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Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem



Part 4 of 4


So the Israelis have added the Lebanese to the Palestinians as the victims of their aggression. Ironically, Israel has established a concentration camp at Meggido, the Biblical Armageddon. A hole where prisoners are kept in the Meggido concentration camp ominously reflects the warnings of the Apocalypse:

According to a Palestinian prisoner,

At Meggido (in Israel), the essential of the interrogatories summed up to one requirement: to admit that we were members of one of the Palestinian organizations. Finally, everybody ended up admitting. It was made clear that beatings would continue unceasingly until confessions were obtained. We were forced to dress in military uniforms, which served afterwards as "proof' for the investigators, to pretend that we were "soldiers" when captured. Generally, we were interrogated in groups of five. One was interrogated while the others looked on, in order to be coaxed before their turn. One of the methods used to terrorize the most important among us or the recalcitrants were the dogs held on leash by the investigators. There was, at Meggido, a hole surrounded by barbed wire fences where some prisoners were locked up, guarded by soldiers. They were always the same ones, those beating up with clubs; they were the experts. They sought to touch the most sensitive parts of the body, including the genitals. (46)

Such treatment of prisoners in Israel's concentration camps is inevitably destructive of their health. At the Jenaid prison camp, 330 inmates out of a total of 700 are disabled and ill, i.e. 47%. The number of disabled and ill in Ashkelon Prison is 145 out of a total of 400, i.e. 36%. (47)

The prisoners are often deprived of medical treatment. A prisoner in the notorious Al Ansar concentration camp testifies:

In Ansar, we rebelled because of the Sabra and Shatila massacre mainly in order to put an end to the Israeli practice of telling us that they had come to Lebanon to protect us. Before this we had gone on a hunger strike. They shot on the prisoners and two people were killed. On the day of Ahda, women came to protest around the camps. Prisoners started attacking the Israelis with stones and the soldiers shot with their guns in order to quell the rebellion. One person was killed and 37 injured. They refused to treat the wounded as long as peace and quiet had not been restored. They started interrogating us one after the other in order to find out what the reasons were for this rebellion. The revolt had however been spontaneous: it was a holiday and the Israelis had no reason for keeping us. No judgment had been pronounced. Nobody knew what would become of us. It was also because of the living conditions in the prisons. It was also due to the fact that we had heard that they treated our parents badly in the refugee camps. In each camp there was one doctor. They then took the wounded to treat them. The doctor was outside of the camp and was treating the wounded through the barbed wire. And what a treatment this was! No medication was available, there was only aspirin. There were some old people, but they did not receive any care. There were also crazy people. There was also someone for example who had had his hand cut off. The doctor asked the Israeli authorities to allow him to remove the man from the camp in order to treat him but they refused. (48)

Sometimes the ill-treatment of prisoners in Israeli concentration camps leads to death. According to Ahmed, a male nurse in Lebanon:

They asked me my job. I told them I was a nurse. They asked me medical questions. They said I was a terrorist. The sun was terrible. I had no shirt on my back as they had taken my medical jacket to make blindfolds. I was severely bumedand all the skin came offmy shoulders and back. Some of the men were so thirsty they sucked sweat off their bodies. I saw fourteen men die from lack of water. Anyone who stood up was beaten. Anyone who moved his head was beaten. Anyone who tried to shift his position was beaten. I was beaten forty-five times because I pleaded for a little water. I saw soldiers cut the veins and arteries of prisoners' legs. Two prisoners bled slowly to death in front of me. These men were sixty and sixty-five years old respectively. Soldiers kicked these men in the face as they were dying. (49)


The conditions in Israeli prisons are among the most deplorable in the world. As the majority of the prisoners held by the Israelis are Palestinian political prisoners, the Israeli penal system has no interest in the "rehabilitation of criminals," because their Palestinian prisoners are considered to be "criminals" merely because they are Palestinians, not for committing any "crime."

The deplorable conditions of the "houses of horror" in which Israelis incarcerate Palestinian prisoners have not changed over the years. Following is a report on those conditions in a number of Israeli prisons as documented by Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone in 1984: Israeli prisons are essentially political prisons. They contain mainly Palestinians suspected, accused and, occasionally - on the basis of coerced confessions - "convicted" of carrying out, abetting or planning acts of resistance, whether peaceful or armed. In 1977, for example, over 60% of prisoners in pre- 1967 Israel and the Occupied Territories were Palestinians convicted in this way of "security offenses." While statistics for the total prison population are not available, the number of prisoners in maximum security prisons who are serving long term sentences consistently hovers around 3,000; thirty Palestinian women are imprisoned in Neve Tertza not including those women brought from Lebanon. Lawyers estimate that 20,000 Palestinians are imprisoned each year. Within the pre-1967 borders there are ten prisons, including Kefar Yonah, Ramle Central Prison, Shattah, Damun, Mahaneh Ma'siyahu, Beersheba, Tel Mond (for juveniles), Nafha, Ashkelon and Neve Tertza, the women's prison. Nine prisons are located in the post-1967 occupied territories: Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Fara'a, Jericho, Tulkarm, Hebron and Jerusalem. There are regional detention centers at Yagur (Jalameh) near Haifa, Abu Kabir in Tel Aviv and the Moscobiya (Russian Compound) in Jerusalem. In addition, police headquarters in Haifa, Acre, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the eighteen police stations throughout the State and the forty police outposts in the occupied territories are used to detain suspects for interrogation and torture. Military installations throughout the country also serve as interrogation and torture centers. Prisoners agree that the most savage of these is Armon ha-Avadon known as The Palace of Hell and Palace of the End. It is located at Mahaneh Tzerffin near Sarafand.

