On the morning of August 8, we accompanied the poet Dareen Tatour to the detention center in Jalameh (Kishon), where she had to report to undergo a “screening” to determine where she would spend the remaining two months out of the five-month prison sentence imposed on her. The next day we learned that she had been sent to Damoun Prison, to be in the special ward for Palestinian “security” women prisoners.
Despite the harsh conditions in which “security” prisoners are held, staying with them is preferable for a prisoner like Dareen. The solidarity between the prisoners and the fact that this is a population that is not part of a “delinquent” marginal culture are more important than all the difficult physical conditions and restrictions of basic rights. However, by the standards of the Prisons Authority, her classification as a “security” prisoner constitutes a green light for abuse and denial of her basic human rights, even if all she is actually accused of is publishing a poem.
The women “security” prisoners (as all Palestinian “security” prisoners) have no right to a telephone, no access to a social worker that may help to handle sensitive personal problems and there is no rehabilitation process to prepare them for life after prison. Even the meeting with the lawyer representing them is not an open meeting but through a glass partition. Any “security” prisoner, even one accused of writing a poem, is considered, a priori, according to the apartheid system of the Israeli prisons system, more dangerous than any violent rapist or criminal murderer, and has less basic rights in prison.
Damoun Prison on Mount Carmel is located in damp buildings in a place that served as a tobacco warehouse for the Palestinian Karaman family before 1948. In 2000 the Israel Prisons Authority admitted that the prison was not suitable for human habitation and closed it. However, shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada in the same year, Damoun was reopened as a prison for incarcerating “illegal aliens” – the Palestinian “bread prisoners” who risk their lives and freedom by crossing the Apartheid walls that surround the Occupied West Bank in search for work. Later on, more Palestinian prisoners were brought to Damoun, including a new special section for female prisoners.
On Monday, August 27, I visited Dareen’s family in their home in Reineh (near Nazareth) to ask what they knew about her conditions in prison.
When Dareen separated from the escorts and entered the iron gate of the detention center, her father, Tawfiq Tatour (Abu Yamen), entered with her, along with a bag of clothes she had prepared in advance. Now he continued the story of the abuse of Dareen and the family from the moment of her entry to the detention center with this clothes’ bag. After Dareen was taken away, the guards told him to wait until they check the bag. After a long wait, perhaps an hour or so, they returned the bag full and swollen. He doesn’t know what was entered, or if anything was allowed in from all the clothes she packed.
The difficulties in bringing clothes to prisoners are a well-known and widely used form of abuse during the interrogation period. The father recounted how, after Dareen’s arrest, taken from her home in the middle of the night without any extra clothes, she spent many days under interrogation before the family was allowed to bring in clothes. But now, as she entered prison in a planned and orderly way after being sentenced, you wouldn’t expect that there would be such a problem. All the more so since Dareen was already familiar with the prison’s rules and packed exactly those clothes that prisoners are allowed to hold. No need to say that the bag with her clothes was returned without any explanation.
Visits to the “security” prisoner, the family was informed, can only be arranged by fax. They should submit the visitors’ names and wait for approval. In any case, for “security” prisoners only first-degree relatives might apply for permission to visit. Dareen’s father told me how he sent a request for a visit and received a negative answer: “She does not deserve a visit.” Again, no explanation was given. Several additional requests were not answered at all.
Last Wednesday, August 22, at the time of the families visits at Damoun, the father went to the prison, even though he knew he could not visit Dareen, hoping, at least, to be allowed to deliver some clothes. The guard at the gate refused his request. When he requested to speak with the responsible officer the guard refused and he remained behind a locked gate.
Prior to the publication of this article, we sent some questions to the Israeli Prison Service for their response. They stated that “according to the Prisons Service Ordinance, it is permitted to authorize visits to convicted prisoners at the end of three months from the day they enter the prison.” Lawyers who know the subject closely from their daily work told me that this is not the usual practice and that visits usually start about two weeks after the start of the sentence. But even if we take the words of the Israeli Prison Service as they said, Dareen was already in prison for more than three months at the beginning of her detention before being transferred to house arrest. Do they start counting the three months every time from scratch?