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Israel’s Psychological Torture of Palestinian Prisoners and Their Families

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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The grave of Suha Jarrar, daughter of Palestinian political activist Khalida Jarrar, June 13, 2021
The grave of Suha Jarrar, daughter of political activist Khalida Jarrar, after the funeral last week. “I’m in pain, my daughter, because I miss you so,” Khalida wrote in a letter from prison.Credit: Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israel does not miss any opportunity to show how heartless it is. It did that once again in refusing to allow the Palestinian political activist Khalida Jarrar to leave her cell in order to participate in the funeral of her daughter Suha, who died at a young age, a week ago.

Among other things, the family suggested that the body be transferred by ambulance to the Ofer Prison compound, south-west of Ramallah, to which Khalida would be brought (in the torturous POSTA – inmates' transport vehicle – handcuffed and guarded by Israel Prison Service personnel) so she could at least say her last farewell. That offer was rejected too. The entire world followed and observed Israeli inflexibility in all its ugliness.

Now Israel – the prison service, Shin Bet security service, minister of public security – has the opportunity for tikkun, to make a small correction and, under the exceptional and tragic circumstances that were created, to give Khalida an early release. Let her leave prison now, and not in October, as scheduled. An early release, just and humane.

Mother Khalida had not hugged, kissed nor caressed her daughter Suha since October 2019, when Israeli army soldiers came to arrest her in her home. The last time Suha visited her in the Damon Prison south of Haifa was in February 2020, behind glass. And then the coronavirus landed on us. The two didn’t see each other in the military court either because the hearings were held on Zoom. Suha attended a few times and saw her mother on the screen.

In our phone conversation Saturday, I forgot to ask Ghassan, the father, if Khalida had been able to see Suha as well.

The next visit in the prison took place in August 2020, but only one visitor was permitted entry. Suha told her father: “You go, I know how hard it is for you without seeing Mom for so long a time.” The next time was in October 2020. Suha had a bad flu, and Ghassan went again. From October 2020 until July, the prison authorities froze the visitations routine. Finally, permission for a visit was given on July 7. For a single visitor, again. Despite missing her, Suha once again told her father: You go. “In other words, she gave up going twice for me,” Ghassan told me.

File photo: Ex-Palestinian Parliament member Khalida Jarrar at an Israeli military court.Credit: Majdi Mohammed / AP

Five days later, Suha was no longer among the living.

Because of the freeze on visits, the prison service allowed a number of telephone calls for Palestinian minors and female inmates. Khalida’s turn for a phone call came relatively late. (At this stage in our conversation, Ghassan’s voice broke, and he asked to speak again another time. I didn’t manage to ask him how many times Khalida spoke on the phone from the prison with Suha.)

The last time Khalida heard her daughter’s voice was on Friday, July 9, on the weekly radio show “Letters to Prisoners.” Relatives call Ramallah-based Ajyal Radio and speak to their relatives, who sit behind bars in their cells and listen. Ghassan told me on the phone: “Khalida always said that Suha doesn’t miss a single Friday to talk to her over the radio.”

Khalida heard about her daughter’s death for the first time on the radio last Monday. It was shortly before her lawyers entered the prison to inform her of the terrible news.

The refusal to allow the mother to see Suha and to kiss her for the last time was not just a result of personal obtuseness (of prisons commissioner Katy Perry) and of a lack of courage and of creativity (of Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, who may have lifted a finger, but not much more than that). The refusal is the denial of the humanity of the Palestinian prisoner and of the humanity of prisoners’ families, which is ingrained in the actions of the prison service and its regulations.

Preventing family and friends from meeting, and particularly from paying a final farewell, is one of the many instruments in the arsenal of psychological torture that Israel nurtures and uses against Palestinians who are outside the prison walls, as well as inside.

The prison service has especially long shelves on which it stores the tools for psychological torture of Palestinian inmates (for a lack of space we will skip the physical tools of torture). For example: denying the right to use a public phone to call one’s family (except for during the days of the coronavirus pandemic and only for some prisoners); giving families the run-around for hours before allowing them entry for a brief visit with their imprisoned loved one; limiting visitors to “first-degree family members” only; and prohibiting textbooks from being brought in.

There is a well-considered and long-time goal behind this psychological torture of prisoners and their families: to deter others from resisting the settler-colonization regime, to make it clear what heavy price resistance entails – in addition to loss of freedom. But in spite of this, new generations of Palestinians manufacture more and more opponents.

Or then, we – the so-called chosen people of the book, so arrogant and conceited that we became ignorant and oblivious to the lessons of our own history – take at least a little pleasure in exacting collective revenge on as many Palestinians as possible all at one time. Revenge for their not accepting or surrendering to our military supremacy and not groveling to the Jewish variant of settler colonialism, which is flourishing even during an era in which the international community already recognizes it as a crime.

“I’m in pain, my daughter, because I miss you so.” This is how the letter Khalida sent from prison begins, which her sister read over Suha’s fresh grave. She ended it with: “They banned me from parting from you with kisses.”

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