There Is Another War Going On in Israeli Prisons Today: How Are Palestinian Detainees Coping with the Battle of Al-Aqsa Flood?
October 26 2023

The news of the death of Palestinian administrative detainee, Omar Daraghmeh, 58, in Megiddo prison on Monday evening came as a shock to many, especially after a joint statement by the Palestinian Prisoners Society and the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs confirmed that the prisoner attended a virtual court hearing earlier in the day and had reassured his lawyer that he was in good health. However, the Israeli Prison Service claimed in their statement that the prisoner felt unwell and that he went to the clinic for treatment that same day. The joint statement puts the Israeli narrative into question and casts doubt on the circumstances of Daraghmeh’s death since the prisoner was detained on Oct. 9 as part of a mass arrest campaign two days after the launch of the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation. And so, we need to ask questions about the circumstances of Daraghmeh’s death and investigate what has been going on inside Israeli prisons since the beginning of this battle.

On the dawn of Oct. 7, 2023, the lives of Palestinian detainees inside Israeli prisons were transformed and their hearts were gripped by two emotions. First, a fervent hope that made their hearts race and their bodies quiver as they felt their freedom become more tangible than ever, and as the possibility of a prisoner exchange to empty all Israeli prisons loomed ahead. Second, a terrible pain as the Israeli repressive machine wreaked vengeance on all Palestinian detainees inside Israeli prisons. As the Israeli government announced its wartime cabinet in accordance with the 1945 British Mandate’s Defense (Emergency) Regulations, control over Israeli prisons was handed over to the Israeli military instead of the Israeli Prison Service. Oscillating between hope and pain, the families of Palestinian prisoners continue to live in perpetual despair.

Israeli Prisons Today Bring Back Bitter Memories of Abu Ghraib Prison

The number of arrests has increased since Oct. 7, reaching 5,300 detainees, bringing the total number to more than 10,000, according to a statement by Qadura Fares, head of the Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs. All detainees are being systematically and deliberately deprived of water and food, with water and electricity being cut off from the prisons. Moreover, direct physical assaults on prisoners have increased, as guards and army officers use batons to beat the prisoners, breaking the bones of some, while other prisoners become almost unrecognizable due to the bruising and swelling of their faces from these brutal attacks. These assaults are often accompanied by a barrage of insults and vulgar and humiliating remarks as the prisoners are shackled tightly with their hands behind their backs causing severe pain and leaving scars behind. In addition, prisoners are forced to endure the humiliation of mass strip searches, and the constant presence of armed guards and officers near them in the yards and cells, making them vulnerable to assassination and direct physical attacks.

Since Oct. 7, the number of arrests made by the Israeli army has increased to over 1,265 — most of which are in the West Bank, specifically people affiliated with or close to the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. They have been placed under administrative detention. The occupation has issued more than 300 administrative detention orders after Oct. 7, bringing the total number of administrative detainees to 1,600 (excluding workers from the Gaza strip detained after Oct. 7).

On Oct. 23, the Israeli Occupation authorities issued a military order regarding some temporary changes related to administrative detention. These changes include an extension of a detainee’s initial holding period before an administrative detention order from 72 hours to six days. Furthermore, the date of a detainee’s initial judicial review, which was previously set after eight days, has now been extended to 12 days. According to Qadura Fares, the primary goal of these arrests is to take revenge and punish Palestinian people everywhere, and is a feeble attempt to placate the Israeli public. As for Jerusalem and the ‘48 Occupied Territory, hundreds of arrests have been made under the pretext of “incitement on social media” and “affiliation with terrorist organizations.”

The estimated number of detained Gazan workers, who were in the ‘48 Occupied Territory on Oct. 7, is 4,000 detainees. Fares pointed out that the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, issued a decision classifying Gaza prisoners as “unlawful combatants,” in violation of international law, which states that the detainees are prisoners of war. He added, “Israel has not disclosed any information to any international party regarding the number of detainees from the Gaza strip or the prisons to which they have been transferred. To this moment, we have not been able to obtain accurate information about their situation and the conditions of their detention.” According to the Ministry of Labor in Gaza, 18,500 workers from the Gaza strip held Israeli work permits before Oct. 7.

Iman Nafe’, wife of prisoner Nael Barghouti, who has been detained for 43 years in Israeli prisons, says: “It is our right to know how our brothers and sons are doing. Since the war, we have not heard anything about them. And if we do hear anything, it is that they are suffering, being beaten, and deprived of their humanity. The occupation is the same everywhere — not just Gaza, but all Palestinian people are a target.”

Sana’ Daqqa, wife of prisoner Walid Daqqa, who is in critical health condition in the Ramleh Prison Hospital, stressed that Palestinian prisoners are part of the genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza, highlighting the situation of sick prisoners, saying: “Israel is now carrying out a policy of collective punishment against Palestinian prisoners. As for what is called the Ramleh Prison Hospital, where Abu Milad and all the sick prisoners are detained, there is absolutely no contact with them. We do not know anything about them; there is no communication with lawyers, and family visits have been canceled. There is no phone communication at all, and the Israeli Prison Service does not respond to our repeated calls hoping to check on all sick prisoners.” She added: “We hope that these difficult days will end soon, with all our prisoners free.”

This hope has burrowed into the hearts and minds of thousands of Palestinian families longing for the freedom of their sons and daughters. Some of them have thought about the meal they would prepare to welcome their sons, daughters, and spouses, while others have sewed the garment of liberation and attempted to smuggle it during prohibited visits. Some couldn't sleep a wink due to anxiety or joy. This hope has also resonated with many academics and researchers interested in the affairs of Palestinian prisoners. Dr. Abdel Rahim Al-Sheikh wrote on his Facebook page on Oct. 7, 2023: “What is being circulated about the numbers of Zionist prisoners in the hands of the resistance indicates that we have already reached beyond the terms of an exchange deal in any previously optimistic scenario. Perhaps, the first condition imposed by us will be the dismantling of the 'Israeli Prison Service' after the release of every detainee. Soon enough, we will witness this criminal system be torn down before its criminals stand trial. Gaza has made the impossible possible, and there will be no going back.”

