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Women

Over the last 45 years, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested and/or detained under Israeli military orders. As of 1 September 2012, 7 Palestinian women remain incarcerated in Israel’s detention centers and prisons.

Number of women held in Israeli prison at the beginning of the month since January 2010
(Statistics based on Addameer's documentation)
  Jan
Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2010 36 36 36 35 36 34 38 38 37 36 39 40
2011 37 35 37 37 37 37 35 33 33  36  11  11
2012 6 5 5 6 7 6 6 6 7 - - -
 

Palestinian women are held mainly in Hasharon and Damon prisons. Both of these prisons are located outside the 1967 occupied territory, in direct contravention of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an Occupying Power must detain residents of occupied territory in prisons inside the occupied territory.

In addition to the illegality of Israel’s practices under international law, the practical consequence of this system is that many prisoners have difficulty meeting with Palestinian defense counsel, and do not receive family visits as their attorneys and relatives are denied permits to visit on “security grounds”. Moreover, both Hasharon and Damon prisons 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 which are often filled with insects and dirt, and lack natural light. Personal health and hygiene needs are rarely addressed by prisons authorities, even in cases involving the detention of pregnant women.
 
Moreover, the majority of Palestinian women prisoners are subjected to some form of psychological torture and ill-treatment throughout the process of their arrest and detention, including various forms of sexual violence that occur such as beatings, insults, threats, body searches,  and sexually explicit harassment. Upon arrest, women detainees are not informed where they are being taken and are rarely explained their rights during interrogation. These techniques of torture and ill-treatment are used not only as means to intimidate Palestinian women detainees but also as tools to humiliate Palestinian women and coerce them into giving confessions. While Israel’s prison authorities and military forces recruit women soldiers to detain, and accompany women prisoners during transfers, the female soldiers responsible for these procedures are no less violent towards Palestinian detainees than their male counterparts. In January 2010, Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO which collects anonymous testimonies from Israel’s occupation forces in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, released a 122-page booklet documenting the increasing levels of violence inflicted upon Palestinians by Israeli women soldiers. The testimonies compiled in the study reveal that the Israeli women soldiers deploy violent methods of control against Palestinian men and women in an effort to seek respect and recognition from male soldiers and their superiors.
 
CONTINUOUS VIOLATIONS OF PALESTINIAN WOMEN PRISONER’S BASIC RIGHTS: UNLAWFUL CONDITIONS UNDER ISRAELI DETENTION
 
While Israeli detention conditions vary from prison to prison, in no case do they meet women’s needs or international legal standards. Currently Neve Terza Prison in Ramleh is the only specialized women’s prison facility in all of Israel. Many women have been detained there since the wave of arrests that accompanied events following the beginning of the Second Intifada in September 2000, in a special section designated for what Israel classifies as “security prisoners”. One of the many effects of being classified as a 'security prisoner’ is that Palestinian women political prisoners under this classification are sometimes placed in the same cells as Israeli women criminal offenders who take it upon themselves to threaten, assault and humiliate them through various forms of verbal and physical abuse. In addition, Palestinian women detainees are also discriminated against in the facility; enjoying less or at times, no recreation time, and living in dorms without access to books, newspapers or other media. Neve Terza also holds Palestinian women kept in isolation and for short-term detentions during transfers. Other women detainees are imprisoned in old jails that date back to the British Mandate period (1922-1948) and lack modern day infrastructure. These facilities, designed for and by men, consequently rarely meet the gender-specific needs of women prisoners.  
 
Since the Vienna Declaration on Crime and Justice in 2000, which focused in part on the special needs of women as criminal justice personnel, victims, offenders and prisoners, many studies have shown that women’s needs in prison deserve special attention from the United Nations, policy-makers and practitioners. Among the set of needs specific to women prisoners, issues pertaining to health care require urgent attention, a right strategically denied by Israeli Prison Service (IPS).
 
The IPS has adopted a systematic policy of medical negligence regarding Palestinian prisoners held in its prisons and detention centers. In addition to medical negligence, the denial of cultural and gender sensitive medical treatment has acutely affected women prisoners heath conditions pre and post-release. A study conducted by Addameer in September 2008 revealed that approximately 38% of Palestinian female prisoners suffer from treatable diseases that go untreated. The poor quality of food and lack of essential nutrients cause women detainees to suffer from weight loss, general weakness, anaemia and iron deficiency. They are also exposed to harsh treatment (such as routine practices of physical and psychological punishment and humiliation) from both male and female prison guards, who demonstrate little to no regard for their wellbeing or special needs, even when ill or pregnant.
 
