Zoom, On Monday, May 5, 2020 — the Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad/PCPA and Rajiaa Center for National Action held a meeting, the purpose of which was expressing solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held captive in the Israeli Occupation’s jails.
Titled “Stories behind the Walls”, the gathering was organized as part of the PCPA-launched campaign, “You Are Not Alone, We Are With You,” were released prisoners provided accounts of their life behind the bars.
Moderated by journalist Hisham Jaber, three released prisoners told their own stories—Lama Khatter, Layth al-Barghouthi and Abdulnasser Audeh, in addition to the mother of the yet imprisoned Mais Abu Ghoush while Mrs. Razan Abdeen, deputy director of the Rajiaa Center, opened the meeting and singer Mohammad Abu Khanfar sang hymns praising detainees’ sacrifices.
The gathering was hailed by Mrs. Abdeen, who welcomed the attendees and introduced the “You Are Not Alone, We Are With You” campaign, its objectives and the role the center is playing in advocating the cause of Palestine.
Journalist Hisham Jaber also provided an account of the suffering of the prisoners, given that today everyone had a fair share of imprisonment as COVID-19 continues to spread, despite the multiple means of communication available and the resources that could be utilized to combat the virus.
Comparing the number of Palestinian prisoners, which amount to being historic as they have broken a record, to those around the world, Jabir added that 20% of Palestinians were vulnerable to imprisonment, let alone the recorded cases of prisoners sentenced to a lifetime.
For his part, the liberated prisoner Layth al-Barghouthi addressed the conditions of the prisoners under the tightening noose of the pandemic:
“While the world was affected by the pandemic, the prisoners were twice afflicted because they are banished from the cosmic equation. In their captivity, they lack what is available to the rest of the world in the face of the virus. The prison administration, furthermore, has confiscated a number of sterilization materials and prevented their sale to prisoners.”
“Truthfully, the prisoners are incapable of protecting themselves. The prison administration carries out three inspection rounds a day, allowing the jailors to mix with the prisoners, which boosts concern over the possibility that jailors might pass them down the virus. There, you cannot buy sterilizers or masks, you are not even allowed to sterilize the cell. This is not to mention that the prisoners are already burdened with a weak immunity, given the poor quality and quantity of food, as well as the life a prisoner is doomed to have.”
Offering a picture of this life, he continued:
“The visit days are celebrations to prisoners, especially to those sentenced to long years. The visit is akin to release. That is not to mention the violations committed against prisoners, varying between temporal transference, which lasts for days while prisoners were not given the chance to take any of their belongings, and then bringing them back to [their original cells], an act mainly aiming at humiliating them, transporting them aboard exhausted buses and the suffering accompanying the travel, and medical neglect. Most of prisoners, who have been captivated for a long time, suffer from diseases of the intestine and the back, while, at the same time, treatment at prison stands for a long list of procedures.”
Concluding, al-Barghouthi delivered a message, indicating the necessity of supporting the families of the prisoners and making them feel that they are not alone, while their children’s sacrifices are of much value. He also called on the Palestinian Authority, which is supposed to defend the prisoners, "to ensure greater representation of their cause on an international level, and that prisoners must not be dealt with as numbers, but as members of families, human beings who have dreams.”
In turn, Umm Hussein, the mother of the prisoner Mais and the martyr Hussein Abu Ghosh, touched on the issue of visits and communication with her detained daughter. She said:
“Visits are forbidden to men and women prisoners. The female prisoners are even not seeing each other. There was a news that their rooms are blocked from each other. I have not contacted my daughter for two months, although prisoners are allowed to communicate with their families. My daughter and 3 prisoners, nonetheless, were prevented from contacting their families by a decision from the prison’s administration.”
Umm Hussein indicated that her daughter was sentenced yesterday to prison by a court video call, and she is to pass 16 months in prison and to pay two thousand shekels in a fine.
She noted that the family was able to check on Mais through her friends, who managed to contact their families. However, she is complaining of a backache due to the military interrogation she was subjected to at the beginning of her detention.
Quoting Mais, the mother recounted the details of torture inflicted upon her daughter:
“Mais is having a difficult time. She was beaten and subjected to shabeh for hours. She was denied sleeping, while they aimed to methodologically terrorize her, they let a rat into her place and her brother was arrested for four months, not to mention that we were summoned to al-Maskoubia for interrogation, which also sought to pressure her."
"The first time we saw her, we could not recognize her. She was changed by the interrogation. They used to slap her on the face, treating her like a man starting from arresting her at home and throughout the interrogation.”