SABAFAND The "Palace of the End" is set behind a high wire fence seen by all tourists as they drive on the last section of road from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but five miles from Ben Gurion airport. This is the perimeter of Sarafand which is ten miles square and Israel's largest army ordnance and supply depot. It is also the repository of the Jewish National Fund, which uses Sarafand to store equipment for construction of new settlements in pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories. The inexorable relationship between occupation, settlement, colonization and the system of torture visited upon Palestinians becomes evident. Sarafand -the torture center - has historical significance. It was built prior to the World War II and served as the principal ordnance depot for Britain. It was one of the most notorious camps for detainees during the Palestinian uprising in 1936 against British rule and Zionist colonization of the land. The old British Mandate buildings were simply taken over by Israeli authorities, their function unaltered, and used for a new generation of Palestinian detainees. The center, known by Palestinian and Jew alike during the British era as the "concentration camp," has been maintained in character and use. The differences between prisons for Palestinians within the post-1967 Occupied Territories and those within pre-1967 Israel, i.e. within the "Green Line," are not great. Ashkelon prison, Nafha prison, the main wing of Beersheba prison and the special wing of Ramle prison, while located within pre- 1967 Israel, are major detention centers for Palestinians from the post- 1967 occupied territories of the West Bankand Gaza. Damun and Tel Mond are used for Palestinian youth. The physical location of prisons has little bearing on conditions. Israeli prison authorities maintain rigorous segregation between persons held on criminal charges and those convicted of "security offenses," who are political prisoners. As only a small number of Jews qualify as political prisoners and only a small number of Palestinians, particularly from the Occupied Territories, are criminal offenders, this separation entails de facto segregation between Jewish prisoners and Palestinian detainees. Neither contact nor communication is allowed. They are either in separate prisons or different wings of the same institution. Distinctions are also made between Palestinian prisoners from the territory occupied after 1967 and "Israeli Arab" inmates, who are Palestinians resident in pre-1967 Israel who hold Israeli citizenship. Conditions of imprisonment for prisoners from the post-1967 Occupied Territories are many times worse than those of pre-1967 "Israeli" inmates. Some, but not all, pre-1967 Israeli prisoners are allowed a bed or mattress. Approximately 70% of pre- 1967 Israeli prisoners enjoy this privilege. They also may receive one visit every two weeks and send two letters a month. They are allowed three blankets in summer and five in winter. (50) Prisoners from the post-1967 Occupied Territories sleep on the floor during summer and winter. They are allowed a rubber mat less than one-quarter of an inch (0.5 cm.) thick, one visit and one post card a month. Whereas the average living space per prisoner in European and American prisons is 112.5 square feet (10.5 square meters), in prisons for Palestinians from the post-1967 Occupied Territories, it is one tenth this area or 16 square feet (1.5 square meters) per prisoner. (51)

