Throughout the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, around 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli authorities, more than 10,000 of whom are women. Many of those female detainees were subjected to several forms of abuse, sexual in particular, but very few were willing to talk. On the eve of International Women’s Day, however, some decided to break their silence.
S.H., who refused to disclose her full name, was arrested for a few days to put pressure on her husband, also detained at the time, and extract confessions from him.
“They striped me and the officer who was interrogating me sat beside me and tried to molest me but I resisted,” she told Al Arabiya.
Hanaa Shalabi, the 30-year-old prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for 21 days in protest of the humiliation to which she was subjected in detention, said that an officer in civil clothes claimed he was a nurse at the prison and asked her to take off her clothes so he could search her.
“When I refused, he called other officers who tied me up and started beating me,” she said in a statement to the Palestinian Prisoner Society.
Shalabi’s lawyer Mahmoud Hassan said that one of the female officers wanted her to take off all her clothes in front of the other interrogators for the search.
“She kept refusing until the officer had to search her in the bathroom but threatened to retaliate against her,” he said in statement, of which Al Arabiya obtained a copy.
Hassan added that his client’s hands and legs were illegally tied during the trial.
Shalabi, who has so far lost 10 kilos, vowed to go on the hunger strike until she is released. She was sentenced to six months in jail and the sentence was reduced to four months, but no clear charges were leveled against her.
According to former detainee Iman Nafea, Israeli authorities abuse female prisoners all the time if not physically then at least verbally.
“In many cases, they search female prisoners after forcing them to take off their clothes. This is very humiliating even if it is done by a female officer because it shows there are bad intentions.”
Nafea argued that Israeli officers do not need to get prisoners naked to search them properly because they have advanced equipment that can reveal what is under the skin.
Nafea added that Israeli officers do not necessarily harass Palestinian detainees through direct physical contact with them, but they use other forms of sexual abuse.
“I know of a Palestinian woman who was assaulted with a club and several others who were constantly threatened with rape.”
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, which is an official holiday in Palestine, Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs Magda al-Masry stated that women have always been an integral part of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
“This struggle is manifested in the plight of female detainees like Hanaa Shalabi,” she told Al Arabiya.
Masry added that the Palestinian government should take a firm stance on the naked search of Palestinian female detainees.
“This violates all human rights laws and the world has to break its silence.”
All Palestinian women, stressed Masry, will mark International Women’s Day by declaring solidarity with Shalabi.
“We will all support her until Israeli occupation forces release her.”
Several Israeli human rights organizations filed 17 complaints on behalf of Palestinian female detainees who accused Israeli officers of sexual harassment.
According to the organizations, the Israeli military prosecution is currently looking into the complaints.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)