Harsh imprisonment conditions such as lack of fresh air and sunlight, moisture in the winter and heat in the summer, dirty overcrowded cells which are infested with insects, combined with stress, poor diet and isolation from families contribute to frequent menstruation perturbations. Many women also suffer from rheumatism and dermatological problems due to the moisture infiltrating their cells in the winter. In the summer, poor ventilation, lack of fresh air and the prevalence of cockroaches and other bugs also contribute to skin diseases. Despite requests made by women prisoners, the prison authorities have repeatedly refused to provide them with cleaning products.
 
Palestinian women prisoners suffering from treatable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, kidney and eye diseases, sickle cell anaemia, cancer, and seizures have little to no access to medical services. Long delays in providing substandard medical treatment are typical. Although all prisons include a medical clinic, physicians are on duty irregularly and specialized medical healthcare is generally unavailable. To date, there are no specialized gynecological services available for Palestinian women held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, despite their continuous requests for access to such services and complaints launched against the IPS’s repeated denials. Of particular concern is the absence of trained Arabic-speaking female medical specialists. The denial of gender-sensitive social services, in addition to culturally and religiously sensitive treatment, place women who are suffering from health concerns in an extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable position. For instance, when women prisoners require hospitalization in Israeli institutions, the gynecological care that is provided is often culturally insensitive, causing them further stress. This form of discrimination is compounded by the denial of other forms of culturally and religiously sensitive social services and professionals. The effects of this discriminatory treatment amount to violations of Palestinian women’s human rights and, accordingly, often lead to conditions of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
 
DENIAL OF RIGHTS TO PREGNANT WOMEN PRISONERS PRE AND POST DELIVERY
 
Pregnant Palestinian women have not escaped the mass arrests of Palestinian civilians under Israel’s unlawful occupation regime. Between 2003 –2008, Addameer documented four cases of Palestinian women detainees who were forced to give birth while held in Israeli prisons; all of whom received very limited to no pre- and post-natal care.
 
As the incarceration of pregnant women poses a high risk not only to the woman herself, but also to the birth outcomes, posterior growth and development of the newborn, their cases are of outmost concern. Pregnant women in Israeli prisons and detention centers do not enjoy any preferential treatment in terms of diet, living space or transfers to hospitals.
 
Pregnant detainees who are transferred to hospitals to give birth are moved only under strict security supervision, with the woman’s hands and feet typically shackled with metal chains. The women are then chained to their beds until they enter the delivery room and are shackled once again only minutes after delivery.
 
Article 12 of the Convention to End all Discrimination Against Women, ratified by Israel on 3 October 1981, stipulates that “States Parties shall ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation”.
 
STRIP AND BODY SEARCHES: ISRAELI STATE PRACTICES OF SEXUAL TORTURE
 
A frequent complaint expressed by many Palestinian women political prisoners is Israel’s routine and systematic practice of strip and body searching, a process by which almost all of their clothing is forcibly removed by Israeli soldiers, sometimes including their undergarments. During strip searches, female prisoners are often asked to squat while naked, and are frequently subjected to intrusive internal body searches. Those who refuse to comply with these practices are often sent to isolation cells. These searches often occur during transfers to court hearings, and can sometimes take place in the middle of the night as a punitive measure. According to Dr. Mahmoud Saiwail, the director of a treatment and rehabilitation centre for victims of torture in Ramallah, strip searches of women prisoners can even amount to torture in certain circumstances.
 
Sexual harassment of Palestinian women prisoners also occurs through threats of rape (including threats of rape of their family members) and sexually degrading insults made by prison personnel. These occurrences are a fundamental part of Palestinian women’s prison experience and should be understood as a common and systematic form of racial and gender-based State violence. Research has shown that Israel’s prison authorities deliberately exploit Palestinian women’s fears by playing on patriarchal norms as well as gender stereotypes within particular customs of Palestinian society. Accordingly, occurrences of sexual assault are a sensitive issue for Palestinian women and their families, making post-assault resources difficult to obtain. Israel’s routine practice of strip and body searching women prisoners as a method of punishment violates its obligations under both international human rights and humanitarian law, including the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states in Article 7 that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Similarly, Article 3(1)(c) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) forbids “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment”.
 
Relevant Addameer Publications:
Relevant Prisoner Profiles:
 
 

(1)     Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949
(2)     Breaking the Silence. 31 January 2010
(3)     Nahla Abdo, “Palestinian Munadelat: Between Western Representation and Live Reality,” in Thinking Palesine, ed. Ronit Lentin, Zed Books, New York, 2008
(4)     Peace Women, “Israel and the Occupied Territories, Conflict, Occupation and Patriarchy: Women Carry the Burden”, 31 March 2005 (available at: http://www.peacewomen.org/resources/OPT/Womencarryburden.html)

 

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