Dena Karmi, 41, a Palestinian woman, who spent 16 months in Israeli prison recalls a harrowing tale of sexual abuse, she faced behind the bars.
Her body is still trembling while narrating the interrogation sessions during nights by male Israeli intelligence officers. At every moment, she was humiliated, and closer to extreme sexual abuse.
Like Karmi, many Palestinian women, have reported sexual abuse, ranging from exposition to extreme cavity searches at the time of admission in the Israeli prisons.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Karmi said that she was subjected to sexual harassment for two days in Ashqelon Interrogation Center.
“When I refused to take my clothes off, the jailer attacked me. She ruptured my pants and subjected me to embarrassing searches,” she said while describing her first moments in the detention center.
Karmi was arrested in July 2018 from her house in Hebron – a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank, 30 km south of Jerusalem -- and was sentenced to an imprisonment of 16 months.
She was held for allegedly participating in social activities linked to the Hamas resistance movement in the city of Hebron with six other women.
“The verbal sexual abuses are part of an organized policy to infuse humiliation and torture against all Palestinian detainees especially against women and children,” said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer (the Arabic word for conscience) – a prisoner support and human rights group.
She said that Israeli authorities have made sexual harassment a tool to put pressure on prisoners especially in the interrogation sessions.
Eight days after her detention in Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, Karmi was highly stressed and lost her consciousness several times.
According to her, interrogators exploited her situation and used colored language full of sexual innuendos.
- Humiliating behavior of interrogators
Her husband Nashat Karmi was killed in 2010 by the Israeli army during a clash. Using her situation of living alone, the interrogators repeatedly accused her indulging in illegitimate sexual relations.
“This was very humiliating and horrific particularly when the interrogator was behaving promiscuously trying to provoke me. Sometime during interrogations at night, the male interrogator was trying to get closer, even showing his inappropriate photos in swimming suit bath,“ she said.
The Palestinian woman further said while her hands were cuffed behind, the interrogator used to come close breathing on her face.
He even accused her of having a sexual relationship with other intelligence officers, who had interrogated her earlier.
Karmi recalled that interrogation sessions, particularly during the nights were harrowing, as the officers were attempting to molest and using filthy and insulting language.
“He [interrogator] was threatening to subject me to sexual abuse. Then he took me with the jailers to a new cell. They spent many hours near the door laughing which made me scared. I believed he would enter the cell any time and sexually abuse me,” she said.
Another Palestinian prisoner in her early 30’s told Anadolu Agency that she was subjected to sexual harassment in the Israeli prison transfer vehicle known as the bosta, between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
“One of the Jewish criminal inmates sitting opposite to me in the bosta, began insulting me sexually. I was shocked and knocked at the metal cage aggressively seeking for help. But nobody responded to my appeals. The Jewish inmate took his pants off and did ugly sexual movements that I am unable to describe,” she said while requesting anonymity.
She said that no officer from Nahshon unit -- responsible for transferring the prisoners -- helped her or prevented the Jewish criminal from harassing her. She said the criminal prisoner continued to harass her for more than two hours.
“I was crying, praying, and asking God to help me,” she added.
- Women avoid talking such abuse
Tasneem Jubran, a psychotherapist, and mental health care professional said that most Palestinian prisoners avoid talking about such experiences out of the fear of stigma, taking into consideration that the local culture treats sex as a shame.
“The sexual harassment is considered a trauma which leads to long-term physical and psychological damage in the relationship of the victim with herself and the surrounding. Almost it affects the sexual health of the victim if she does not have psychotherapy after liberation,” Jubran added.
The Addmeer's activist Francis said that the Israeli justice system does not take the complaints related to sexual harassment seriously.
“We have documented and filed many complaints to the Israeli courts and the UN. But until now there is no effective response,” he said.
- Complaints pile up
In 2015, Addameer filed a complaint against several policewomen who had physically harassed a Palestinian prisoner, subjecting her to strip search.
“The police investigated them but no indictment was filed. This was the only case where the police partially responded,” Francis added.
But in most cases, authorities have never responded.
“There is a failure to bring justice to victims of harassment locally and globally. The international humanitarian institutions have to take their role to hold those in charge accountable and bring them to justice” said Fransic, who is also a lawyer and has documented scores of complaints for over the past 10 years.
Around 4,300 Palestinians, including 41 women and 160 minors, are currently held in Israeli prisons, according to Palestinian figures.