Assisted by ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the prisoner’s mother noted, the family is following her daughter’s case legally and internationally. She also called on the Palestinian people, being the primary source of support to prisoners, to invest further efforts even if the current conditions prevent gathering for the benefit of the prisoners. People must be ready to reorganize these activities, until all prisoners are released.
The released captive and journalist Lama Khatter explained that the prisoners’ status today is very difficult, for they are suffering "what amounts to seclusion, which has deepened after the pandemic and total denial of visits, as well as not allowing the families to attend trials. Prisoners today are being tried over a video call, which effects additional difficulties, especially when it comes to female prisoners.”
"Prisoners are short on money and the clothes, which they were delivered during visits, but no longer after the visits were banned. They are forbidden to go to the clinic, while treatment is denied inside the prison. The conditions of sick prisoners are tragic.
The occupation has an iron system that to change, speaking of addressing the treatment of the prisoners, massive struggles must be initiated.”
“Reaching to international institutions, which is presumably one of the authority’s key priorities, is not fruitful given these circumstance, as it is not pressuring the Zionist entity. Action on the ground has, however, stopped, for people are at home, and no lobbying can be attained from field work. Consequently, the only means to coerce the occupation into changing its policy in regard to the prisoners, and giving them further facilitations is through a strife inside the prison.”
Khater also accentuated the value of the efforts made by some local institutions to defend the prisoners and advocate for their cases, as well as the efforts of institutions inside the Palestinian territories, noting at the same time that the jailor would not back down unless faced with a strife.
Commenting on the particulars of detained women’s conditions, and if they are shown any special treatment, Khatter said:
"The only consideration for the privacy of female prisoners is that when they are arrested, a female soldier would be present. Other than that, women are subjected to the same violations as men. Arrest is a violation of a woman’s privacy, especially since her womanhood gets exploited as to pressure her, such as brining me the photo of my son crying in some TV report, or threatening to arrest my sons. Additionally, there are cameras around the yard where women are allowed a breather, which restrict women’s movement, robbing them of the chance to take their hijab off or to do sports. Bathrooms are also located outside the cell, which means that women are forced to sue bathrooms only at tight times, a thing sufficient to pressure them even more.”
"The aim of our arrest, as stated by the investigators themselves, is to convey a message to our Palestinian society and its organizations, that there is no special treatment for women when it comes to the Occupation, and that it can bring any woman from her home to interrogation.”
Khater concluded with a message:
“It is freedom that the prisoners need, before the improvement of detention conditions. We know that the key to freedom is not owned by everyone, but every person is required to take a stand on the front where he/she is, first of whom are resistance fighters. However, there are other levels which can be addressed through human rights, the media, politics, and popular interaction. It is still important that people support this issue, and prisoners must be treated as human stories, which entails expressing solidarity with prisoners in jails and supporting their families.”
Speaking of the conditions of minor detainees, Abdulnasser Audeh recounted the story of his arrest when he was yet 14 years and a half old, how he was separated from his parents, and subjected to interrogations, which he described as barbaric. He also referred to the suffering he went through on board of the transportation bus, used to transfer prisoners between the prisons and the courts, stressing the humiliation, insults and beating he witnessed wile interrogated.
"Under age prisoners’ suffering stems from two reason, their age and being isolated from adult prisoners, which makes them vulnerable to the prison administration’s intentions. Thanks to the Captive Movement, an agreement has been reached with the administration, where adult prisoners are to represent minor ones."
"Visits were rarely allowed, and the Israeli intelligence attempted to recruit underage prisoners, which prompted the Captive Movement to take action.”
Audeh pointed to his inability to pursue his education due to the arrest. Back then, accompanied by his friends, he was deprived from the chance to study. Nonetheless, he attempted to complete his education in prison, which was "very difficult given the books that had to be brought in, and the facilities provided to middle-school students due to external pressure. The prison has a major role in my inability to pursue my education.”
Audeh stated that solidarity with prisoners must be always expressed, in addition to engagement with their causes, sufferings and pain through organizing lectures and seminars, which confirms to both the prisoners and their families that their sacrifices were not to no avail.
Muhammad Abu Khanfar sang a number of hymns, which display solidarity with the prisoners and the value of their sacrifices, pointing at the same time to the importance and role of Palestinian art that is committed to the cause in documenting and conveying the suffering of the prisoners, as well as showing their sacrifices.
It is worth mentioning that “You Are Not Alone, We Are With You" Camping in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners, captivated in the Israeli Occupation’s jails aims to support the prisoners and shed light on their conditions and the violations committed against them, given COVID-19 outbreak and the risks that prisoners might contract the virus as a result of the policy of deliberate medical neglect by the Occupation.
The campaign seeks to internationalize the prisoners cause to pressure the Occupation into releasing them.