A LAW UNTO ITSELF The prison bureaucracy is a law unto itself. It was formerly known as the "Nir Kingdom," after former Commissioner of Prisons, Arieh Nir. He was replaced in 1976 by a new "King," Commissioner Chaim Levi. The "Levi Kingdom" has been called the "Wild West."Upon entering this domain the citizen loses all rights. He or she becomes subject to wholly arbitrary authority wielded by people selected for their harshness. (52) Its personnel operate on the single-minded principle of making certain that prisoners remain behind bars. No consideration whatever is given to the conditions or circumstances of life in prison. The Prison Ordinance (revised 1971) has 114 clauses. There is no clause or sub-clause defining prisoners' rights. The ordinance provides a legally binding set of rules for the Minister of the Interior, but the Minister himself formulates these rules by administrative decree. There is no provision stipulating obligations incumbent upon the authorities nor is there any clause guaranteeing prisoners a minimum standard of life. (53) In Israel, it is legally permissible to intern twenty inmates in a cell no more than 15 feet (5 m.) long, 12 feet (4 m.) wide and 9 feet (3 m.) high. This space includes an open lavatory. Prisoners may be confined indefinitely to such cells for twenty- three hours a day. (54) The Israeli statutes make no provision determining the supply of food either in quantity or quality. There is nothing to compel medical treatment for the sick. There are no arrangements for prisoners to read, write, study or do crafts. All prisoners, however, are compelled to perform physical labor and the distinction between hard and "ordinary" labor is not made. The Statute does not oblige prison officials to permit family visits, allow the dispatch or receipt of correspondence or permit prisoners to purchase food, books, writing materials or clothing. Because none of these draconian measures fall under the heading of punishment nor are they distinguished from "normal" conditions of imprisonment, prison authorities need not demonstrate any infraction or prove absence of "discipline" to impose such treatment. No legal process is required to remove any privilege normally allowed. There is no legal prohibition toprevent prisonadministrators from inflicting all these deprivations indefinitely and without exception upon the entire prison population of Israel.(55) Wherever conditions are less harsh than those set out above, "improvement" is, again, at the sole discretion of the prison administrator. It constitutes a demonstration of "good will." This is spelled out explicitly in the Prison Ordinance, Revised Version, 1971: Food, space and minimal conditions of physical survival are designated "privileges," to be granted or withdrawn at whim and will. This reality is constantly emphasized to prisoners whenever protests or complaints are expressed. (56) Minors need not be separated from adults nor civil offenders from criminal convicts. There is no legal obligation to transfer a sick prisoner, even if mortally ill, to a hospital. Clause 16 stipulates merely that the Prison Director may do so at his discretion. (57) Prisoners are prohibited from having in their possession virtually anything - such as a pencil, pen, notebook, book, eyeglasses, etc. - without explicit and formal permission of the Prison Director. Clause 38 states: "The prisoner will not have in his possession any prohibited item." (58) A "prohibited item" is defined as any object which "this ordinance or the regulations forbid being brought in or out of prison or in possession of the prisoner." (Clause 1) The statute is Kafkaesque. The Ordinance states that "a prohibited item is any such item the Prison Director has decreed to be prohibited ..." (59) There is no provision in the statuteconceming special food rations or supplements for the ill or for those suffering from chronic disease. This also applies to medication. Nor are civil detainees, who are remanded in custody while awaiting trial, entitled to receive normal food. But if no statute in the ordinance allows prisoners rights or imposes administrative duties upon the authorities, the prisoners are subject by statute to stringent obligations, the infraction of which constitutes a disciplinary offense. A warder may impose a disciplinary charge on a prisoner at any time. The prisoner is then brought before a tribunal of prison officers and tried. The "tribunal" of guards is empowered to delay release, impose isolation for fourteen days at a time and impose "short food rations" or a "punitive diet". A punitive diet is defined as a ration of food"sufficient to keep a person not engaged in labor alive for a limited period of time." The term "sufficient" is not defined and is discretionary. (60) Separation or "isolation" translates into what prisoners call the "dungeon". It is a cell with an average size of 3 feet (1 m.) by 8 feet (2.5 m.) in which twenty-three hours a day are spent without a bed or reading matter of any kind. Prisoners must relieve themselves in this cell. Disciplinary offenses include such acts of omission as (1) refusal to consume food; (2) deliberate, unauthorized destruction or disposal of food; (3) the introduction into food or drink of any substance that might impair their taste. Thus, hunger strikes or refusal to eat rotten or infested food constitute disciplinary offenses. Disciplinary offenses include "any form of insubordination" as well as a failure to assist physically in their suppression. A prisoner is under obligation to aid guards in punitive measures taken against any inmate charged with a disciplinary offense. There are additional offenses including: (1) any action intended "to generate among prisoners or warders unnecessary panic"; (2) "impolite behavior"; (3) "causing unnecessary noise, swearing or cursing"; (4) "the commission of any action, any type of disorderly behavior or any form of neglect that may damage good order and discipline, including such acts as may not have been detailed in the previous clauses above."(Clause 56, 1-4) (61) Prison Commissioner Arieh Nir served eighteen years. He is described in Ha'aretz as a factotum of former Minister of Interior Shlmo Hillel, who "was very averse to any conception of rehabilitation."His successor,Levi, wasa high ranking officer in the Border Police, "a security officer hunting terrorists." (62) Of particular interest is the report by Dr. Silfan, chief psychiatrist to the Prison Service, who examined guards, warders and officers: Hundreds were brought before him for "mental stress." These are the symptoms from which they suffer: "A paranoid condition, paranoid manner of thinking, prominent psychosomatic symptoms, hypochondria, low threshold stimulation and tendency to aggression." (63) Persecution mania, nervous stress and aggression are the apparent qualifications of warders, guards and officers. These then are the statutes governing prison life.


