The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Sunday ordered the Israeli government to pay 115,000 shekels ($36,000) in compensation to a transgender woman who was held in solitary confinement at a detention facility for men.
The woman, who was held for three days over a dispute with neighbors in 2016, was awarded damages for detention conditions which were “in violation of policy and in a negligent and discriminatory manner” and for being denied appropriate food. She was also compensated 30,000 shekels in attorney’s fees.
The ruling was the latest legal victory for the woman, Doreen Bilia. After she filed a petition with the High Court of Justice, the Israel Prison Service agreed three years ago to halt its practice of separating or isolating prisoners from the transgender community.
“No less important than the monetary compensation is the precedent that was set. The prison service cannot disregard and abuse members of the community and hope that it will pass under the radar. For me, it’s closing a circle,” Bilia said Sunday.
In her damage suit, Bilia claimed that the solitary confinement was “difficult in the extreme, that it was done in violation of the rules and “was done only because I am a transgender woman.”
She testified that she felt that she was losing her sanity. “I was totally cut off from the world for long periods. I couldn’t know what time it was, whether it was day or night. I screamed and begged the guards to let me out for air, but they didn’t answer me.”
The prison service claimed that she was placed in solitary confinement “for the prisoner’s safety,” that there was “concern” that she would harm herself. The service referred to Bilia using “he” pronouns and male Hebrew conjugations.
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But in her magistrate’s court ruling, Judge Ronit Pinchuk-Alt ruled that the absence of an explicit decision by the prison commander and the absence of an interview between Bilia and a social worker to access the threat that Bilia posed to herself demonstrated the illegality of her solitary confinement and the irregularity of the process in her case.
“If the prison service had been properly prepared to accept female transgender detainees, the harm would not have been caused,” she stated. “The government needs to act in an equal manner toward each of its detainees,” adding that resources must be specifically allocated to ensure the physical and social safety and security of transgender detainees, Judge Pinchuk-Alt ruled.
The judge also ruled that the food that was given to Bilia, who is vegan, was inadequate, that she was deprived of a hormone treatment that she required as a transgender woman and was not allowed to shower for the more than three days that she was in custody.
“They gave me a whole potato with no way of cooking it. They gave me a carrot and a potato,” Bilia claimed. “I told the guards again and again that I don’t eat food that isn’t vegan, and no one did anything about it.”
The judge rejected claims that Bilia made that she had been sexually harassed and that her privacy was violated on her admission to the detention facility and during her incarceration, saying that this was not proven. “Although I got the impression that subjectively she felt harmed by the prison service’s conduct when her body was searched,” the judge remarked.
“For many years, transgender men and women have known that if they were imprisoned, it would be under the harshest conditions that the prison service has – total isolation in a sealed cell, without any kind of communications with the surroundings and without basic supplies,” Bilia’s lawyer, Hagai Kalai, said.
“This practice ended with her petition to the High Court of Justice,” he noted, but explained that after the court required the prison service to change its policy, the government refused to compensate Bilia for the harm caused her.
The compensation awarded by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court underscores “the obligation to deal with transgender individuals in a proper and respectful manner in general and in the difficult situations from the outset of the imprisonment,” he said.