Kifah Awni Othman Qatash was arrested in her home in Al-Bireh on 1 August 2010. At 1:30 a.m., Israeli military vehicles carrying a large number of Israeli soldiers entered the neighborhood. Al-Bireh is located in Oslo-defined area A, which is under full civil and military control of the Palestinian Authority.
Upon hearing the sound of military vehicles, Kifah’s husband, Hazem Qatash, woke his wife and children. Hazem describes the arrest as follows: “The soldiers rang the bell. The neighbors opened the door for them and they climbed directly to the third floor where our apartment is located. The troops rang our doorbell. Within moments of my opening the door, there were thirteen soldiers, three female soldiers and two intelligence officers in the house. They held us in one room: myself, Kifah and the children. Five minutes later, they took Kifah, interrogated her and searched the entire house. After an hour and a half, the intelligence officer told me that my wife would be arrested. I asked him why and explained that she was very sick. He answered 'No, she has a big issue, and we will take her to the detention center.’ After that, they allowed her to change her clothes, take her medicine and say goodbye to the children.”
The intelligence officer leading the arrest, who identified himself as “Gordon,” told Kifah that he had a court order to arrest her, adding that he knew she was sick and that a military doctor would therefore accompany the soldiers during the arrest. Despite these claims, Kifah and her husband were never shown an arrest or search warrant. During the arrest, “Gordon” also claimed that Kifah was suspected of being involved with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and transferring funds on their behalf, although he also informed her that these alleged funds were not used for military purposes.
At about 3:30 a.m., Kifah was arrested and taken to the Moskobiyyeh (Russian Compound) detention and interrogation center, located in West Jerusalem.
This was not the first time Israeli soldiers broke into Kifah’s building. On 15 April 2008, Israeli soldiers accompanied by Israeli intelligence officers raided a number of houses in Al-Bireh, including Kifah’s house. That day, none of the family members were arrested, but the soldiers confiscated all of their personal papers: UNRWA cards, Jordanian and Palestinian passports, the children’s school and birth certificates, as well as Kifah’s medical reports and papers. The soldiers also stole a small amount of money. The family informed the Palestinian District Coordination Office (DCO) of the events and was promised that all the documents would be recovered. After several months, however, only Kifah’s X-rays and the children’s birth certificates were returned.
Based on the diagnosis of Dr. Muhyeddin Omar, a doctor who has been following her for seven years, Kifah suffers from rheumatism and a chronic autoimmune disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, which results in tissue damage and inflammation. According to Dr. Omar, she also suffers from Raynaud’s phenomenon, which causes discoloration of the fingers and toes and in the worst cases can lead to necrosis. In fact, part of one of Kifah’s fingers has had to be amputated because of necrosis. Kifah also suffers from chronic bronchitis, associated with frequently inflamed lungs. Kifah’s medical conditions deteriorate when she is exposed to cold water and cold weather. In the past she has often needed to be hospitalized for treatment and is still taking immunosuppressive medication to control her diseases.
Although Israeli intelligence officers was already aware of Kifah’s health condition as a result of their 2008 raid on her apartment, Kifah’s lawyer also gave the Israeli intelligence his client’s medical file in an effort to protect her from interrogation techniques or detention conditions that could accelerate the deterioration of her health.
At 5 a.m. on 1 August 2010, Kifah reached the Moskobiyyeh detention center. She was examined by a doctor for only ten minutes and was strip searched, photographed and fingerprinted by the female soldiers who participated in her arrest. She was then shackled and handcuffed in a rough manner and blindfolded.
Kifah was first interrogated by the intelligence officer “Gordon” for one hour and then by another investigation officer named “Dennis” intermittently until 2 p.m. on 2 August. During the interrogation, Kifah was initially handcuffed with her hands behind her chair, blocking her blood flow and causing her severe pain. However, the investigator undid the shackles when he saw how Kifah’s hands became blue and her general condition deteriorated.
During her interrogation, which lasted a total of 32 hours, Kifah was held in different solitary confinement cells in the basement of the detention center, sometimes as small as 1.5-2 square meters. Already aware of Kifah’s medical conditions, the investigation team intentionally used the air conditioning to put Kifah’s life at risk by drastically increasing and decreasing the temperature in her cells.
The interrogators questioned Kifah about her family and friends, as well as her relationship to Hamas. “Gordon” insisted that they were not concerned with the 2005 elections but only with the money she was accused of transferring. In 2005, Kifah ran for the municipal elections on the Change and Reform election list in Al-Bireh, but was not elected. Kifah was repeatedly threatened with prolonged administrative detention and the arrest of her husband. In contravention of both Israeli and international standards, “Dennis” also offered her a deal whereby she would receive five months of administrative detention instead of a prison sentence if she admitted to transferring funds for Hamas. Administrative detention is allowed by international humanitarian law “for imperative reasons of security” only when applied as a preventative measure and can never be used as a substitute for prosecution.