Political prisoners have frequently declared that the conditions in the detention centers and prisons both in pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories are designed to destroy them both physically and psychically. Beatings: In all prisons in pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories prisoners are beaten. In Ramle this is performed in the dungeons or "isolation cells": A number of warders attack the prisoner and beat him with their fists, boots and clubs made from wooden hoe handles which are kept in a closet adjacent to the dungeon cells. (64) In Damun prison, beating is done more primitively. It is performed in public in the courtyard. The most brutal guards are in charge of the "Post." This is the prisoner transport vehicle which makes three trips weekly from the detention center in Abu Kabir to Shattah prison. It stops at all prisons inside Israel except Ashkelon and Beersheba. Every trip of the "Post" results in savage beatings. Given the slightest pretext, Post guards take the victim off the vehicle at the next Post station and "beat him beyond recognition." (65) Isolation: Isolation is not regarded as punishment under the law. In reality, few people can survive many months in cells 3 feet (1 m.) by 8 feet (2.5 m.) for twenty-three hours a day. Yet no prisoner who made any verbal attempt topreserve self-respect has avoided periods in the isolation cells.

Labor: Prison labor is forced labor. It is organized as "a means to harass the lives of prisoners."66 Political prisoners are deliberately assigned production of boots forthe Israeli army, camouflage nets, etc. Those who refuse are denied such "privileges" as cash for the canteen, time out of cells, books or newspapers and writing materials. Some are punished with isolation. The average "wage" for this labor is $0.50 per hour. Forced labor is deployed to maximize physical and emotional stress. It is also a means of exploitation.(67)

Food: Nutrition in prisons is deficient and food budgets are minimal. Allocated meat, vegetables and fruits are often sequestered by the staff. Upon being appointed Prison Director of the Central Prison of Ramle, David Distelfeld ordered the prison kitchen to bake 200 cookies for a party he gave. Eggs, milk and a fresh tomato are categorized as prisoner luxuries. They may be provided only to those suffering from ulcers or kidney diseases. There is no requirement in such cases that these foods are in fact provided.(68)

Medical Treatment: In 1975, aprisoner in Damun prison cuthis wrists andlegs. Fellow inmates called the guard, A delegation of three guards arrived. The medical orderly opened the cell and grabbed the prisoner and without uttering a word clubbed the man's face repeatedly. The prisoner fell on the floor, the medical worker kicked him incessantly. (69) Prisoners are jailed in unsuitable buildings. They suffer in summer from exhausting heat. In winter the damp penetrates "to the bone." In Ramle prison during winter, one third of the prison population suffers from swelling of the hands and feet due to severe chill. The only medication available is vaseline, but even it is rarely allowed. Detainees who serve sentences of more than a few months leave prison with permanent disabilities. Lighting conditions are so poor that prisoners suffer from deterioration of eyesight. Kidney ailments and ulcers have an incidence among inmates of five times that of the general population. "One is better off with three years imprisonment without illness," prisoners say, "than with one year of imprisonment with illness." An ailing prisoner is doomed to suffer."(70)

Asafir: Prisoners have reported that torture is routinely administered by a small group of collaborators in each prison, some of whom are not actual prisoners but informers posing as such. Whether prisoners who collaborate or informers insinuated in the prison, the procedure has been institutionalized. In each central prison and detention center special rooms are set aside for the collaborators, who are known as "asafir" or "song birds." Common among the "asafir" are violent criminals selected for their fierceness. Others are selected from those held on political charges even though they lack a political past. The latter are allowed privileges in accordance with the services they perform. Interrogations by "asafir" are effective and follow a set pattern. An "asfour" will present himself to a new detainee as a leader of the P.L.O. or a member organization. Warm tea, which has often been drugged, is offered the recent arrival. The prisoner is questioned quite closely about his beliefs, associations and activity. Prisoners sometimes invent things either to gain favor with their interrogators because they are thought to be real political figures, or because of the menacing manner of the questioner. (71) Sometimes if a prisoner fails to "open up," he will be threatened with a razor or himself labelled a collaborator, all the while being warned that he will be tortured orkilled should he fail to disclose his past activity. Many prisoners who have withstood official interrogation and torture for weeks, break down under the stress and uncertainty. They do not know whether to be open, to invent past activity, to cooperate with apparent cadre of the P.L.O. or to risk further torture and abuse. Under such conflicting pressure they yield to impulse which they as quickly doubt and regret.


A particular inquiry into prisons located within pre-1967 Israel was published in Ha'aretz from January through March 1978 by Israeli journalist Yair Kotler. Based on research comprising fourteen chapters, this study is an important testament on conditions inside Israeli prisons. Yair Kotler called prison life in Israel "hell on earth" and proceeded to describe each prison in detail.(72)

Kefar Yonah:

Senior officials call the prison of Kefar Yonah "Kever Yonah" (the grave of Yonah). It is the detention center that terrifies all who pass through its gates. Detainees have named it "Meurat Petanim" or "The Lair of Cobras."

"The reception awaiting those remanded there until trial is frightening." Cells are extremely cold and damp. The shabby, torn and filthy mattresses are crowded. Most detainees have nowhere to lie but on the floor. The overwhelming stench of human excretion, sweat and filth never fades from the locked and bolted cells. In D wing there are three rooms into which twelve, eighteen and twenty detainees are crammed.

