Israeli prison ‘like being inside a grave’

Palestinian Amal al-Sada spent a year in prison after trying to smuggle a SIM card to her jailed brother.

Amal al-Sada
Amal al-Sada heads towards her home in Halhul, Hebron, after being released from prison [Photo courtesy of Amal al-Sada]

Amal al-Sada, a 28-year-old Palestinian woman from Hebron, had been visiting her jailed older brother for more than a decade before deciding to risk smuggling a SIM card to him – unaware of the price she would pay for the attempt.

After spending eight months under house arrest in the Kseifa area of the Negev desert, Sada was sentenced to 14 months in prison in July 2015, fined around $4,000, and banned from ever visiting her jailed brother again. Her brother, who had been serving a 17-year sentence for allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli settler, was given another three years in prison.

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After her sentencing, Sada was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks in Ramle prison, then transferred to HaSharon prison for six months, and finally to Damon prison to serve out the remainder of her sentence. She was released last week, nearly one month early.

Al Jazeera spoke with Sada about her experience in Israel’s prison system.

Sada's family welcomes her home, as a photo of her jailed brother hangs on the wall [Photo courtesy of Palestinian Prisoner's Centre for Studies]
Sada’s family welcomes her home, as a photo of her jailed brother hangs on the wall [Photo courtesy of Palestinian Prisoner’s Centre for Studies]

Al Jazeera: Can you tell us about your time in solitary confinement?

Amal al-Sada: I was completely isolated. I did not see day or night. It was like being inside a grave.

I spent two weeks without a shower because the bathroom I had was open and directly facing the door of the cell, so that if the female guards were to walk by or look in, they could see me showering. I did not shower for two weeks.

She would swear at me in Hebrew – calling me dirty and telling me to shower. I refused. I didn’t even have any other piece of clothing to change into.

The most painful part was when I would ask for water. I would ask for it in the afternoon, and they would bring it to me at 12am at night. I would call and call for them – but they would not give it to me when I asked for it. I have diabetes, and I need water. So I resorted to drinking water from the bathroom tap.

They humiliated us greatly.

It was dark beyond imagination inside - there were a few small openings at the top so that if you stood up, you could barely see the road.


Al Jazeera: How were you treated inside the prisons?

Sada: They were difficult – very difficult. I faced humiliation, degradation, suppression and harassment.

As a diabetic, I would have to go the clinic three times a day to get my insulin shots, while my hands were cuffed. That was the most degrading thing for me – to have to go to the clinic and back with my hands cuffed. The prison guard would not leave me for one second.

I was exposed to psychological and verbal abuse, especially as I was going and coming from the clinic. They threw derogatory remarks at me – dirty words that should not be said to anyone, and I would never dare to repeat.

The bosta [vehicle with blacked-out windows used for prisoner transfers] in itself is torture for the prisoner. 

Al Jazeera: Can you describe your experience in the bosta?

Sada: We would be divided into very tight cells inside the vehicle. There is a metal chair that you sit on, and the cell is so tight that your knees hit the metal door when you sit.

We would be chained from our arms and legs while sitting. It was extremely painful – more torture, to add to all the torture we were already going through.

They would drive vigorously and speed, with no regard for the prisoners. Every time they would swerve right or left, our bodies would bang against the metal cells.

It was dark beyond imagination inside – there were a few small openings at the top so that if you stood up, you could barely see the road.

After locking us up in each individual cell, the guards would come in with all their weapons and their police dogs. It smelled horrible. I was put inside it when I appealed my court sentence, and when I was being transferred from prison to prison.

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Al Jazeera: What were the living conditions like inside the prisons?

Sada: In Damon prison, we were 18 women in one room. We shared one bathroom. They built us another bathroom after a long and hard struggle of us asking for it.

The beds were half-a-metre wide, and not long enough. I am tall, too, so I had to sleep in uncomfortable and awkward positions due to the lack of space.

The rooms were not equipped with any kind of heating system. We would heat up water in a pot and pour the water into plastic bottles. We would then place the bottles in socks and hold them while we slept to feel some sort of warmth.

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We would also buy blankets from the canteen with our own money.

The food was OK. They would bring fish and meat once a week, schnitzel twice a week, and sometimes they would bring kofta. The food would be cooked, but we would re-cook it because it usually wasn’t clean or cooked enough.

Every girl was allowed one piece of fruit a day – they would bring mostly apples and pears.

Al Jazeera: What did you do to pass the time?

Sada: I was the one in charge of the room. I would spend my time making sure the girls had everything they needed, such as food.

I also read a lot and said a lot of prayers. I memorised a lot of the Quran. During the last month, I became an imam for the girls. I would lead the prayers.

During the day, we were allowed out into the prison’s courtyard between 8-10am, 1-3pm, and 4-5pm. After that, the doors were closed on us until the next day.

Every three months, we were allowed to exchange the clothes we had and two books, so that we would be able to bring in new ones. We could not keep more than two books at the same time.

Every 15 days, we were allowed one 45-minute family visit.


Al Jazeera: What was the hardest part for you?

Sada: The longing for my family was killing me on the inside. It was extremely difficult when I missed them, not to be able to hear their voices or see them.

Al Jazeera: How has this experience changed you?

Sada: I grew even closer to God. I learned patience, and how to make sound judgements. My personality changed greatly. 

Emotionally, everyone around me knows that I am not happy. My state of mind has suffered greatly. Although my family is around me, I still feel as though I am alone. My mind is always elsewhere, and I forget a lot. I have asked my family to bring me a psychiatrist as soon as possible.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Source: Al Jazeera