VIENNA, Mar 10, 2011 (IPS) - Female Palestinian prisoners detained in Israel are often denied legal
representation and medical care while being housed in squalid conditions that
can include sharing cells with rodents.
According to Fabrizia Falcione, a women’s human rights officer for the United
Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), now part of UN WOMEN, told
IPS that it is crucial to reveal the human face behind this breach of
international law and international humanitarian law in order to address the
plight of Palestinian political prisoners, including women and children.
Since 1967, more than 700,000 Palestinians have been arrested or detained in
Israeli prisons and detention centres. Approximately 10,000 of these
prisoners were women.
Today, 37 female Palestinian prisoners continue to be held in Israeli prisons -
out of a total of about 7,500 inmates. The reason is primarily political - most
of the prisoners are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Falcione’s work includes providing legal aid and representation to female
prisoners, psychosocial support to family members of prisoners, and
preparation for release and reintegration of prisoners into family and society.
This week Falcione participated in the first international meeting of its kind
organised by the United Nations to focus on the question of Palestinian
political prisoners in Israeli detention. During the two-day meet she took
time out to talk to IPS about the absolute urgency of specifically addressing
the rights of female prisoners.
Q: What are the most immediate concerns for Palestinian women
prisoners in Israeli prisons today?
A: The situation of Palestinian women and minors in Israeli detention facilities
is bad. In terms of numbers, Palestinian female political prisoners and
detainees in Israel prisons almost disappear compared to the hundreds of
thousands of Palestinian male political prisoners. But the plight of female
prisoners is worse than the men.
The situation, condition and violations faced by women in jails in Israel needs
to be addressed from a gender perspective. At present the number of women
prisoners is considerably lower than before, but women and girls continue to
be arrested, their special needs continue to be neglected, and their rights
Q: You talk of physical and psychological problems faced by female
prisoners. What do you mean?
A: There is medical neglect and lack of specialised medical services for the
prevention and treatment of illnesses of women.
The female prisoners at present are mainly incarcerated in two Israeli facilities
in Hasharon and Damon - both of them located outside the occupied
Palestinian territory, in violation of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva
Former Palestinian female prisoners in both these prisons and family
members of women currently in prison say that the cells are infested with
insects, particularly cockroaches as well as rodents. A former inmate released
a few months ago said, "No matter how hard I try to describe the cell to you, I
cannot. It is like an underground grave… There are so many insects in the
cell, the mattresses and cover sheet were damp and smelled awful. Sewage
was overflowing. I could barely make my ablutions to pray."
Beyond general healthcare there is no gynaecological support. Women require
medical attention regularly, which is their right during confinement as
recognised by CEDAW [the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
The great majority of Palestinian women political prisoners in Israeli prisons
suffer from various health problems.
Q: Is it true that pregnant women are shackled during childbirth?
A: It is true. Pregnant women are shackled while giving birth, and soon after.
There is a total lack of medical care, particularly during childbirth. Women
lament that infants born to them are taken away after two years. In Israeli
prisons, the rights of Palestinian women prisoners is recognised, but not
Q: And the psychological concerns?
A: Women bear the brunt of the infringement upon their cultural and religious
rights. A former prisoner said, "They took away my jilbab [long dress] and
gave me their special brown prisoner uniform. It was short sleeved. I asked
for a long sleeved shirt that I could wear under the uniform. Again they
refused. I moved between cells among male guards in a short sleeved
uniform… what hurt me most were the insults they hurled at me."
Women’s privacy is violated and male guards conduct room searches without
any consideration for religious norms. Prisoners are counted four times a day,
including very early in the morning, and punishment is inflicted if women are
found asleep or do not reply immediately to the count.
The most troubling aspect is the denial of family visitation rights. Family visits
to prisoners are allowed twice a month, theoretically, but are drastically
restricted due to the fact that the prisons are outside the occupied Palestinian
A round-trip visit to the prison is a ten-hour journey - not only due to
geographical distance but also because the movement of Palestinians in Israel
is controlled. If families succeed in making the journey, they are allowed to
visit for 30 minutes - speaking through a thick glass divider that prevents any
physical contact, even between mother and child. This affects the well being
of not just the mother but also the children. The break in family and social
relations is severe on the psychological state of the women.
Q: What exactly is the crime of these women?
A: Many women are imprisoned without trial for belonging to organisations
banned by Israel, under the guise of protecting the national security of the
Untried Palestinian women political prisoners are detained in Neve Terza
prison in the women’s section allocated to convicted criminal offenders in
clear violation of Rule 85 of the United Nations standard minimum rules for
the treatment of prisoners that says, "Untried prisoners shall be kept separate
from convicted prisoners."
This allows Israeli prisoners to threaten and humiliate Palestinian women
through verbal and physical abuse. Palestinian women prisoners and
detainees are further prevented from using prison facilities like pens, reading
material and recreational time.