Central Prison of Ramle:

Ramle is one of the harshest prisons in Israel. It is a former British police station that was once used as a stable for horses. It is overcrowded and stinking, packed with 700 inmates. Many prisoners do not have a bed, a small comer or even a few square meters for themselves. Frequently 100 people must lie on the floor.

There are twenty one isolation cells ("X"s) inRamle. Each cell is designed for two inmates but sometimes five prisoners are packed into these small cells. There is no partition between the toilet and the wash area. The cells are humid. Sunlight never penetrates into the isolation cells, which are completely sealed off. A dangling bulb gives off light the whole day long.

In addition to the isolation cells, Ramle has a series of dungeons. The cells are 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and 6 feet high (2 m. by 80 cm. by 2 m.). They are dark, filthy and give off a terrible stench. There are no windows or light bulbs; a small opening in the door lets in a little of the light from the corridor.

Before a prisoner is placed in the dungeon cell he is stripped naked and given a torn, thin overall. Once a day he may be let out to use the toilet; otherwise he must contain himself for the entire day and night. He can urinate through a wire mesh in the door. The prisoner is allowed neither a daily walk nor a shower.

Frequently there are beatings. The favored mode is the "blanket method." A few guards cover the prisoner's head and beat him until he falls unconscious.

In order to avoid solitary confinemeni a prisoner must know how to lead a life of total submission and self-abasement. He must answer calmly when a guard shrieks at him. He must stand straight when talking to an officer. He must never be late getting dressed, day in and day out. He must stand by his bed for roll call at 6 a.m.. He must work if ill and state that he feels well if the orderly tells him that is how he feels.


Life in Damun is "Hell on earth." "The living conditions are disgraceful and cause revulsion in every visitor who comes to this God forsaken place." Overcrowding is bad. Damun, like Tel Mond, is a prison particularly for young Palestinians. The buildings absorb the damp and cold. Five blankets would not be sufficient to keep warm. "Many are sick and most are despairing."

The youth wing of Damun has even worse conditions. Overcrowding is so terrible that youths can only stretch their limbs for two hours every fortnight and this interval is often missed.

Beersheha: The principal detention center for "security" prisoners is near Beersheba. Overcrowding is severe. The prison was designed for 500 and contains 850; there are as many as 80 prisoners in one room. Sewage continually overflows and there is flooding. Tension is felt in every cell.

Shattah: After 1948, Shattah became the central prison in Israel, but in 1958 the largest escape of prisoners in the history of Israeli prisons occurred and Ramle succeeded Shattah as the central prison. In Shattah today overcrowding is terrible. The stench is felt at a far distance ... Living conditions in Shattah prison are disgraceful. The cells are dark, damp and chilly. The air is suffocating. In summer during the period of great heat in the Bet Shean valley, the prison is a blazing hell.

Neve Tertza: Women prisoners are incarcerated at Neve Tertza within Ramle Prison. Overcrowding is severe. The prison was constructed to house three inmates per cell. There are now six inmates per room and often more. Women prisoners are sometimes interned with their children. (73) The daily itinerary is virtually identical to that of the men. Supreme Court Justice Chaim Cohen made the following statement regarding the Kotler report: "Can this State, which is called modem and progressive, be trusted to receive people - prisoners and detainees - in prisons in such almost inhuman conditions as are prevalent in our jails?" (74)


Palestinian political prisoners have not received the status of Prisoners of War but prison camps are constructed for them. On May 2,1980 Nafha prison was opened, designed to be the most severe maximum security prison in pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories?S Nafha is called "the political prison" by its inhabitants. It is in the desert, eight kilometers from Mitzoe Ramon and halfway between Beersheba and Eilat. It is in a barren area with terrible sandstorms. Sandpenetrateseverything. Nights areextremely cold and the daytime heat is unbearable. Snakes and scorpions roam the cells. The authorities isolate the veteran Palestinian leadership in this desert prison.

Among the prisoners are such Palestinian leaders as Omar Al Kassam, imprisoned since 1968, Khalil Abu Ziyad who has spent thirteen years in prison and Yaqob Odeh, sentenced to life. Most of the prisoners here have already passed through all the prisons in Israel. It is they who state that Nafha's conditions are the worst.

A typical cell is 18 feet by 9 feet (6 m. by 3 m.). There are ten mattresses on the floor and no other space. A primitive lavatory occupies one comer. Above the lavatory is a shower. While one prisoner uses the toilet, others must wash themselves or their dishes. In a room such as this ten older prisoners spend twenty-three hours a day. One half hour a day all the prisoners must walk in a small concrete yard 15 feet by 45 feet (5 m. by 15 m.).

Many prisoners are ill. Two have severe heart conditions: Abdullah Adjrami, 44, from Gaza, has been in prison sixteen years. Abdel-Razzaq al Koutoub is from Jerusalem. The nearest hospital is fifty miles away in Beersheba.

