Heba Al Labadi is a Jordanian-Palestinian national. On August 20, she was detained at the Al Karameh crossing (Allenby Bridge) on her way from Jordan to the occupied West Bank to attend a wedding in the Palestinian city of Nablus. At that very moment, Heba fell into the dark hole of the Israeli legal system, joining nearly 500 Palestinian prisoners who are currently held in so-called administrative detention.
On September 26, Heba and seven other prisoners declared a hunger strike to protest their unlawful detention and horrific conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the prisoners is Ahmad Ghannam, 42, from the village of Dura, near Hebron, who launched his hunger strike on July 14. Heba’s hunger strike came only one day after Israel issued a six-month administrative detention order against her. With possible repeated renewal, such an order means that a prisoner is perpetually held in legal limbo — without charge and under constant duress, and even torture.
According to Heba’s lawyers, the Jordanian citizen has “lost some eight kilogrammes of weight since starting her hunger strike”. She only subsists on water.
Hundreds held on any given day
Administrative detention is Israel’s go-to legal proceeding when it simply wants to mute the voices of Palestinian political activists, but lacks any concrete evidence that can be presented in an open, military court. Not that Israel’s military courts are an example of fairness and transparency. Indeed, when it comes to Palestinians, the entire Israeli judicial system is skewed. But administrative detention is a whole new level of injustice.
The current practice of administrative detention dates back to the 1945 Defence (Emergency) Regulations issued by the British colonial authorities in Palestine to quell Palestinian political dissent. Israel amended the regulations in 1979, renaming them into the “Israeli Law on Authority in the States of Emergency”. The revised law was used to indefinitely incarcerate thousands of Palestinian political activists during the Palestinian Uprising of 1987. On any given day, there are hundreds of Palestinians who are held under the unlawful practice. The procedure denies the detainees any due process and fails to produce an iota of evidence to as why the prisoner — who is often subjected to severe and relentless torture — is being held in the first place.
The struggle of Palestinian prisoners epitomises the effort of all Palestinians. Their imprisonment is a stark representation of the collective imprisonment of the Palestinian people.
According to the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Samidoun, Heba was first held at the Israeli intelligence detention centre in Petah Tikva, where she was physically abused. Since her unlawful imprisonment, Heba has been placed in a “filthy” cell that has “surveillance cameras”, no windows, and air conditioning that is meant to keep her room cold at all times, reported prisoner support and human rights association, Addameer. She was later transferred to Jalameh, a notorious prison in northern Israel, where she was not able to shower for weeks due to the fact that “the area where she is to shower is ‘completely exposed’”.
Of the dozens of Palestinian and Arab prisoners I interviewed in recent months, for a soon-to-be published volume on the history of the Palestinian prison experience, every single one of them underwent a prolonged process of torture during the initial interrogation, that often extended for months. If their experiences differed, it was only in the extent and duration of the torture. This applies to administrative detainees as much as it applies to so-called “security prisoners”.
Heba is now lost in that very system, one that has no remorse and faces no accountability, neither in Israel itself nor to international institutions whose duty is to challenge this kind of flagrant violation of humanitarian laws.
While Israel’s mistreatment of all Palestinian prisoners applies equally, regardless of faction, ideology or age, the gender of the prisoner matters insofar as the type of torture or humiliation used; many of the female prisoners I spoke with explained how the type of mistreatment they experienced in Israeli prisons often seemed to involve sexual degradation and abuse. One involves having female prisoners strip naked before Israeli male interrogators and remain in that position during the entire duration of the torturous interrogation, that may last hours.
In fact, reports that are now emerging regarding Heba’s treatment suggest that she is not an exception. According to a PLO Prisoners’ Committee report, Heba has been subjected to sexual harassment and verbal abuse by her male interrogator. Heba and all Palestinian prisoners experience humiliation and abuse daily. Their stories should not be reduced to an occasional news item or a social media post, but should become the raison d’etre of all solidarity efforts aimed at exposing Israel, its fraudulent judicial system and Kangaroo courts.
The struggle of Palestinian prisoners epitomises the effort of all Palestinians. Their imprisonment is a stark representation of the collective imprisonment of the Palestinian people — those living under occupation and apartheid in the West Bank and those under occupation and siege in Gaza. Israel should be held accountable for all of this. Rights groups and the international community should pressure Israel to release Heba Al Labadi and all of her comrades, unlawfully held in Israeli prisons.
— Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. His last book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story and his forthcoming book is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons. Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.