Gaza City – The tiny, densely populated Gaza Strip – where more than 1.8 million Palestinians reside within 360 square kilometres – is often referred to as an “open-air prison”, with a crippling Israeli blockade increasing pressure on the war-scarred territory.
But the Reform and Rehabilitation Centre for Women in Gaza City hosts prisoners of another kind. Gaza’s only prison for female offenders, which is run by Hamas, currently houses about 40 inmates, who have been jailed for a range of crimes.
Offenders are tried under Palestinian law, the same system utilised throughout the occupied territories. They are separated according to their type of crime: homicide, drug use, or moral offences, such as contact between unmarried men and women that is deemed inappropriate.
Tramadol, a pharmaceutical pain reliever, is believed to be the most prevalent drug in Gaza, and the courts have handed down stiffer sentences amid an uptick in its prevalence.
Prison official Amal Nofal says she is passionate about rehabilitating women inside the prison: “These women are powerful, and they deserve help. Everyone can do something wrong. We are all human. We are not angels,” she told Al Jazeera. “These prisoners are guilty but they are the daughters of our society, and tomorrow they will be mothers in our society, and one day they will be grandmothers. We stand behind them and we will never give up.”