Prisoner Speaks Out From Israeli Jail

RAMALLAH, Palestine – Samer Hamdan*, a 26-year-old Palestinian prisoner, recalls being beaten until he bled. Seeing other prisoners covered in blood and screaming is the norm in the Israeli prison, he says.

Hamdan is serving a nine-year sentence in Ketziot prison in the Negev desert for membership of an "illegal organization". 

"In the end you admit to stuff even if you didn’t do it just so that the beatings and abuse will stop," Hamdan, a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) told IPS. "I was only 17 at the time of my arrest and very afraid as I wasn’t sure how to deal with the interrogation." 

Hamdan said he is only allowed to see his mother once a month for 45 minutes, and his father every four months. But his mother doesn’t take the long and tiring journey every month – it takes hours to travel from her village in the northern West Bank to the prison by Red Cross bus through several Israeli security checkpoints. 

"Sometimes, when my family brings clothes or educational books, I’m not allowed to receive them. It depends on the mood of the soldiers," Hamdan said. "The soldiers also regularly abuse the prisoners, and clashes break out periodically." 

Hamdan spoke to IPS on a mobile phone that he says was smuggled into his cell by a corrupt Israeli soldier. Several other phones have been smuggled into Israeli prisons by soldiers who sell the phones for up to ten times the market value. 

"In 2007, the Israeli police and soldiers raided our cells at midnight to search for mobile phones and other items which are banned," Hamdan said. "This was despite a previous agreement between prisoner representatives and the Israeli authorities that there would be no midnight raids." 

The ensuing clashes between prisoners and police made international headlines after beds were set on fire and a prisoner was shot dead. 

The Palestinian Authority (PA) pays a sum into the bank account of every prisoner each month. The prisoners depend on this money for their survival. "We are not given sufficient quantities of food, and the quality of the food is very poor. We have to use our own money to buy food from the prison canteen," says Hamdan. 

Hamdan shares his cramped cell with five other prisoners. The bunk beds they sleep in have one thin, dirty mattress. But he says his conditions are dramatically better from the cell where he spent a month under interrogation. 

"I was interrogated day and night and deprived of sleep. During interrogation I was handcuffed and beaten. A foul-smelling sack was placed over my head. In between interrogation sessions I was placed in solitary confinement in an underground cell where a fluorescent light was on 24 hours daily. I was not allowed a change of clothes nor was I able to shower. A bucket served as a toilet and was emptied only periodically." 

Last week two Israeli human rights organizations released a report based on the testimonies of 121 Palestinians held in an Israeli detention facility, which accused Israeli authorities of gross abuses of the prisoners. 

B’Tselem and the Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual said detainees were subjected to continuous handcuffing, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings and disgraceful hygienic conditions, amongst other severe human rights violations. 

"The violations begin from the moment of their arrest and continue until the detainee’s transfer from the facility," the report said. 

The human rights organizations reported that despite hundreds of complaints by the detainees to Israeli prison authorities, no criminal investigations or charges had been pursued. 

Saeed Al-Haj from the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society in Ramallah told IPS, "The abuse of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention has been an ongoing issue for decades. 

"Some prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for months at a time. We have one female prisoner, Wafa El Biss from Gaza, who has been in isolation, handcuffed around the clock, for nearly two weeks. She is only permitted limited toilet visits during the day and has to wait until the wardens come to uncuff her hands. She has to sleep with the lights on." 

Most of the cells in which the detainees are incarcerated are underground. Bright fluorescent lights are left on 24 hours per day, disorienting the prisoners and causing eye pain, vision problems, and headaches, the report says. 

Thirteen of the 121 detainees in the report spoke of sleep deprivation that lasted more than 24 hours. In all 36 percent of the detainees said they were humiliated and cursed by their investigators; 56 percent reported threats, and nine percent said they were treated violently. 

* Name has been changed.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Mel Frykberg

Mel Frykberg writes for Inter Press Service.