A New Reality in Israeli Prisons after the Oct. 7

What is happening today inside Israeli prisons has not occurred since 1967, when Israeli prisons officially began their operation. It is a transitional phase and ushers in a significant transformation that the occupation had hinted at before Oct. 7, specifically after the Gilboa Prison break carried out by six Palestinian prisoners on Sept. 6, 2021. Since then, there has been a structural shift in how the Israeli Prison Service deals with the architectural and material construction of prisons, as well as their organizational and sociological structures. This occurred through a systematic escalation by the Israeli Prison Service administration directly against Palestinian prisoners. As a result, this new reality reeled the years back to the experiences of early Palestinian detainees in the 1960s and 1970s. According to Amani Sarahneh, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Prisoners Society, “prisoners today, based on the information we received, are sometimes subjected to beatings and torture on a similar level to what we used to hear and read about in the 1970s and 1980s.”

She adds: “The messages we received from lawyers who were able to visit some prisoners indicate that the prisoners today are in high spirits beyond what we can imagine. The resilience of the prisoners and their belief that patience and wisdom in the face of the repressive measures they are subjected to reflect the image of Palestinian revolutionaries and freedom fighters. Even though the prison administration may have put the prisoners through detention conditions resembling the early stages of detention, the prisoners have regained a language we haven't heard in a long time.”

In a related context, this is considered only the second war of its kind witnessed by Palestinians inside Israeli prisons; the first was during the 1973 war, and it was completely different from the current situation since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation and the Israeli occupation’s subsequent attempts of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in the Gaza strip. Shadi Al-Sharfa, a former detainee, says: “During the 1973 war, the occupation and the Israeli Prison Service were afraid that the Egyptians might reach Tel Aviv at any moment, so the atmosphere in the prisons during the war was very tense but prison guards attempted to act friendly. Today, there is no friendliness at all. On the contrary, there is a state of criminality, especially in the Negev Prison as the vast majority of the prisoners there are affiliated with Hamas. The prisoners have been suppressed, bound, and sprayed with tear gas and water cannons, in addition to insults and the breaking of their ribs.”

He adds: “There is a state of fear and terror among the prisoners, which is accompanied by a feeling of absolute helplessness. For the first time, the prisoner movement faces an event on such a large scale where they feel that any steps they might take would be futile. The popular movement today is entirely focused on the Gaza strip, and no one is paying attention to the prisoners. From another perspective, there is a sense of joy in the air, as the possibility of a prisoner exchange looms on the horizon after a long period without hope.”

Female Prisoners in Damon Prison Threaten Hunger Strike

Since Oct. 7, a state of fury has prevailed in Damon Prison, where around 50 Palestinian female prisoners are held, in response to the repressive measures imposed on them by the army leadership together with the Israeli Prison Service.. They were deprived of the canteen, recreation time, and water. Water, electricity, and public phone communication were also cut off. The prisoners are banned from family visits and meetings with lawyers, and they were subjected to cell raids and beatings. They were tear-gassed inside their cells, with no consideration for minors, elderly women, and injured and sick women, some of whom suffer from asthma. They were also threatened with death. Furthermore, Marah Bakir, the representative of female prisoners, was placed in solitary confinement in Jalameh Prison.

In response, the female prisoners decided to stand up against this brutal attack and refused to comply with the headcount. They also chanted and screamed and kept banging on the doors, threatening to go on a hunger strike if the situation continued as is.

The Prisoners’ Affairs Commission also reported details of a large force of prison guards armed with bulletproof shields storming the Damon Prison on Oct. 19, carrying batons, tear gas grenades, and weapons. They wreaked havoc on the cells, emptying them of all necessities such as tables, chairs, kitchen utensils, and food supplies. In addition, some female prisoners were placed in solitary confinement, including the prisoner Marah Bakir, the representative of female prisoners in Damon Prison.

Marah Bakir’s mother, Sawsan Al-Mubayyid, says: “Since the beginning of Al-Aqsa Flood battle and until today, Marah has been in solitary confinement in the Jalameh Prison. Marah has always told me that the director of Damon Prison always threatened her with solitary confinement because of her stance toward the prison administration, and it seems he took advantage of the situation to isolate her and put her under control. She then went on a hunger strike for six days to demand her release from solitary confinement. These are very difficult days for us, and we cannot contact her to reassure her or reassure ourselves.”

Muna Jaabis, the sister of the prisoner Israa Jaabis, expressed her mounting concern, saying: “The last time we spoke to Israa was on Oct. 4, and then contact with her was completely cut off. We are worried and afraid for her and the other female prisoners, as we have no news about them. There is nothing to say; words fail us in the face of these travesties, especially in light of the complacency we are experiencing. We no longer know who to fear for and worry about.”

Since Oct. 7, we have been witnessing difficult and pivotal days for the Palestinian cause, and it seems that the fate of Palestinian prisoners is directly linked to any development in this war. This means that their lives are currently at stake amid the triad of martyrdom in our Arab history “thirst, hunger, and fear.” This is happening while the governments of the Arab world and the West remain silent and complacent, leaving Palestinians with nothing but their voice and narrative, for those who do not tell their own story risk losing it to their enemies.

This article was translated into English by Aya Jayyousi. 


About The Author: 

Lama Ghosheh is a Palestinian journalist. 

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