“The Russian Compound...” said Jehan Dahadha, before trailing off. Her gaze shifts to the floor and the 23-year-old Palestinian woman sighs before continuing.
“The level of pain that the prisoners suffer inside the Russian Compound, whether it is psychological or on a physical level, made it so that we call it the ‘Butcher Shop.' It is not suitable for humans to live there. Even animals, it is not healthy for them.”
At age 19, Dahadha was arrested under Israeli suspicion that she belonged to the Islamic Jihad movement, and was taken away from her home and family in Ramallah, West Bank.
She spent several days being interrogated at the Russian Compound prison facility in Jerusalem before being sentenced to 16 months at Ha'Sharon prison in northern Israel.
“We as Palestinians are all subject to becoming prisoners: my sister, me, my mother, my brother. There is not a single Palestinian house that [does] not suffer whether from demolition or arrest,” said Dahadha, sitting in the offices of Addameer Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association in Ramallah.
Dahadha says the real reason she was arrested was because she engaged in non-violent demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, visited the families of Palestinian political prisoners and helped these prisoners get in touch with lawyers.
“What's behind [the Israeli process of arrest and detention] is not to maintain order or to punish people for violations of laws or committing crimes; the idea is to crush the mentality of resistance or the idea of rejecting the occupation in your mind,” explained Ala Jaradat, Programs Director at Addameer.
Approximately 700,000 Palestinians have been arrested or detained under Israeli military orders since 1967. This accounts for about 20 per cent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied territories, and nearly 40 per cent of the male population.
Over the same time period, nearly 10,000 Palestinian women have been detained.
Presently, 7,000 Palestinians—including over 300 children and 34 women—remain in Israeli prisons. According to Jaradat, the small number of Palestinian women in Israeli jails makes it much more difficult for the prisoners to demand better treatment and rights, as compared to their more numerous male counterparts.
“[Male Palestinian prisoners] can organize themselves in such a way and actually negotiate and resist and struggle to have certain rights and to have a certain level of relations because of the larger number,” Jaradat explained. “With Palestinian women, it's harder to be able to organize because of the smaller number. Whenever they try to [negotiate] they are subjected to harsh treatments."
Dahadha says that despite the research and information she gathered before entering prison, she was shocked by what she saw there.
"I used to read in newspapers and on the Internet about prisoners in prison. But no matter how much you read, you will never understand it until you go there,” she said, explaining that poor lighting, unhealthy food, and the constant presence of insects and cockroaches characterized daily life in Ha'Sharon prison.
“They treat you very badly, not as humans. They make committees for animal rights. But humans for them, especially the Palestinians, are less than animals,” said Dahadha.
According to Jaradat, Israeli prisons sorely lack a gender-sensitive approach and issues such as personal hygiene and medical needs are rarely addressed.
Further, sexual harassment and intimidation are widespread and used as a means to coerce confessions out of Palestinian women during the interrogation process, he says.
While Palestinian women may have a unique experience, many of the injustices widespread in Israeli prisons are shared by both men and women—and are forbidden by international law.
Hiba Hamidat is originally from Jalazone refugee camp, seven kilometers north of Ramallah. She spent 32 months in Ha'Sharon prison in Israel for her participation in demonstrations and support of Palestinian prisoners.
Released just over a year ago, Hamidat explains that the hardest part was being separated from her family, especially her mother, who didn't have an Israeli ID card and therefore could not enter Israel to visit the prison.
“While I was serving my sentence, my mother couldn't visit me for one year. For one year, only my father visited me. It was very difficult to see that all the other prisoners had their mothers visiting them, while my mother couldn't visit,” explained the 24-year-old.
According to Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, Hamidat should never have been held in an Israeli jail.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power are prohibited."
Hamidat's case is yet another example of how Israel blatantly disregards international law, says Tsemel, especially when it comes to arrest, interrogation and detention procedures for Palestinians.
“[Palestinians] are not recognized prisoners of war. They are held in different prisons within Israel which again is contradictory to the international Geneva Conventions, [which state] that people from the occupied territory will not be shifted to the occupier's territory,” explained Tsemel.
Jaradat, who does prisoner support with Adameer, says that a prisoner's plight does not end with his or her release from prison. "Once a Palestinian has been to prison, their life will change. The punishments or violations of their rights and restrictions on their lives continue forever by the Israeli occupation," said Jaradat. "It's never over."
Dahadha can speak to this reality first-hand.
"My life changed," she said. "I was engaged to someone in Jordan, but after I was released they prohibited me from leaving the country. Every time I try to cross the border they turn me back and give me an invitation for interrogation."
Newly engaged and planning her wedding for the fall, Dahada says her new fiance has been threatened with imprisonment by Israeli authorities for his connection to her.
"Even after a prisoner is out of prison," she said with a soft smile, "the torture and sentence does not stop there."