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Released Palestinian women say Israel prisons 'brutal'

Israeli jails are 'brutal', say Palestinian women released after prisoner deal
5 min read
West Bank
27 November, 2023
Palestinian women released from Israeli jails say they were further deprived of water, electricity, sunlight and medical treatment after Israel launched its war on Gaza on 7 October.
Israel committed to release some 156 Palestinian women and children in exchange for 50 Israeli women and children hostages [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

Palestinian women released from Israeli jails over the weekend warned of "brutal" conditions in jails since 7 October.

Around 119 Palestinian women and children have been released from Israeli detention since Friday, as part of a truce deal reached between Israel and Hamas.

In exchange, the Palestinian group has released 49 Israeli hostages and 17 foreign citizens, who were captured during its attack on Israel on 7 October.

"Our detention conditions worsened a lot after 7 October, to unprecedented levels," Samah Souf, a 24-year-old Palestinian detainee who was released on Sunday, told The New Arab.

"In the room I was in, at the Damon prison, we were six inmates in just enough room for the six of us", she said. "After 7 October, we became 11 in the same room, and most of the inmates slept on the floor."

Israeli prison authorities have severely limited prisoner access to electricity and water, according to Souf.

Another report by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed has suggested harrowing conditions in Israeli prisons with conditions worsening since 7 October.

"The occupation authorities cut off electricity, so we could not use ventilators despite the very hot weather in Damon, which is close to the sea, and we were allowed a few hours of running water," the former detainee said.

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"Before 7 October, we used running water to wash, but not for drinking as it is mixed with a high concentration of chlorine and other chemicals, so we bought bottled water, which we were no longer allowed to buy since 7 October and forced to use the little non-fresh water we had.

"Our courtyard time, the only time we can see the sun, was reduced to half an hour, and our cell was raided and searched by the prison security several times.

"Because we didn't have enough water, we couldn't wash off the smell of tear gas, and we had to get accustomed to it."

Souf was arrested last May and placed under a four-month administrative detention order without charges, which was renewed for an additional four months in September.

"After 7 October they told us that administrative detention orders were going to be renewed, so I was preparing myself for more unknown time in jail," she said.

Sunday's release of prisoners was delayed for hours after Hamas halted the release of hostages in response to Israeli violation of the truce's terms, namely reducing the number of humanitarian aid trucks allowed into the Gaza Strip.

Detainees and hostages were released again late on Sunday night, after Qatari mediation.

In Ramallah, thousands of Palestinians including families of prisoners to be released, gathered in the town of Beitunia, close to the Israeli Ofer detention centre. Israeli forces dispersed the gathering using tear gas and live bullets.

Four Palestinians were wounded in the assault, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

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The exchange included several sick prisoners. One of them, 50-year-old Samira Hirbawi, was unable to speak to media due to her health conditions. Her brother told The New Arab that "she arrived at home devastated and tired".

Israeli forces arrested Hirbawi at an Israeli checkpoint in July, after shooting and wounding her. Hirbawi was charged with attempting to stab Israeli soldiers, and remained in the trial process until her release.

Her family denies the accusation, insisting that she was in company of two of her seven children at the time of her arrest.

"Samira spent a month and a half at the Damon prison, before her wounds worsened and caused additional problems due to lack of treatment," her brother said.

"She had inflammation in her limbs and was transferred to an Israeli hospital, where her lawyer filed a release petition for humanitarian reasons, which the occupation court denied.

"Later, her health condition deteriorated, and we lost contact with her after 7 October. She told us that when she asked for treatment, Israeli prison services told her that she could be treated after her release."

Sunday's release also included 38-year-old Israa Jaabees, who spent eight years in Israeli jails. She was considered one of the most critical humanitarian cases in Israeli jails, and deemed one of the most likely to be released in the exchange deal.

Israa was arrested in October 2015, after her car caught fire due to an electric malfunction on the way to Jericho. She was charged with attempting to attack Israeli soldiers.

Her family and lawyer denied the charges, stating that her car caught fire more than a kilometre away from an Israeli checkpoint to which she was heading.

She was transporting her belongings to her new house in Jericho when the car caught ablaze and suffered burns to 50 percent of her body leaving her severely disfigured.

Jaabees saw her 14-year-old son on Sunday for the first time since he was six years old.

She returned to her home in Jerusalem, where Israeli police dispersed journalists and other Palestinians who had gathered to celebrate her release.

As of 6 October, Israel held more than 5,000 Palestinians in its jails, including 1,300 under administrative detention without charges with 2023 seeing an unprecedented spike in arrests and administrative detention orders.

There are now more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including some 2,200 administrative detainees, 200 children, and 60 women.

On 7 October, Hamas's armed wing took some 200 to 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during its large-scale attack on Israeli military bases and civilian towns. According to Hamas, Israeli bombings have killed some 50 hostages since 7 October.

Israel's bombing of Gaza since 7 October has killed almost 15,000 Palestinians, including more than 6,000 children. Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip has also destroyed about half of the territory's homes and forced many of its hospitals out of service.