Women imprisoned in Israel: life between pressure, suffering and sudden transfer

Dareen Tatour – November 1, 2018
One month after my release from detention, house arrest and prison that went on, including all of its phases, for three years, during which I have lived through the suffering of imprisonment and detention that is different than any other type of suffering that I have personally experienced.

Yet, despite the cruelty of this experience that is full of events, especially those related to female prisoners, and as I write these words, I have left 51 female prisoners behind the bars, each of whom holds a story, a novel per se, that must be talked about, we must dig out the painful reality that each one of them lives through, at both the HaSharon and Damon prison, and the reasons that brought them to prison and detention.

I was detained and released from prison, and prison has become past today. It is true that my body was freed and released and is no longer imprisoned, but my thoughts are still tied to everything I lived through there with the female prisoners and I cannot be released of until my last breath, as they live with me through all of my moments even the ones (moments) away from life in detention. I now remember them in every detail of my life impulsively and unintentionally, everything reminds me of them and takes me back to prison and life there, to the point that I live in constant worry for them, their circumstances and conditions. In fact, I am incapable of freeing my memory of their suffering, that is why I decided to keep up with the female prisoners’ news and write about everything happening with them, to try to satisfy my conscience and my promise to them that I will never forget them nor leave them alone suffering behind the bars and in the absence.
With the news of the renewal of parliament member Khalida Jarrar’s administrative detention for the fourth time in a row for an additional three-month period, I would like to highlight on the suffering of female prisoners in both prisons in which the female prisoners are held, as this is the most important issue to me currently, especially as female prisoners in the HaSharon and Damon prison who suffer greatly of several issues that would not cross your minds.
The Damon prison, which was used as a storehouse for tobacco and cigarettes, before Israel was established, and became an official prison after 1948 in Israel, was recognized by human rights organizations in 2002 as a place unsuitable for sheltering animals. Yet, today, it shelters some 500 Palestinian prisoners, including 22 female prisoners held in a very small two-room building only, suffering from overcrowding, humidity, extreme heat in the summer and harsh cold in the winter. Room 7 holds 14 female prisoners while its maximum capacity is 18 prisoners, and room 8 could contain eight prisoners in a very small space. Female prisoners also suffer from lack of communication with the other world as they cannot listen to radios due to anonymous jamming factors. Female prisoners complain of the lack of visits by their lawyers to the point that they feel entirely isolated from the world and absent from the reality of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and official sides specialized to the prisoners and female prisoners’ cause.
Dareen Tatour enters prison in Israel to serve a 5-month sentence for incitement after she wrote a poem and posted it online, August 8, 2018. (Photo: Danielle Alma Ravitzki/Instagram)
On September 5, 2018, and at the time during which I was spending my sentence, ordered upon me by the (Israeli) magistrate court in Nazareth for five months after my conviction of charges pressed against me for writing a poem, lawyer Taghrid Jahshan informed me during one of her visits that female prisoners at the HaSharon prison have begun protests against the (prison) administration’s decision to suddenly turn on surveillance cameras in the yard, something that was not there (was not taken into consideration) as cameras there had been turned off for years, specifically since 2011. One of the protesting measures was that they (female prisoners) refused to leave to the yard until cameras were removed and things were back as they were.
Yasmin Abu Srour, a 20-year-old former prisoner, has lived through the suffering of female prisoners in the HaSharon prison, she was born in the Aida refugee camp of Bethlehem; originally from the displaced Beit Natif village near Jerusalem, which was occupied and ethnically cleansed on October 22, 1948 by the Zionist Palmach and Haganah forces during “Operation Hahar-al-Jabal.” She volunteers at the medical relief and is a field paramedic. Yasmin was detained three times during the past three years; her first detention was in 2015; then a minor aged 17 and a half detained at the checkpoint on her way to visit her brother in the Eshel prison in Beersheba, who was sentenced to 17 years of jail. She spent three months in the HaSharon prison and was released to be later re-detained on January 17, 2018 on charges of being a threat to the security of the State of Israel and inciting against the state, she was sentenced to seven months in prison, during which she was transferred between the HaSharon and Damon prisons. Upon her release on July 26, 2018, the same day that Ahed and Nariman Tamimi were released, Yasmin was detained again for the third time, a month and a half after her release, as a mean of pressure against her other brother, in addition to her mother and father, who was also detained one week before them, also on charges of threatening the security of the state, to force him to confess to the charges pressed against him. The entire family becomes held in detention. Yasmin was released on October 16, 2018. I contacted her following her one week in detention at the HaSharon prison, to follow-up on the conditions of female prisoners there at this time and what is happening with them of suppression policies and pressures by the prisons’ services.