Throughout the interrogation, Kifah denied the accusations against her and stressed that any cash transfer she might have been involved in related to the traditional distribution of small amounts of money donated by affluent individuals to families in need during the month of Ramadan. These donations amounted to as little as 10 shekels. In other cases, she took 100 shekels from her mother or sister to give to her sister-in-law.
At around 2 p.m. on 2 August, “Dennis” told Kifah that she would be transferred to HaSharon Prison, one of Israel’s largest facilities, to rest and think about the deal that she had been offered. This decision came in the context of a conversation about the current state of Kifah’s health after hours of interrogation and exposure to cold temperatures. She was transferred by bus to HaSharon by the Nahshon unit (responsible for the transfer of detainees and prisoners) with both her hands and feet shackled. The transfer conditions did not take her health conditions or medical needs into account.
Upon her arrival at HaSharon Prison, Kifah was not held in one of the sections reserved for Palestinian female prisoners, but was instead kept in the section for Israeli criminal prisoners for four days. While detained in the same sections as Israeli criminal offenders, Palestinian female prisoners are almost always discriminated against, enjoy fewer recreation hours and are often subjected to humiliation and abusive language from Israeli prisoners, who threaten them of physical attack.
The building which now constitutes the HaSharon prison complex served as the headquarters of the British Mounted Police during the British Mandate in Palestine and, as such, was never designed for the incarceration of women. During her first four days, Kifah was held in solitary confinement in a cell of approximately nine square meters containing only a bed and a toilet. She complained about the poor air conditioning and the very high temperatures and stifling humidity in her cell. She was allowed only one hour of recreation a day, during which she was not permitted to see or interact with other prisoners. After four days, Kifah was moved to Section 12 of HaSharon Prison with the other Palestinian female prisoners.
As a result of the treatment she experienced during her interrogation and transfer, Kifah’s health conditions deteriorated and her pain intensified. This process was further accelerated by the prison authorities’ refusal to allow her to use all of her medication, which she had brought with her during her arrest, particularly an ointment for back pain resulting from her rheumatism. Moreover, the prison doctor refused her first request to go to the clinic and when he agreed to her second request, he gave her only diuretic drugs without having performed a medical examination.
ADMINISTRATIVE DETENTION ORDER
On 5 August 2010, a full three days after her interrogation ended and she was transferred to HaSharon Prison, Israeli Military Commander Ronin Cohen issued the first four-month administrative detention order against Kifah on the premise that she posed a threat to the “security of the area.” The order expired on 5 December 2010 and was immediately renewed for another four months. On 5 April 2011, her order was again renewed for another four months. On 4 August she was released, after spending over a year in detention without charge or trial.
At the judicial review of the first order, which took place on 9 August 2010 at the Court of Administrative Detainees in Ofer Military Base, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, military judge Shimon Ashwal confirmed the order for the entire four-month period during a hearing that lasted no more than ten minutes. Ashwal based his decision on “secret information” submitted by the Israeli Security Agency that Kifah had contacts with Hamas and transferred funds on the movement’s behalf. It is submitted that if the authorities had evidence supporting these accusations, Kifah could have been charged under military orders and tried in the military courts immediately after her interrogation.
Although administrative detention orders issued by the Israeli military commander are the subject of review and further appeal by a military court, neither lawyers nor detainees are permitted to see the “secret information” used as a basis for the detention orders, rendering any possible legal defense meaningless. Kifah’s lawyer filed an appeal against her administrative detention order, but the appeal was dismissed on 6 September 2010.
Kifah was eventually released from administrative detention on 4 August, after spending 368 days in detention without charge or trial.
Kifah is married with two children: a 17-year-old son, Ma’ath and a 16-year-old daughter, Duha. Because HaSharon Prison is located inside Israel, Palestinians from the West Bank who do not possess an East Jerusalem identity card must obtain permission to visit their detained family members. Although Kifah’s family applied for a permit, it was denied and the family was unable to visit her. Addameer filed a complaint in this regard on 25 November 2010 but no decision was taken before her release.
Before her arrest, Kifah had been determined to continue her education and help provide for her family. She obtained her high school certificate in 2006, more than 13 years after she dropped out of school. She then started social work studies at the Open University of Al Quds and was in her third year when she was arrested.