On the occasion of Mother’s Day on March 21, Palestinian women prisoners inside Israeli jails in a letter called upon the Israeli prison authorities to uphold their rights as prisoners and demanded improvement in their living conditions. Women prisoners like their male counterparts continue to face discrimination and are often denied basic rights by the Israeli prison authorities in violation of Israeli as well as international law. March 21 is celebrated as Mother’s Day in most of the Arab-speaking countries in West Asia and North Africa.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS), 31 Palestinian women are currently being held in Israeli jails, including 10 who are mothers. The imprisoned mothers are Isra’ Ja’abis, Fadwa Hamamda, Amani al-Hasheem, Khitam Sa’afeen, Itaf Jaradat, Sa’adiyya Farajallah, Fatima Elian, Shorouq al-Badan, and Yasmin Sha’ban. Among the incarcerated Palestinian women, one is being held under administrative detention without charge or trial, 14 are under trial and 16 are serving their sentences. One of them is a minor under the age of 18.
PPS highlighted the various hardships and rights violations that women prisoners, especially mothers, endure due to the harsh Israeli prison rules and restrictions. Women prisoners are not allowed ordinary visits and cannot come into physical contact with their families as they are separated at all times in prison by a physical barrier, such that mothers cannot even touch their children. The Israeli prison service also sometimes prevents women prisoners from keeping regular contact with their families through phone calls or other means.
The letter was jointly written by women prisoners lodged in the Damon prison in Israel. It states that despite the forced confinement, they are still attached to their lives and motherhood “in a manner that befits every Palestinian mother.” The letter says, “we’re united with Palestinian mothers and the women fighters worldwide to defend our rights and our children’s rights to a dignified life and in obtaining freedom and independence. We salute the mothers of Palestine, especially the mothers whose hearts beat with the beats of their wounded and imprisoned sons and daughters, the mothers who bid farewell to their martyred sons, the mothers who defended the land, the home and the school. And we say to our daughters that while this prison deprives us of physical contact with you, the messages of your love reach us with sure and continuous love.”
The women prisoners demanded that the prison authorities install a phone inside prisons so that prisoners can maintain contact with their families. They also urged the authorities to hire a woman doctor for them instead of a male practitioner. They also demanded an end to the brutal policy of solitary confinement and increasing the number of items sold at the prison canteen.
While speaking about the oppression that Palestinian women prisoners face at the hands of the Israeli authorities, the PPS said that “Palestinian women are still paying a heavy price with their lives and their families as a result of the continuation of this occupation and its inhuman and immoral practices.” It noted that the women prisoners are also taken to interrogation facilities for extended periods while cutting them off completely from their families.
According to the statement, “the Israeli occupation tries to break the will of the Palestinians, the mothers, and the families, and we have seen many cases of how Israel abducted and imprisoned mothers because the army failed to abduct their sons. We also have thousands of cases where Palestinian mothers were never allowed visits with their families for years throughout their imprisonment. In addition, we documented hundreds of cases where Palestinian detainees lost their mothers, but Israeli laws do not allow them to attend the funerals of their loved ones. Even the mothers, who aren’t imprisoned by Israel, face serious violations, by not being allowed to visit with their imprisoned husbands, sons or daughters. Add to that the suffering of mothers and wives whose sons or husbands died in Israeli prisons after years of not being allowed to visit with them.”
The denial of Palestinian women prisoners’ rights not only affects them, but is part of the larger Israeli subjugation of the Palestinian people. Israel, in its quest to maintain perpetual control over Palestinians, violates even their most basic human rights, disregarding not just international law but also the unwritten laws of human decency and dignity.