Caged birds: How Israel imprisons the Palestinian lifecycle

A group of people gather in front of Ramon Prison during a demonstration demanding the release of detained Palestinian women, including Anhar al-Deek, 25, who is in her last month of pregnancy [Getty Images]
5 min read
22 October, 2021
Palestinian prisoners are damned to a prison system that perpetuates their reality as second-class citizens in Israel. From women being forced to conceive inside prisons to the increasing phenomenon of child prisoners, Palestinians are without mercy.

Palestinian prisoners have long-suffered at the hands of Israeli occupation and its security apparatus and this hardship has once again been brought to light with the case of Anhar al-Deek. The 25-year-old from West Bank's Kafr Nima was arrested and held in detention for an alleged armed assault at a neighbouring illegal settlement. Anhar was four months pregnant at the time. 

The young mother of two suffers from mental illness and struggles with periods of depression and high anxiety levels. She was subsequently detained awaiting trial for the following five months in Damon prison in southern Haifa, one of the oldest prisons in the territory, dating as far back as the British mandate.

A local and international campaign took place after Anhar wrote a letter to her family describing the fear she felt at the notion of giving birth to her second child in such unfit conditions. This prison itself is old and has no infants in its custody as the facilities are rundown and not-at-all accommodating to new life.

"Currently, 11 Palestinian mothers remain incarcerated in Israeli prisons out of a total of 39 Palestinian women detainees, all of whom are incarcerated in Damon prison, which is located outside of the oPt, in violation of international law that forbids the transfer of protected peoples outside of the occupied territory"

Her fears were not unfounded – the Palestinian women who have given birth in prison custody reported being bound by their hands and feet to the bed during delivery, even though this act is commonly thought of as torturous, barbaric and in direct violations of UN directives.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture cites, “Pregnant women should not be deprived of their liberty unless there are absolutely compelling reasons to do so and their particular vulnerability should be borne in mind. Measures of physical restraint should be avoided during delivery.” 

Anhar al-Deek was later released to her mother's custody for the delivery of the baby, as the case clearly indicated that due to her psychological risk factors, being bound, placed in solitary confinement (due to Covid-19), as well as subpar postnatal care, would have put her at a heightened risk for a plethora of concerns such as postpartum depression.

“The idea that Anhar could give birth inside the Israeli prison made us feel fear and anxiety, we didn’t know what could happen inside the prison,” her husband, Thaer al-Hija explained as he thanked the world for the support in securing al-Deek’s release, announcing the birth of their son.

She is expected to return with her newborn, who according to current policy can live with his mother behind bars till the age of two. This highlights how indiscriminately the Israeli occupation has no issue imprisoning anyone, despite their personal contexts, their age or their gender. Her legal team is pushing to have the charges laid against her so that she can be removed from detention and ultimately attempt to get the charges dismissed altogether.

Legal rights organisation Al-Haq reports on some of the injustice that takes place against women and soon-to-be mothers in Israeli custody. The report explains, “ In 2020, the IOF arrested 128 Palestinian women; by the end of the year, there were 37 women prisoners, including 13 mothers, eight wounded prisoners, and three held under administrative detainees. Currently, 11 Palestinian mothers remain incarcerated in Israeli prisons out of a total of 39 Palestinian women detainees, all of whom are incarcerated in Damon prison, which is located outside of the oPt, in violation of international law that forbids the transfer of protected peoples outside of the occupied territory.”

"Despite the chronic effort and imprisoning of Palestine, Palestinians prove innovative and resilient in countering this. Since as early as 2003, for example, sperm-smuggling has become a reactionary phenomenon to the efforts to reduce population size"

While imprisonment generally would suffice, Israel often deploys methods of torturous degradation to prisoners, particularly those with some sort of influence in society. 

Al-Haq reports, “Palestinian female civil society actors have also been arbitrarily detained by the occupation regime, as is the most recent case of the Health Workers Committee Director Shatha Odeh, and punitively denied humanitarian requests – routinely granted to Israeli prisoners – such as the refusal to allow political prisoner Khalida Jarrar to participate in her youngest daughter’s burial. ” 

Since 2000 Israel has arrested approximately 12,000 children of which 200 remain in prison today. A 2020 report from Save the Children, consulted 470 former child prisoners (held in the last 10 years in Israeli custody) on the conditions of their detention.

The report cites that, “81 percent suffered physical beatings, 86 percent were subjected to strip searches, 88 percent did not receive adequate and timely healthcare, 89 percent were blindfolded or hooded during detention, 52 percent were threatened with harm to their families, and 47 percent were denied contact with a lawyer.”

These findings highlight struggles that should not be faced by any political prisoner let alone women and children. However, it seems that the use of these methods are strategic and intend to highlight dominance and erode morale.

Perspectives

More often than not they prove to be crippling, but despite the chronic effort and imprisoning of their country Palestinians prove innovative and resilient in countering this. Since as early as 2003, for example, sperm-smuggling has become a reactionary phenomenon to the efforts to reduce population size.

More recently, a jail break out of Gilboa prison (that was brought to a halt) significantly raised the spirits of Palestinians inside and outside the occupied territories.

In such bleak circumstances, these instances bring temporary reprieve and some hope to struggling people. However, with this temporary reprieve often comes disproportionate punishment. As in the case of the Gilboa prison break, six of the prisoners were re-detained and the leader of the group was reportedly transferred to the hospital after a violent arrest. Zakaria Zubeidi and the other members of the prison break highlight to many an ongoing fight against unjust practices against the Palestinian people. 

Nadine Sayegh is a multidisciplinary writer and researcher covering the Arab world. She has covered topics including gender in the region, countering violent extremism, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, amongst other social and political issues.