Since 1967 there has been a continuous struggle by prisoners for elementary human rights. Major hunger strikes were held in Ashkelon in 1977 and 1978 and in Ramle in 1977. The prisoners withstood isolation and denial of visits in order to obtain basic amenities such as the opportunity to read some books and to receive paper and pens. In Nafha they had to start again from the beginning.

The prisoners say: "They put our bodies in prison but they cannot break our spirit. There will be an explosion. We have nothing to lose. We started our struggle outside prison and we will continue inside prison because we are struggling for exi~tence."~~ This statement was taken by lawyers Lea Tsemel and Walid Fahoum on May 13,1980, two weeks after Nafha prison was opened.

The Lea Tsemel Dossier: LeaTsemel is a prominent lawyer defending Palestinians in pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories. Her experience has informed much of the investigative work conducted over the years into the condition of Palestinian prisoners. With Palestinian lawyers Walid Fahoum and Mohammed Na'amneh she visited the Nafha prisoners and brought their situation to public attention.

The Nafha Hunger Strike of 1980:

On July 14, 1980 the prisoners of Nafha began a hunger strike. It wasn't however, until the seventh day of their hunger strike that the prisoners were able to meet their lawyers and they werechained by the legs and handcuffed. Theexhausting desert heat was so stifling that they could not cross the distance between their cells and the lawyers' room.

From the day of their arrival two months earlier, the Palestinian prisoners began to protest conditions at Nafha. "We refuse," said a spokesperson, "a death sentence in daily installments." "We," said another spokesperson, "are not trying to struggle for political demands but for elementary rights." (77) Their principal demand was treatment equal with that accorded Jewish criminal prisoners - treatment already severe.

The demands included:

(1) Ventilation in the desert prison cells.

(2) Windows in place of air slits.

(3) Metal doors to be replaced by bars.

(4) A decrease from eight to four prisoners in a 9 feet by 18 feet (3 m. by 6 m.) cell.

(5) Beds, tables and chairs. (They were sleeping, eating and writing on the floor.)

(6) Ventilation in the lavatory.

(7) A dining area.

(8) Reduction of the twenty-three hours spent daily in the cells.

(9) Prisoner supervision of food preparation.

(10) Equal quantity and quality of food for Jewish and Palestinian prisoners.

(11) Return of notebooks, letters and written materials taken from prisoners.

(12) A regular visit by a doctor for those suffering from long-term diseases.

(13) A dental visit. (Dentists never visit.)

(14) The transfer of gravely ill prisoners.

(15) Elementary human behavior by guards.

(16) An end to arbitrary punishment. (78)

By July 21st, Lea Tsemel had seen five of the twenty six Nafha prisoners who had been transferred to Ramle detention center. "They looked like they had gone through hell. They could barely walk and talked very slowly. The marks of last night's beatings were obvious." (79)

When they had reached Ramle they were "welcomed" by high ranking officials and guards. They were made to stand while handcuffed, their faces to the wall, and they were then beaten with fists and clubs. During the night they were taken from their cells one at a time.


Ya'coub Dawani:

Ya'acoub Dawani had been a student of economics in Cairo. He was imprisoned for life in 1968 when he was twenty years old. "The moment we arrived they lined us up in a row and hit us with clubs and fists in an unbelievable way. I was wounded. (He had been struck on the thumb and index finger repeatedly.) They took off our clothes and weighed me. The nurse told me to sit on the chair and he hitmy genitals. Taken to his cell, he heard screams and shouts of agony from other prisoners. Later, when he refused to eat, a threestarred officer told the guard "Give him the bomb!" They hit his ears violently and then his face. When he still refused to eat, four men began to hit him, led by the nurse. The savage beating continued. They made Ya'acoub stand, pulled his legs from under him, hit his head and walked on his neck and face. One guard ground his shoe into Ya'acoub Dawani's face. "I told him, 'I have a stomach operation' and showed him the scar; and 'I have a heart problem." The nurse asked, 'Where is your heart?' and gave me a strong punch to the chest. They kept beating me and I said I wouldn't eat even if they killed me."

"Next they brought an empty enema bag with an attached tube." Three times a guard tried to put the tube in his nostril - in and out without liquid. Then he pushed it in and out of his throat and poured in salt water. Dawani threw up. "It's amazing how such ahuge quantity of salt can dissolve into so small a volume of water. It was like drinking the Dead Sea." It went into Ya'acoub's lungs. At night he vomited again. He was feverish.

"I'm crying as I tell you this not because I was broken. I cry because of the humiliation and the fact that I was helpless. I am continuing and will continue this strike as long as the demands of the Nafha prisoners are not fulfilled." (80)

Ya'acoub Dawani said this in the present of Altert, the same officer he had accused of partaking in the beatings. Ya'acoub said this openly, knowing he had to return to the isolation cell where he would again be at the mercy of the guards.

Attiya Sawarka:

Attiya Sawarka told Lea Tsemel in the presence of an officer that he suffers from ulcers. Gripping his stomach he described how the guards hit him in the abdomen until blood came out of his mouth.

