- A July 2008 Fact Sheet Series titled, "Behind the
Bars: Palestinian Women in Israeli Prisons" was jointly prepared by
the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the Palestinian
Counseling Center (PCC), and Mandela Institute. Along with background information,
it covered Israel's obligations under international law, prison conditions
where they're held, medical neglect, and their educational rights restricted
- Relevant International Laws Protecting Prisoners and
Civilians in Times of Conflict, Including Women
- The 1949 Third Geneva Convention applies to prisoners
of war, replacing the 1929 Prisoners of War Convention. It broadened the
categories of persons entitled to prisoner of war status and precisely
defined the conditions and places of their captivity - especially with
regard to allowed labor, financial resources, required treatment, and rules
of judicial proceedings.
- It specifically prohibited acts of:
- -- "Violence to life and person, in particular murder
of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
- -- Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating
and degrading treatment;" and
- -- judicial guarantees "recognized as indispensable
by civilized peoples."
- The 1955 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment
of Prisoners requires "no discrimination on the basis of race, color,
sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, property, birth or other status."
- Other provisions apply to sleeping accommodations, sanitation,
personal hygiene, clothing and bedding, food, exercise, medical services,
discipline and punishment, instruments of restraint, information to and
complaints by prisoners, contact with the outside world, books, religion,
retention of prisoners' property, notification of death, illness, or transfer,
among other provisions to provide humane and proper treatment.
- The 1974 UN General Assembly Declaration of the Protection
of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict, requires all states
engaged in armed conflicts and military occupiers:
- "to spare women and children from the ravages of
war. All the necessary steps shall be taken to ensure the prohibition of
measures such as persecution, torture, punitive measures, degrading treatment
and violence, particularly against women and children."
- The 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions....and
relating to the Protections of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
- supplements the four Geneva Conventions.
- The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women protects them with regard to discrimination,
human rights, judicial fairness, equality, reproduction, health, education,
employment, and "fundamental freedoms in the political, economic,
social, cultural, civil or any other field."
- The 1988 Body of Principles for the Protection of All
Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment affirms their human
rights and obligation for authorities to enforce them - especially for
women, children, the aged, sick, or handicapped.
- The 1999 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination
of all Forms of Discrimination against Women puts this measure "on
an equal footing with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
and the Convention against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment."
- Since 1967, over 700,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated,
including 10,000 women. Daily, from 15 - 20 men, women, and children are
- During the second Intifada, Israeli security forces targeted
women as well as men, subjecting them to mass arrests and mistreatment
in detention, including torture and sexual abuse. From 2000 - 2008, more
than 700 women were affected, many held without charge. Under military
occupation, due process and judicial fairness conditions aren't allowed
because Israel denies them.
- According to Addameer, women are held in vermin-infested
cells or sections with "criminal prisoners;" subjected to regular
body searches performed brutally by male guards; sexually harassed; denied
rights the above laws require, including sufficient and proper food and
clothing, medical care, recreation, and education; often placed in solitary
confinement; beaten regularly in their cells; and denied contact with family
and other prisoners.
- In 2004, 120 were held; 17 were mothers; 2 gave birth
in prison; 8 were under 18; and some were arrested to pressure their husbands,
then told if their spouses had blood on their hands, their children would
- In July 2008, 74 women were imprisoned, including two
mothers with babies, subjected to the same harsh treatment. According to
the Ahrar Center Prisoners Studies & Human Rights, the number was 140
in August 2009.
- Facilities were "designed for men by men and rarely
do they meet women's needs."
- Telmond Prison in Hasharon, north of Tel Aviv, is one
of Israel's largest prison complexes. It has a section for Israeli criminals,
including juveniles, as well as Palestinian men, women, and children "security"
detainees and other prisoners.
- Damon Prison on Mount Carmel, near Haifa, was originally
a tobacco warehouse and stable, its appalling conditions unfit for human
habitation, especially, of course, for women and children.
- Al-Jalameh Detention Center is a maximum security facility
in Kishon, near Haifa.
- Article 10 of the 1955 Standard Minimum Rules for the
Treatment of Prisoners states:
- "All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners
and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements
of health, due regard being paid to climate conditions and particularly
to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation."
- Article 19 states:
- "Every prisoner shall, in accordance with local
or national standards, be provided with a separate bed, and with separate
and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order
and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness."
- Nonetheless, Palestinian women endure severe overcrowding
conditions, affecting their health and safety.
- In Damon Prison, women are in three cells, each with
10, 13, and 14 occupants, but only 12 beds. In addition, no storage space
is provided for clothes and other belongings. Other conditions include
four restricted use common bathrooms outside cells with no showers for
- Telmond Prison has two type cells - small, four square
meter ones for two prisoners, including a bathroom, and larger 20 square
meter ones for up to eight women.
- Al-Jalameh Prison bathrooms are separate from cell living
areas, separated only by a curtain, denying women privacy, personal dignity,
and minimum hygiene standards.
- All prisons have uncomfortable iron bed frames with 3
- 5 centimeter badly worn, thin mattresses, causing back problems. Requests
for better ones and wood frames were denied. No blankets are provided,
so if able, families must send them. Only thin blankets and sheets are
permitted, so are inadequate in winter with no central heating.
- Hygiene standards are poor. Moreover, cells are cold
in winter, and extremely hot in summer. They have one window covered by
an iron sheet blocking sunlight, allegedly for security reasons. No gas
or electric heaters are allowed, or consideration for other basic needs.
Essential items like toothpaste, soap, shampoo, detergent and light bulbs
aren't provided. Women are on their own to get them.
