For weeks, Iman Hermas had been enthusiastically preparing to visit her imprisoned husband, Saeed, in the Israeli Negev Desert Prison.
For Iman, 15 October could not come sooner because, like hundreds of Palestinian families, she is not allowed regular visits to the prison.
However, since Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October – which resulted in the death of 1,400 Israelis – Israel has taken extreme punitive measures against Palestinian detainees across its prisons.
The families of prisoners have since received notifications from the International Committee of the Red Cross cancelling prison visits until further notice.
The new measure has left prisoners completely isolated, and their families in a constant state of anxiety amid an almost total absence of news about their loved ones.
Hermas, from Bethlehem, was arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
He and Iman have three children, the eldest of whom is 12 years old.
Iman said that after enduring several months of absence and finally receiving a permit to see her husband, the cancellation of the visit was crushing.
“It didn’t stop there,” she said. “Suddenly, the prison sections were closed to prisoners and all electrical devices were taken from their rooms, including the TV and the cooking plate.
“Their rooms were stormed and searched thoroughly, and many of their belongings were confiscated.”
Iman has been trying to find out some news about her husband, but information has been difficult to obtain. She has learned from the families of other prisoners that the prison administration has closed the store they relied on to buy food, and is now providing them with only two meals during the day.
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“They are being subjected to a starvation policy, and we learned that they have been fasting for two weeks because they don’t have enough food, so they are rationing the small quantities that the prison administration gives them,” she said.
Since 7 October, Israeli authorities have also gathered prisoners from the Gaza Strip in all prisons and placed them in one prison without declaring a reason.
The Israeli military has carried out a relentless bombing campaign on Gaza, killing at least 5,791 people, the majority of whom are children, women, and elderly.
Iman said that she hasn’t been able to eat or sleep since the crackdown on prisoners started out of deep concern for her husband.
‘Suffering is real’
Repression units in Israeli prisons have been raiding cells, intimidating prisoners with dogs, and confiscating their belongings, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club.
The association told MEE that these units are also beating prisoners, which has led to cases of fractured bones and bruises.
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“The situation is tragic and very difficult. There’s oppression, vengeance, and daily beatings in the prison,” Salah Fateen Salah, who was released from prison on Tuesday, told local Palestinian media.
“The degree of the beating suffered by prisoners is indescribable, and there’s no access to the medical clinic. The suffering is very real.”
The Prisoners’ Club spokesperson, Amani Sarhana, said Palestinian prisoners are currently going through one of the most “difficult and cruel periods” as they endure isolation, oppression, starvation, and deprivation of visits from families or lawyers.
“All legal procedures have been halted. There are almost no releases of prisoners even if their sentences have ended, and almost no court sessions,” Sarhana said.
“Medical treatment has also been halted. We are no longer talking about prisoners being subjected to medical negligence, but rather about cutting off their treatment completely.”
On Monday, Omar Daraghmeh, a Palestinian who was arrested on 9 October, died in detention under unclear circumstances, raising further tensions in Israeli prisons.
The Prisoners’ Club and the Palestinian Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs Commission have rejected Israeli claims that he died due to a deterioration in his health.
They said in a joint statement that Daraghmeh had appeared in good health when he attended his court session on the same day he died, according to his lawyer.
Hamas accused Israel of assassinating Daraghmeh, who it said was a senior member of the movement.
Female prisoners have also suffered unprecedented repression, with a complete ban on visits by lawyers and their families, and a complete denial of what is happening to them.
A director of the Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners Affairs Authority, Ibrahim Najajra, said that on 19 October, the Israeli prison authorities stormed Damoun Prison, where around 50 Palestinian prisoners are detained, turned the cells upside down, and emptied them of all objects, including tables, chairs, and kitchen utensils.
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When the female prisoners objected, the prison forces beat them, isolated a number of them in solitary confinement, and flooded their rooms with tear gas without taking into consideration the presence of underage prisoners, elderly women, and the injured and sick.
Najajra said that female prisoners have been subjected to severe punishments for over two weeks, including being prevented from leaving their sections to the courtyard, closing their store, confiscation of electrical devices, reducing the duration of showering to 15 minutes a day for each cell, repeated break-ins into cells, death threats, and constant insults.
Since the start of the war, the Israeli army has launched a widespread arrest campaign in the occupied West Bank, targeting nearly 1,200 Palestinians so far from various cities, including journalists, researchers, university students, and former prisoners.
The arrest campaign has been brutal, with Israeli soldiers forcing detainees to the ground, and holding them there handcuffed and blindfolded for long hours. The detainees are photographed, while soldiers hurl insults at them.
Ibrahim Khalaf told MEE that his brother Fakhr was arrested from his home at dawn on 21 October in the village of Rantis, west of Ramallah, as part of a massive arrest campaign that night.
“Dozens of soldiers stormed the house after surrounding it. They asked for my brother by name, then confiscated his phone and arrested him. All the detainees from the village that day were beaten. We recently learned that he was transferred to Ofer Prison,” he said.
According to the Prisoners’ Club, the majority of new detainees have been beaten and gathered in the open in inhumane conditions, and a large number of them have been transferred to administrative detention without charge or court session.
Salah, the newly released detainee, said the wave of arrests has resulted in severe overcrowding in the Gilboa prison, where he had been detained for five years.
“I have been sleeping on the floor because there is no space. The prison authorities have also confiscated pillows, blankets, and mattress covers.”