Jihad Jahshan:

Jihad Jahshan spoke in a barely audible voice with marks from beatings on his lips and around his eyes. His account is similar to that of Attiya Sawarka.

Prison authorities announced on July 21 that three prisoners had been hospitalized with "pneumonia" in Assaf Ha-Rofeh Hospital in Sarafand. One of them, Ali Shehadeh Muhammad Jafari, died.

"One does not have to be a doctor or pathologist," said Lea Tsemel, "to see the connection between brutal force-feeding of salt water through a tube inserted in the nose and into the stomach or lungs and 'death by pneumonia.'"(81)

On July 30th, Lea Tsemel addressed the following demand to the legal advisor of the Israeli Government:

"In the name of the family of the deceased, Ali Shahadeh Muhammad Jafari, and in the name of the prisoners struggling in Ramle, I demand that the Israeli State bring to court the Director of Ramle Prison, Roni Nitzen, the nurse responsible, and the high officials and guards of Ramle Detention Center for causing the deaths of Ali Jafari and Rasem Halawa and for their attacks on other prisoners." (82)

Ishak Mragha:

On July 27 Lea Tsemel visited Ishak Maragha in Asaf Ha-Rofeh Hospital in Sarafand. He was suffering from pneumonia with complications which became more severe in the next two days. Ishak was not out of danger.

"When we reached Ramle," he told her, "they forbade me to sleep on a bed. While I was in my cell I heard screams and felt in my heart that my turn would soon come. At 4.30 a.m. an officer came and took me to another room. My comrade, Jihan Jahshan, was screaming. An officer said, 'Look how your friend is eating.' Jihan was drinking milk and spitting it out." Ishak was offered food which he refused. He was struck by all the guards on the ribs, back and head.

'Two officers pushed me into a chair and swore at me. I told them I preferred to die than to eat; really at that moment I was longing for death. The nurse cursed me and said, 'You'll die.' He put a tube in one of my nostrils and when liquid came through it I started to scream. I felt an unbelievable pain, like a hand grenade exploding inside. I fainted, dropping to the floor. The liquid was not milk. It was like water and salt with I don't know what else. It had a whitish color.

"When I came to, the nurse offered me rice and I refused. He told one of the officers to shove me into a chair again. I fainted. I remember falling to the floor, vomiting and coughing and throwing up blood. I noticed the Prison Director, Roni Nitzen, near the door. He had twice seen me on the floor and heard me moaning. I didn't hear him say anything.

"They took me back to the cell. I vomited all night and gasped for air. I screamed for a doctor but no one came." As a result of Lea Tsemel visit, Ishak Maragha was taken to a doctor. He was brought to the Ramle Prison Hospital but soon transferred back to prison together with Ali Jafari, who later died.

"All Jafari told me they force-fed him through his nose by tube, causing pain in the abdomen, ears and head. The left us alone in the prison about an hour. I was writing in pain on the floor. Both of us vomitedand spit blood. We tookturns calling for the guard because neither of us had enough strength. Later they brought us back to the hospital and Ali Jafari fainted immediate1y."

Because of his condition, Ishak Maragha stopped his hunger strike but still was unable to eat. (83)

Hana Issawi:

When the Nafha hunger strike began Hani Issawi had only four months left to serve of his twelve year sentence. By the eleventh day of the hunger strike his health was precarious; he suffered from dehydration. Lea Tsemel saw Hani on July 29th. Guards had beaten and kicked him and the others when they were transferred to Ramle prison. Hani reported that the nurse, Rafi, beat him and the other prisoners before forcefeeding them. A fat officer, with three stars, put a tube into Hani's nose. When it wouldn't go in he forced it into Hani's mouth. Through the tube he poured salt water mixed in a whitish colored liquid. Hani threw up immediately.

Hani's conversation with Lea Tsemel took place in the presence of Officer Aboudi. Prison Director Roni Nitzen sat on a bench in the room. Hani recognized him because in 1976, Nitzen had been the education officer for Ramle Prison. (84)

Muhammad All Khalil Hassan:

Lea Tsemel talked with Muhammad All in the special department of the Ramle Detention Center in the presence of Druze Officer, Nawaf. Muhammad Ali stated:

"Ya'acoub Dawani and I were separated from the other prisoners and put in cells without beds and water faucets. They took me out of my cell at about 3 a.m. on July 22 and put me into a room that looked like a clinic. On the floor were blood and vomit. In the room sat the Deputy Director of the detention center, Officer Nawaf, two other guards and a nurse. The nurse's name is Rafi; he is responsible for the clinic.

