Arwa Abdel-Rahim is the mother of two young
prisoners, one of whom was arrested when he was still a minor, and both of whom
have been kept in solitary confinement. Ms. Abdel-Rahim, 46, lives in Nour
Shams Refugee Camp in Tulkarem, a governorate in the northern West Bank and, in
addition to the prisoners, has two more children, a young daughter and son.

 

Arwa’s oldest son, Fadi, sustained a severe
injury when he was shot in the knee during an Israeli invasion of the Nour
Shams camp in 2000. "He was not able to move for a year, he spent a year
in bed," his mother says.  Fadi had
been in rehabilitation receiving physical therapy for three months at the Abu
Raya Rehabilitation Centre in Ramallah at the time of his arrest on 30 March
2002. "Special Forced arrested him while he was picking up his medication,
they did not even let him bring his crutches." Fadi was initially brought
to the Maskobiyeh interrogation centre in occupied East Jerusalem. "He was
blindfolded and of course without his crutches he was unable to walk. The
soldiers took him out of the military jeep and push him onto the ground,
laughing. They tortured him in ways like this all the way to the interrogation
centre."

 

Fadi’s trial lasted two years. In the end, he
was accused of taking part in activities against the occupation and sentenced
to 11 years in prison. "Initially after his arrest his situation was very
bad, but we did not know about it. He did not get any medication in prison.
Thankfully his health is better now." Fadi wants to pursue university
studies, but so far has not been allowed to: "Before he was arrested, he
finished a course as a flight attendant in Jordan before he came back to
Palestine at the beginning of the Intifada.
He had just graduated and he was planning to continue at university, but then
he got arrested." For seven years, Fadi has attempted to enroll in a
university programme. "Nine months ago, he had already paid his tuition
fees to study at Hebrew University, but the prison administration punished him
by putting him in solitary confinement. They told him that he had to
discontinue his studies." Arwa’s second son, Yasser, had also hoped to
attend university after finishing secondary school – "as I myself have
always dreamed to see one of my sons at university. But they arrested him,
too."

 

Yasser was arrested at the age of 17, still a
high school student. On the night of the arrest in March 2008, "Israeli
soldiers came to our house, they surrounded the house, broke the doors, and
made us leave the house so they could search it. Then they took him out, blindfolded
and handcuffed him, and took him into the interrogation centre at Huwarra, for
22 or 24 days. They accused him of things, but he did not make a confession. A
lawyer was able to see him during court sessions. He was sentenced to six
months in administrative detention. One day before the sentence ended, his
administrative detention was renewed for another six months. Then again, 24
hours before the following six months ended, they renewed the detention for
another six months. During the last six months, his lawyer appealed and the
court agreed to minimize the sentence to three months, so in total it was about
15 months that he spent in prison." The uncertainty of the length of the
sentence is what makes the Israeli practice of renewable administrative
detention so agonizing for Palestinians, as Arwa says: "Someone who is
imprisoned with a sentence knows when he will be released, but someone in
administrative detention does not know."

 

Only one month after Yasser’s release, on 22
July 2009, he was arrested again. "The Israelis returned to our home at 4
am. This time they did not knock on the door; we were asleep, they just unhinged
the doors while we were asleep and took him." According to his mother, it
was "exactly like the first time, he was charged with the same
accusations, but he did not confess to anything, nor did anyone else.
Nevertheless, they charged him on the basis of ‘secret evidence’ – they said
there is a secret file and so he was put in administrative detention. They gave
him a two-month administrative sentence. […] He does not know when he is going
to get out. They take him, they renew his detention suddenly, and even if he
gets out, they may arrest him again within 20 days or a month. So he is exposed
to the possibility of suddenly being arrested all his life."

 

Permits for prison visits are difficult to
obtain and the travel is often strenuous, made more difficult by the fact that it
is not guaranteed that a visiting family member can see their loved one at the
end of the trip. "I visited Yasser at Megiddo prison once since they
sentenced him. I went to visit him again last week, but I did not find him at
the prison. They told me that they had taken him away for questioning, but I
have no idea about what. A week after that, two days ago, I went to visit my
older son, Fadi, who is imprisoned at Nafha Prison. The same thing happened. I
entered the terminal and I was inspected and then I spent three hours on the
bus – and it was hard because it was during Ramadan. But then they ordered us
to get out of the bus to be inspected again and to go back home because there was
no police car available to accompany the bus to the prison. So, this month, I
was not able to visit either one of my sons."

 

The security inspections family members have to
undergo during prison visits are often degrading. "Sometimes female
soldiers take us to inspection rooms, but during inspection they always try to
make us take off our clothes. Once when I was going to visit my son at Megiddo
prison, there was a young lady whom they asked to undress but she refused, so
they did not allow her to visit. It also happened to me once that they tried to
make me take off all my clothes, but I refused at the beginning. However, the
soldier told me that I will not be allowed to visit if I refuse to. It had been
a long time that I had not visited my son, because I was not allowed for
‘security reasons’, as they claimed. It had been five years that I had not seen
my oldest son. So I was forced to agree to be inspected, the way she wanted, in
order to be able to finally see my son."

 

The prison conditions are straining for those
inside, but also for the mother trying to help her imprisoned sons:
"Fadi’s leg is still painful, especially during winter. He always asks for
extra clothes and underwear. Nafha prison is in the desert where it is very
cold in the night and during winter, and the pain becomes worse in the cold. I
have tried to send him some underwear, but it has been over a year since he got
some of the items I sent him, not even all of them." In addition,
"the food is very bad, they have to buy the food they want to eat. We send
them money in order to buy food, but we also face difficulties in sending them
money. It is very hard for us, who live here in the West Bank to find another
Arab who lives in Israel to give him money, in order to send it to our son.
Sometimes he tells me about the prices [at the canteen] and I am shocked, one
cannot imagine how expensive it is."

 

Awra says that both of her sons were subjected
to solitary confinement. "For any little thing, they punish them and put
them into solitary confinement. Yasser was in solitary confinement for ten days
and Fadi faced the same. He was put into a room, which was one square meter,
where he was not able to sleep or to sit, except when he was squatting. The
quality of food was very bad and the quantities very small, so he did not eat
enough. He could not see anybody, nor could he speak to anyone. He was not
allowed to see any of his fellow prisoners; they knew nothing about him. When
Yasser was released from solitary confinement, I visited him and I found that
his voice was different, so I asked him about it and he said that while he was
in solitary confinement he was trying to talk to the other prisoners in the
sections far away from him, through the water pipes. He used to yell whenever
he heard the sound of feet walking, assuming if a prisoner was walking by, he
may have a chance to talk to somebody."

 

Asked about the effect the imprisonment of her
two oldest children has on her family, Awra says: "It is really hard for
the family. Although we are not the ones in prison, we do not have stability.
Their little sister was born while Fadi was imprisoned. She used to cry during
visits to the prison because she could not touch him through the glass. Even
last week when we went to visit Yasser and they did not allow us to visit, all
relatives went inside to visit and I stayed outside with her. She started to
cry and to say ‘tell them my brother is inside and I want to see him.’ When I
see her like this I cannot bear it anymore, I start crying and even all people
around us start crying while she is saying ‘my brother is inside, tell the
soldier that my brother is inside!’"