- Although international law mandates proper amounts of
well-prepared nutritional food, what's served is poor, unbalanced, and
inadequate. At Telmond, a typical breakfast includes a spoon of yogurt,
a slice of tomato, pepper and bread. Lunch is the main meal, consisting
of small amounts of either bean soup with potatoes and eggs; rice and wheat
soup; small salad, rice and schnitzel; rice, a single kebab and beans;
fish and potatoes; meat, rice and hummus; or rice, bean soup and chicken
- all poor quality in small amounts, some of it inedible.
- At Telmond, women have canteen access every 15 days where
items like beans, spices, tomatoes, other vegetables, olive oil, snacks,
soft drinks, coffee, tea, pens, notebooks, and other products are available.
Yet prices are much higher than in the Territories, creating an added hardship
for women with few resources to make purchases.
- Clothing provided is very inadequate, requiring families
to send what they can, yet packages are sometimes withheld. Recreation,
such as it is, is greatly restricted, women allowed outside in a narrow
courtyard for short periods, mornings and afternoons.
- Imposed punishments are often arbitrary, such as for
destroying public property when their old mattresses decompose or paint
comes off walls. Women also face collective punishment if a prohibited
item is found in a cell.
- Individual punishments include solitary confinement,
strip searches by male guards, confiscation of personal items, intimidation,
denying outside contact or canteen privileges, and harassing day or late
night searches. They're frequent and harsh, a detainee saying, girls scream,
are sprayed with tear gas, are severely beaten, and some placed in isolation.
When they're searched, they're forced to undress, and if resist, they're
handcuffed and guards do it with cell doors open for others outside to
- Medical Neglect
- Currently, about 25% of Palestinian female prisoners
suffer from untreated diseases, the result of inexcusable medical neglect.
Malnutrition causes weight loss, general weakness, anemia, iron deficiency,
and poor health. Because of poor sanitation and ventilation, insect infestations,
lack of sunlight, cold winters, hot summers, dirt, isolation, and stress,
diseases like rheumatism, skin rashes, asthma, diabetes, heart disease,
cancer, sickle cell anemia, kidney, eye, and dental problems, emotional
trauma, and others are commonplace. They're poorly addressed or treated.
- Incarceration also affects mental health, showing up
in depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, women in prison longest
affected most but, with rare exceptions, none are treated.
- From 2003 - 2008, four pregnant women gave birth under
extremely difficult conditions with little pre or post-natal care. Hospital
transfers entail being shackled, hands and feet, then chained to their
beds until entering delivery rooms, then again after giving birth.
- Yet doctors know that shackling during labor may cause
complications such as hemorrhaging, decreased fetal heart rate, and if
a caesarean is needed, even a short delay may cause permanent brain damage.
- Imprisoned Palestinian Girls Denied Education
- Girls as young as 16 are incarcerated with adults and
denied any form of education, either vocational or continuation of their
schooling. Israeli juvenile offenders, in contrast, may complete up to
- In 2008, five Palestinian girls, under age 18, were imprisoned.
Four were high school students, unable to continue their education. Three
of them were pending trial, one for over seven months, the other two from
February and April 2008. A whole year or more may be lost, and if sentenced
to lengthly incarcerations, perhaps no chance for personal development.
As a result, affected girls are understandably depressed, not knowing what
kind of future to expect or what more may happen to harm it.
- Families may bring books once every three months if they're
able to enter Israel to do it. While general reading materials are allowed,
technical publications and science books are prohibited as are encyclopedias,
dictionaries, and large books, except with special permission.
- The Tawjihi secondary education exam is the only opportunity
for female prisoners. As a result, girls see it as the most important event
in their lives, their reputations and futures riding on it. Yet at times,
the exam is prohibited - for example, cancelled to impose collective punishment
or because a Palestinian bringing it was obstructed at checkpoints, searched
crossing the Green Line, again before entering the prison, or not allowed
to come at all.
- Eligibility for the exam requires registering with the
Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, typically done
through families. As for the girls, everything is arbitrary, ad hoc, and
uncertain as they're afforded no institutionalized learning framework,
forced instead to rely on their own resources to obtain materials and study
them. Even at exam times, teachers can't enter prisons to instruct formally
nor may girls communicate with them by phone, letters, or other means.
The combination of prison, isolation, uncertainty, and helplessness adds
greater levels of stress, mental pressure, and anxiety.
- For those who qualify and get the chance, higher education
is only in Hebrew - at the Open University of Israel, an added burden for
young girls with poor language proficiency. Those permitted to enroll have
to pay all costs, including tuition, books and fees, that alone making
university training unaffordable for most families struggling to get by.
The cost of an Israeli education is five times what a Palestinian college
- Another prison regulation permits only sentenced prisoners
to enroll, those administratively detained or awaiting trial are prohibited.
And those allowed must apply at least five years ahead of scheduled releases,
adding still another hurdle. As a result, no female prisoners are enrolled
at the Open University. From 2000 - 2008, only three managed to do it for
a portion of their incarceration, but at no time was it easy, and training
in hard sciences are excluded.
- Israeli justice is cruel and inhumane in violation of
fundamental international laws, including Fourth Geneva's Article 147 affirming
the right to a fair trial, and Article 49 prohibiting individual or mass
forced transfers or deportations from the occupied territory to that of
the occupying power or any other country. Article 76 states that:
- "all protected persons accused of an offense must
be detained within the occupied country and if they are sentenced, they
have to serve the sentence within it."
- Yet Palestinian men, women, and children are held in
Israeli prisons far from families, rarely given permits to visit them.
They're incarcerated for resisting occupation. International law permits
it. Israel systematically breaches it, subjecting Palestinian men, women
and children to cruel and inhuman confinement and treatment - atrocities
by any standard.
- Their struggle is ours - to free them and return their
dignity and rights, those afforded only to Jews, but not all in an increasingly
unfair society favoring privilege over democracy and equality.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour
on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and
Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.