Women

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IMPRISONMENT OF WOMEN AND GIRLS

February 2016

Over the last 45 years, an estimated 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested and/or detained under Israeli military orders. Palestinian women are exposed to imprisonment like other groups and sectors within the Palestinian society. In 2015, occupation forces arrested 106 Palestinian women and girls, representing an increase by 70% compared with the number of women and girls arrested in 2013, which reached at its maximum to 34 prisoners and detainees in October 2015. During October 2015, a popular uprising started in the occupied Palestinian territory in response to the Israeli occupation’s widespread human rights violations and escalation at Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as the ever-growing settlement activity and complete impunity to crimes by settlers, the latest of which was the arson and murder of the Dawabsheh family in Duma, Nablus. In response to the recent events, Israeli occupation forces (IOF) intensified human rights violations against Palestinians including mass arrests, leading to a significant rise in the number of Palestinians women and girls held in Israeli detention. Among those arrested were 13 underage girls, some of them were wounded at the time of their arrest. As of December 2015, there were 3 Palestinian females placed under administrative detention;19-year-old Israa Hamdan from Nazareth who was placed under administrative detention under the claim of “incitement” through Facebook, 19-year-old Joreen Qadeh from Shuqba, Ramallah and Asma Qadah from Nablus. 

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.
 

Number of women held in Israeli prison since January 2011 until February 2016

Addameer data indicates that by February 2016, there were 60 women and girls in the prisons of the occupation state. The number increased during the mass arrest campaigns that began in Oct 2015. 
 

 Month

Jan

Feb

March

April

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Oct

Nov

Dec

2016

55

60

                   

2015

22

22

22

25

25

26

26

25

25

41

40

60

2014

17

17

21

20

17

17

19

18

19

18

23

2013

10

12

12

14

17

15

12

13

12

15

14

16

2012

8

5

5

6

7

6

6

6

7

9

10

11

2011

40

37

37

36

38

36

35

33

 33

10

10

6

 

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 utmost 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 center 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”.
 

Arrest of Three Female Prisoners Liberated in Wafa’ Al-Ahrar Exchange and Arrest of Activists in Prisoners’ Rights

In 2014, the occupation forces arrested three of the female prisoners that were liberated in the “Wafa Al-Ahrar” exchange, raising the number of prisoners that were arrested after being liberated and are now in the occupation prisons to three. It is noticeable concerning the arrest of female prisoners liberated in the Wafa Al-Ahrar Exchange that the occupation forces are targeting female Palestinian activists who have been repeatedly arrested for their participation in solidarity activities with the prisoners and detainees. The occupation, therefore, continued to target and arrest women that are active in human rights issues, particularly female activists on issues concerned with prisoners and female prisoners in the occupation prison. This targeting is part of the occupation policy of persecuting activists that advocate for and defend the issues of the prisoners, which is in contravention with of the guarantees in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders issued by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, which recognizes the right and responsibility of individuals, groups, and associations to promote respect for human rights and basic freedoms, as well as enhancement of knowledge about it at the national and global levels.

Lawyer Shirin Tarek Issawi: The occupation forces arrested the lawyer Shirin Issawi, (36 years old) on 3/6/2014 after raiding her home in the village of Isawiya in occupied Jerusalem. Shirin is considered to be a prominent lawyer in the defense of the prisoners, as she is a member of the Union of Palestinian Lawyers, a volunteer at the Mandela Foundation, and is active in the Jerusalemite popular movement, in addition to her work as a lawyer representing prisoners in the courts and visiting them. Shirin was arrested during a wide arrest campaign executed in the city of Jerusalem against many of the lawyers who work in particular in the defense of male and female prisoners, and accused of 3 main charges: (1) Maintaining contact with the enemies of Israel, (2) Provision of services to terrorist organizations, and (3) Allowing terrorist organizations to use her private property. These charges against Shirin Issawi come within the framework of tightening the noose on the work of the Palestinian lawyers under purported security reasons. The detentions campaign during which Shirin was arrested reached also other members of her family, who are her brothers Medhat, Shadi, and Samer. Samer was released in 2012 after he went on a long hunger strike to protest his re-arrest, as he was released in the Wafa Al-Ahrar deal. Shirin has been previously arrested more than once, as she was arrested in 2010 for a full year, and was arrested in 2012 for a period of 24 hours, and the third time was in 2013, where she was detained for 24 hours during her participation in an activity in solidarity with her brother Samer Issawi, who at that time was on hunger strike.

Youth Activist Bushra Jamal Al-Tawil: The occupation forces arrested the youth activist Bushra Al Tawil (21 years old) on 02/07/2014 after raiding her home in the city of Al-Bireh. Bushra was treated in a brutal way during her 

detention, as she was insulted and received a cruel treatment while she was inside the military jeep, handcuffed, and blindfolded. She was threatened during her interrogation at Ofer detention center that she will be placed in administrative detention without charge or trial because she is suspected of hiding security issues. During the interrogation, which lasted for about 5-6 hours, she was interrogated about her activities in solidarity with the prisoners, and specifically an electronic site that publicizes information and facts about the prisoners and female prisoners.

Bushra is a previous prisoner in the occupation prisons. On 6/7/2011, she was arrested and sentenced to 16 months of imprisonment, but she completed about 6 months, as she was released within the Wafa Al-Ahrar deal. Bushra is considered to be one of the prominent activists in the defense of the rights of prisoners and female prisoners, as well as a volunteer in various institutions and associations concerned with prisoners' issues, and a journalist for the electronic site “Anin Al Qaid” as media spokesperson. Bushra is the daughter of the detainee Jamal Al Tawil, one of the leaders of Hamas, mayor of Al-Bireh Municipal Council in the 2005-2006 elections, and currently is an administrative detainee, who has been arrested more than once. Bushra is currently detained pending sentencing, and according to the course of the court hearings, the remaining period of her previous sentence will be added to the current arrest as part of the new punishment.

Muna Hussein Ka'adan: The occupation army re-arrested Mona Hussein Ka'adan from Jenin on 13/11/2012, and she is still detained despite being taken to court 18 times.

Prevention of Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women from Entry into Occupied Palestinian Territory 

On 15 January 2015, the occupation state prevented the Special Rapporteur of the UN on Violence Against Women Ms. Rashideh Manjoo, from entering the occupied Palestinian territory.

Ms. Manjoo had decided to visit the occupied Palestinian territory in response to an invitation received from the State of Palestine, in order to collect data on violence against Palestinian women at the national and external level, and to help the State of Palestine in the adoption of policies and development of laws designed to protect women and to end gender-based discrimination against them. 

The decision of the occupation forces to prevent Ms. Manjoo from entering the occupied Palestinian territory, is a continuation of the application of a systematic policy of the occupying power in order to prevent the State of Palestine from enjoying the acquired rights and the performance of its duties due to its access to the international treaties and conventions. This serves to deprive the Palestinian people of exercising their civil, political, and social rights, and in the first place its right to self-determination, through the development of policies and laws that aim to advance the conditions of the groups that constitute the Palestinian people. Previous to this prohibition was the prevention of the investigation committees that were scheduled to arrive to the Occupied Territory in order to  investigate violations of international law since June 2014. This prohibition is against the recommendations made by the Human Rights Council on the need to have the occupying state to cooperate with the special rapporteurs, in order to improve the human rights situation on the ground.

 

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)