click here to listen to audio recording of interview (in arabic, with english voiceover)
Q. Please introduce yourself for our listeners
Fouad al-Khuffash, the Director of the Ahrar Center for the Rights of Detainees. Our Center runs a website documenting the stories of Palestinian detainees – their issues and the suffering they face in the prisons of the Israeli occupation.
Q. Recently, you published a report about detainee Ahlam Jawhar. Can you tell us, first, when was Ahlam abducted by the Israeli occupation forces, and what has happened to her since then?
Sister Ahlam Jawhar is a thirty-year old Palestinian woman who was living with her family in Huwwara village near Nablus. She works in the human rights field as a peace activist, with the group 'Friends of Humanity International', based in Vienna, Austria. Sister Ahlam was kidnapped forty days ago on January 12th, 2008. Since then, she was subjected to the ugliest sorts of torture in Peta Tikva interrogation facility, located on the part of Palestine that has been occupied by Israel since 1948. She was barred from meeting with her lawyer during interrogation.
They subjected her to psychological torture by preventing her from sleeping, and forcing her to stand with her hands raised for long periods of time. They were trying to get her to confess, but she didn't have anything to tell them, because she didn't do anything. They became desperate after they could not force her to confess, so they deported her to Jordan on Thursday, March 6th.
Q. Human rights activists such as Ahlam, are they, in general targeted by the occupation?
My dear brother, the Israeli occupation targets every Palestinian who talks about Palestine and works for Palestine. The occupation targets the trees, and the stones, so it's no wonder that they target every person who defends human rights and the rights of the Palestinian people. They don't hesitate to do such things. What they are doing, forcing the Palestinians out of the lands where they were born, violates all international laws and treaties, as these treaties bar such deportations.
Deportation is a new, but also old, policy practiced by the Israeli occupation against Palestinian activists. The policy was reactivated when Ariel Sharon was in power, and the current uprising began in 2000. Sharon deported a number of detainees from a prison in the Negev Desert to the Gaza Strip. And in March 2002, during Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, the Occupation forces deported to Gaza a number of fighters from Bethlehem who took shelter in the Church of Nativity. These practices carried out by the Occupation violate international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Q. Can you give us some information about the numbers of detainees in the Occupation's prisons, including children and women?
Dear brother, in fact this is a very important question. There are 11,600 Palestinian and Arab detainees imprisoned under harsh conditions. I myself was imprisoned, I spent more than six years in Israeli prison, and was only released one year ago. Palestinian detainees in Occupation prisons suffer from racism. Some of them are ill, so ill they can't even move, or take care of themselves. And in Al Ramla prison hospital, twenty eight detainees, including twelve who are paralyzed, have prison sentences exceeding 1200 years. There are 11,600 total, including 103 women.
One of them is Noor Al Hashlamoon, who had a baby in prison 45 days ago. There is also a legislator, Doctor Marian Saleh, who is over 55 years old. She was the Minister of Women's Affairs in the tenth government of the Palestinian people. Can you imagine how a Minister, who carries the title of Minister of Women's Affairs, is now imprisoned under Administrative Detention without any charges?
There are 367 children imprisoned. All international laws bar the arrest of children. They are subjected to harsh psychological pressure – Israeli interrogators threaten these children with rape day and night. There are 67 detainees who were arrested more than 20 years ago. There are 3 detainees who were arrested more than 30 years ago, and they are Sa'id al-Attaba, who was arrested in 1977, and Na'el al-Barghouthi, and Saher al-Barghouthi, who were arrested in 1978.
There are 1100 detainees under administrative detention – I think people know what I am talking about when I say administrative detention. It began under the British mandate, and Israel is the only country in the world which is still using this practice to arrest the Palestinians without charge, just because they are Palestinians.
Q. Israel continues to deport detainees, as you said. Isn't this considered a grave violation of international law?
What you are saying is correct. But, as I said, Israel does not care about the international community and human rights groups. Israel is a country which has no hesitation about firing 1,000 ton shells at Palestinian children, so why should they hesitate at deporting detainees to Jordan in violation of international law?
Q. What is the role of women in the political and social spheres in Palestine? How do you evaluate the role of women?
Palestinian women, since the first day of the Israeli occupation, have stood side by side with the men resisting the occupation, raising the children who grow up to defend the country. The struggle of Palestinian women has developed through the decades. In the past, Palestinian women just provided for the needs of the children, planting the love of the land in the hearts of the children. But in the current uprising, we noticed real participation by Palestinian women in the struggle against the Israeli occupation.
And don't be surprised when I tell you that since 2000, more than 3,500 women have been arrested. And over the last two months alone, 15 women have been arrested. Some of them, such as Ahlam al-Tamimi, were sentenced to harsh sentences – al-Tamimi was sentenced to 16 consecutive life terms. Palestinian women participate with the men in the resistance, and in defending their land. Their role is not less than the role of men. They are the partners in struggle and in work.
As I said, their role developed by their direct participation in this intifada. Some of them gave their lives for the cause, such as Waffah Idriss, and Dareen Abu-Aisha. Some of them were sentenced to long prison terms. There are 4 female detainees who are girls under the age of 18. And the oldest female detainee is Mariam Saleh, who I spoke about before. She is a symbol of working women – she was a legislator, and became a Minister in the government.
And allow me to say that there are currently 51 legislators and ministers of the elected Palestinian government who are currently being held in prison by Israel – including Dr. Aziz Dweik, who is suffering from a number of health problems. Allow me to say, in response to your question, that Palestinian women always stood side by side with the men, resisting and defending their land. And for that, many have been imprisoned, killed, or deported.
Q. Brother Fouad, we at the International Middle East Media Center and KBOO Radio in Portland, Oregon, would like to thank you very much for this interview, and for the information you have provided us.
Thank you very much. We are available anytime to talk about the issue of detainees.