“I feel scared when I look at my face in the mirror, so imagine what others must feel when they look at me.”
Those are the words of Israa Jaabis, a 33-year-old Palestinian mother from Jerusalem who has been languishing in Hasharon, the only Israeli prison for Palestinian female prisoners.
She is accused by Israel of attempted murder after blowing her car up at a checkpoint, a charge she denies. Her burns, she claims, are the result of an explosion in the car following a technical fault.
Broken on the inside, physically burned, and in an immense amount of pain, Jaabis said last week, in a letter dictated to her lawyer, that she does not receive adequate medical treatment from the Israeli Prison System (IPS).
She suffers from first and third-degree burns on 60 percent of her body, and is dependent on a fellow prisoner to assist her with simple tasks, leaving her feeling “humiliated”.
Eight of her fingers were amputated as they had melted to stubs from the burns.
She cannot lift her hands up all the way because her underarm skin is stuck together.
Her right ear is almost nonexistent and in a constant state of inflammation.
And her nose has a gaping hole on one side; she breathes mostly through her mouth.
She also suffers from nervous breakdowns, shock, and severe psychological crises.
The Israeli version is that she tried to blow up her car at the checkpoint, but how could that be the case when the windows of the car were all intact? The exterior of the car did not even change colour. And if there was an explosion, Israa would have been blown up with it into many pieces.
Two years ago, before the accident, Jaabis was working at a nursing home, volunteering her time at charities and schools, and dressing up as a clown to entertain the children at the Augusta Victoria hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.
On October 10, 2015, Jaabis was moving furniture in her car to her home in the Jabal Al-Mukaber neighbourhood in Jerusalem when, 500 metres from the al-Zayyim checkpoint in Jerusalem, she lost control of the vehicle.
It was two weeks after the start of the “knife Intifada” or the “October uprising”, which was characterised by individual attacks ranging from stabbings, car rammings and, to a lesser extent, shootings, carried out mostly by Palestinians in their teens and twenties unaffiliated with political factions.
Israeli soldiers shouted at Jaabis to stop the car, which veered into the adjacent lane. Suddenly, an explosion went off in the car.
“The Israeli version is that she tried to blow up her car at the checkpoint, but how could that be the case when the windows of the car were all intact?” said Mona Jaabis, Israa‘s sister.
“The exterior of the car did not even change colour. And if there was an explosion, Israa would have been blown up with it into many pieces.”
What happened to the car was a technical fault, Mona said.
“There was an electric contact that affected the airbag in the steering wheel, and the chemicals in the airbag caused the fire,” she said.
The Palestinian prisoner rights group, Addameer, said the fault caused a gas cylinder to blow up.
“An Israeli soldier approached her after she left her burning car, yelled and pointed his gun at her, and proceeded to arrest her on the spot,” Addameer said.
The car was not inspected in the aftermath of the incident by Israeli authorities, who according to Mona have no interest in entering talks about compensation claims.
Imprisoned in the ‘slaughterhouse’
Jaabis spent three months at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, before being transferred to the Ramleh prison hospital, referred to by other inmates as the “slaughterhouse”.
In 2017, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison by the central court in Jerusalem on charges of attempted murder.
Israa, a 32-year-old Palestinian mother, suffers from severe burns after two years ago, Israeli soldiers fired at her car. Israel sentenced her to 11 years in prison. She needs urgent care but Israel denies her any treatment or surgery #FreeIsraa pic.twitter.com/FB8z2prJ4X
— Palestine is not a slogan (@Stefaniafodd) January 2, 2018
“She is incapable of performing daily activities like eating, using the bathroom, or even changing her clothes,” Addameer reported.
“While Jaabis’s condition requires extensive medical and mental care, the Israeli authorities completely neglect her pressing needs.”
Jaabis needs at least eight surgeries, including a skin graft around her right eye and facial reconstruction.
Prison guards provide her with an ointment for burns, which she uses up within three days, and painkillers, which, Mona said, she is apprehensive about taking because she fears they could addle her brain.
Neglect amid new interest
But Mirvat Sadeq, a Ramallah-based journalist, said these efforts fell short, as she accused rights groups of neglecting Jaabis’ case.
“There are currently eight female prisoners who suffer from injuries, some of them with very difficult cases, and there must be a quick intervention to release them,” Sadeq told Al Jazeera, adding that the Palestinian Authority must use political pressure.
Is there a pain greater than this? I don't see any justification for why I am here in prison.
“The International Red Cross is also severely lacking in taking any action to help Israa. It is the duty of the ICRC to provide permanent visits and report on the health conditions of the prisoners and urge all parties to work for the treatment of the sick and injured cases,” she explained.
Last week, Jaabis appeared at court to appeal against her sentence. The appeal was postponed until further notice.
“Is there a pain greater than this?” Jaabis told reporters at the hearing. “The pain is visible, and I don’t receive treatment.”
She held up her hands. “I have no fingers,” she said. “I have been here for two years. I don’t see any justification for why I am here in prison.”
Leah Tsemel, Jaabis’ lawyer, told Al Jazeera: “She is not doing very well and is in deep pain and turmoil … She is getting some vitamins, but no proper treatment and nothing is being done to improve her appearance.”
‘It might be too late’
The child was permitted to see his mother after 18 months of her detention, but such visits have now been stopped, the IPS said, because he does not carry the required ID.
“I have no desire to eat, and I need a psychiatrist as my mental condition is deteriorating,” Jaabis said in her letter. “A lot of times I want to cry, and I feel a huge volcano bubbling up inside of me. What does my son say when he sees me? Is he scared of me?”
Mona said that her sister is aware of the heightened interest in her case.
“This might be too late,” Mona said. “Israa has reached the point of desperation where sometimes I think it would have been better not to do anything at all.”
Follow Linah Alsaafin on Twitter at @LinahAlsaafin