Yasmin was detained on October 9, 2018, to arrive at section 2 of the HaSharon prison; a prison that consists of seven cells for political female prisoners and two cells for criminal female prisoners, it has 29 Palestinian female prisoners with different sentences the maximum of which is 16 years and a half for prisoner Shurouq Dwayyat from Jerusalem City, who has just entered her fourth year in prison. The prison also has several injured female prisoners, mainly prisoners Israa Jaabis, Marah Bakir and Lama al-Bakri.
When I asked Yasmin on what caught her eye or was most interesting to her in prison this time, she answered: “many things caught my eye inside prison, especially that everything had changed in comparison to the period I spent during the previous two times, regarding reductions (constrictions), cameras and the mental state of the female prisoners in detention, to the point that the faces of some of them have changed a lot as they have not seen the sun for 41 days.” Yasmin continued, after I asked her what changed in the faces, to answer: “not seeing the sun for 41 days affected their health and mentality, and one of the most obvious signs on their faces that I myself have seen as a prisoner who lived with them, severe yellowness and paleness of the face, obvious darkness under the eyes, heavy hair loss; some prisoners had rash on their hands as a result of humidity and lack of sunlight.
When I asked her on measures that female prisoners carried out as means of protesting surveillance cameras in the yard, she answered: “the measures that prisoners carried out, upon decision by their representative prisoner Yasmin Shaaban can be summed in three main steps, as an attempt of them to pressure prisons’ services to retract their decision, are: not leaving to the yard, reducing their purchase from the cantina as an economic pressure and boycotting the clinic.”
When I asked her on the reason of boycotting the clinic and the aim behind it, Abu Srour clarified saying: “the prisoner’s representative clarified to me that the decision to take this step was made based on what is currently happening in prison of restrictions and on how the doctor treats ill prisoners badly at the clinic and belittles their pains.”
As to when I asked her on the reductions (constrictions) that female prisoners suffer from and are imposed on them, Abu Srour said: “there are reductions at the HaSharon prison, including: reducing the amount of hot water for showers as they have cut hot water off prisoners, if found it would only last for a few minutes of the day before it ends, cutting electricity off rooms several times a day and reducing the amount of bread and vegetables.”
Due to the period I spent in prison, I know the harshness of having surveillance cameras in the yard 24 hours on a daily basis, especially that the female prisoners are religiously committed and wear hijabs, something that is there at the Damon prison as well, as most of the female prisoners wear hijabs they cannot take them off at all under cameras, which means they are prevented of enjoying the sun airing their hairs and doing sports in the yard, as it is the only source of sun and air during the “break.” Therefore, it was essential for female prisoners at the HaSharon not to accept this suffering and to refuse that surveillance cameras be turned on for any price. However, something that not many know is that this sudden step was not made in vain by the prisons’ services, but was a well-planned step; the moment the lawyer informed me of this news prisons’ services at the Damon had also informed prisoners that everyone would be transferred to a new section, they did not specify a time for the transfer, but only informed us that this section is being prepared and when preparations were over all prisoners would be transferred to that new section. I immediately connected turning off surveillance cameras as a way to find out the prisoners’ reactions to the cameras and how they would accept it, and since the female prisoners’ section at the Damon has always had surveillance cameras, since its reopening in 2015, I saw that this sudden step is only a step to train prisoners at HaSharon to the new reality that awaits them after transfer, to test how strong their rejection would be and to what extent would rebellion be the answer to this situation…
When I asked Yasmin about what the prisoners knew about the transfer, she answered: “yes, it is true what you are saying, the prisoners’ representative was suddenly informed of it, and she was told that the transfer would be done in few days and during this week.”
I point out here that the new section of the Damon prison, according to what we were informed of by the prisons’ services at the time when I was still in detention, can hold 104 prisoners and is divided into 26 rooms, each of which will hold four prisoners. It also has surveillance cameras in its yard and that the cameras’ issue was non negotiable.
As for news of renewing PLC member Khalida Jarrar’s detention, I tried to know the certain news from Yasmin, she said that she was released before she heard such news. I also inquired on the subject with lawyers, too, but they did not know anything on what the true news were; I attempted to contact prisoner Khalida Jarrar’s family, but did not receive any replies via telephone.
The question to which we await an answer in the upcoming few days is, what will happen to female prisoners after their transfer? How will they handle all of these changes?