"They took off my clothes, the guards and nurses beat me. Officer Nawaf watched. They kicked me like a football." He displayed green bruises over his rib cage. "I was beaten on my genitals. They put a tube in my nostril. I was bleeding. They poured one liquid measure down the tube. The nurse ordered Nawaf to bring a second portion and inserted it by force. My belly swelled, water came out of my mouth and nose and I vomited .... When I left the room, clothes in hand, I told them 'Every oppressor's day will come.' The officer with three stars and the nurse came out and beat me again."g(85)

Khamis Munir Salaymeh:

Khamis had served twelve years of a fifteen year sentence when the Nafha strike began. In the presence of an officer in the Ramle Detention Center, he informed Lea Tsemel of his experience 1 a.m., July 22,1980.

Khamis was taken to a room in the Center and an elderly officer with grey hair hit him hard on the ears when he refused to eat. A second officer named Rimo slapped his face. A Druze guard called Marzuk, who was also called Razu, hit him. The nurse, Rafi, kicked him into the air and walked on his body when he fell to the ground. His hand was broken. Razu hit his right eye. The Prison Director, Roni Nitzen, who was sitting near the door, told Razu, "Don't hit him on the face."

They force-fed Khamis via a tube in his nose with a substance "like dirty oil." It had the consistency and color of oil. The second time they used salt water. "I was not the only one who got oil-like liquid. Jihad al Amareen told me he got oil instead of milk."(86)

Because of the efforts of Lea Tsemel, news of the hunger strike at Nafha spread. A solidarity hunger strike began in most of the security prisons. The prisoners in Ashkelon, Ramle and Gaza declared an unlimited hunger strike. During the week of July 30,1980, six mothers of prisoners who were hunger striking began their own hunger strike in the Jerusalem office of the International Red Cross. The women were taken to a hospital.

After four weeks the Palestinian political prisoners at Nafha desert prison were still on hunger strike. Many were in critical condition. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails established rotating strikes of solidarity. Seventeen women in Neve Tertzaprison finished a five day support strike on August 3rd. Inmates at Ashkelon stopped hunger striking on August 8th. after 17 days. Ali Jamal, the longest held administrative detainee, completed his first two weeks of strike. Half of Beersheba's 400 Palestinian political prisoners remained on strike both in solidarity and in demand for improvement in their own conditions. Nablus prisoners went on hunger strike on July 21. (87)

As a result of this virtual rebellion of the Palestinian prison population an official Committee of Inquiry was established for the first time to investigate the deaths of Ali Shehadeh, Muhammad Jafari and Rassem Halawa. It was appointed by the Interior and Police Minister, Yosef Burg, who was also Chief of the "autonomy" talks delegation. The Chairperson was Shmuel Eitan, brother of Raphael Eitan, the Israeli Chiefof- Staff.

The Committee visited Nafha and Ramle to meet the transferred Nafha prisoners. Among those questioned was AttiyaSawarka. The Committee concluded that Ali Jafardied after he had eaten too much rice and had regurgitated the rice into his lungs.88 This is contradicted by the coroner's report; it showed that there were only fluids, oiland fat, in Ali Jafari's lungs. (89)

On the night of August 14th, the Prison Director told the inmates that the Minister of Interior, Yosef Burg, had asked them to end their strike. They debated twenty hours and agreed to stop on condition they would be allowed to meet the Commissioner of Prisons and discuss their demands. On August 15, the prisoners at Nafha political prison conditionally stopped their thirty three day hunger strike.

The Commissioner came to Nafha on August 17 and promised to "enlarge the promenade and to let the families visit their sons in a room rather than outside behind a fence, as they donow." The prisoners stated that their final word had not been said. (90)

Two years later, on November 16, 1982, Lea Tsemel reported a hunger strike of over 200 political prisoners at Ramallah prison. The strike began in reaction to "the horrible conditions and attitude of the prison authorities towards the prisoners: bad food, superficial medical treatment, daily harassment, prevention of access to printed material, inadequate clothing ..." (91)

On January 22,1983, the prisoners at Nafha began apartial hunger strike to protest the "constant hunger"' to which they are subjected to in prison. "This strike is about hunger," declared the eighty prisoners at Nafha, most of whom are in for life. "We are ashamed as political prisoners to raise this as our central concern, but things have reached the point where we are starving."92 No single part of the agreement reached in 1981 has been implemented. "The conditions in the prisons," wrote Lea Tsemel, "have not changed since the big strikes." (93)


Israel has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) limited access to its prisons in pre-1967 Israel and the post-1967 Occupied Territories and is in the habit of citing this in its defense. The I.C.R.C., however, does not make public declarations. While the I.C.R.C. protests Israel's lack of cooperation, it agrees to all the governmental stipulations.

The I.C.R.C. is not notified of arrests and must learn of these from families who do not know where their relatives have been taken. It has access neither to police stations, military camps nor to the prisons it visits, except under the direction of Israeli authorities. The I.C.R.C. must submit alist of those prisoners it wishes to see. Frequently on arrival at a prison, the I.C.R.C. is simply informed that "The prisoner has been moved." Should they discover where the prisoner has been "moved," they are told at the next location that the prisoner has "again been moved."

Go to part 4 of 4

Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem
By Issa Nakhleh

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