails.

Sherine Sheikh Khalil, 24, was released from an Israeli jail in April, having spent six years on charges of resisting the decades-old Israeli military occupation of her country.

“They beat us, they kicked us, and they humiliated us. They treated us as if we were animals. It is really difficult to communicate to you the bestiality and savagery of their behaviour,” said the young activist from Khan Younis in central Gaza Strip.

Part of Sherine’s family, including her father and brothers and sisters, live in the West Bank town of Ramallah. However, the Israeli occupation regime decided to expel her to the Gaza Strip, apparently as an act of further punishment. Sherine holds the Gaza Strip residency.

“I’m happy that I’m free, but I wish I could see my family in Ramallah,” she said.

Sherine spoke of an entire regime of “provocations and punishments” that is constantly haunting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and dungeons who number more than 10,000.

Many of these prisoners are political activists, local politicians and community leaders held for years without charge or trials.

Human rights groups operating in the occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem) often call these prisoners “hostages” or “bargaining chips” used by Israel to wrest political concessions from the Islamic group Hamas, as well as the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).

Sherine said the latest reprisal Israel carried out against the prisoners took the form of transferring many of them into wards where Jewish female criminals were held.

“We are talking about people who are the lowest of the low. So, imagine yourself spending your days and nights with murderers, drug addicts, prostitutes, and all types of deviant people.”

She said she suspected that Israeli prison officials were conniving with the Jewish criminals to harm or at least harass Palestinian prisoners, something she said that happened on numerous occasions.

Asked what she thought was the most difficult period during her six-year incarceration, Sherine said there were “ups and downs” in the level of mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners.

“It depends on the prison officials’ mood; sometimes they would storm our ward after midnight in order to frisk us. And this could be especially humiliating as this is done in full view of a male officer accompanying female wardens.

“You see the real motive behind this provocative act is just to humiliate us and torment us emotionally. They wanted to break our will and destroy our dignity. But, of course, we are stronger than all their virulent tactics.”

In 2003, then only 17, Sherine was convicted by an Israeli military court of taking part in an attempted abduction of a Jewish settler in the West Bank. However, she described the Israeli justice system as “a system of retribution and reprisal” rather than a “system of justice.”

“You can’t really speak about a genuine justice system in Israel. We are talking about a country that sanctions murder of non-Jews, theft of their property and demolition of their homes. It is a State that uses every conceivable extenuating circumstance to exonerate Jewish murderers of Palestinians while concocting all sorts of pretexts to condemn and incriminate Palestinians.”

Sherine said the Israeli was no more than a tool in the hands of the Israeli regime to inflict harm on the Palestinian people and give false legitimacy to the military occupation.

Sherine Sheikh Khalil has left behind dozens of other Palestinian female political prisoners, including children and mothers. Some of the mothers, she said, were forced to give birth in jail with their hands cuffed and feet fettered with shackles.

She said she was disturbed and saddened by the continued rift between Fatah and Hamas, adding that “this is undermining the prisoners’ moral.”

Abdul Nasser Farwana, the head of the Statistics Department of the Prisoners’ Ministry in Ramallah told Islamonline that Israel has lately been introducing “draconian measures” against the prisoners for the purpose of “exacting revenge.”

Some of these measures are directed specifically at Hamas supporters, but other prisoners, including those affiliated with Fatah and the Islamic Jihad, are being affected.

Farwana said persecution of Palestinian prisoners also include tightening of headscarves to the point of strangulation, which he said caused many Palestinian female inmates to faint.

A few years ago, Israel created the “Nachshon force” whose main task is to suppress and savage Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and detention centres.

The new Israeli government, headed by Benyamin Netanyahu, has admitted that harsher measures are being introduced against Palestinian prisoners, mainly in order to force Hamas to relax its conditions for the release of an Israeli occupation soldier captured by Palestinian guerillas near Gaza nearly three years ago.

The new measures include decreased food in both quality and quantity, denying the prisoners access to certain TV channels, confiscation of transistor radios, no books, less family visits, and deliberate medical negligence which has already led to the death of at least two prisoners.

Farwana said Israel had denied prisoners, especially Islamic-oriented inmates, access to al-Jazeera TV channel, effectively forcing them to watch al-Arabiya TV.

The latter is considered by many in the Arab world as very much hostile to Arab resistance groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israel has also resorted to expelling Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.