‘No Pain is Like Mine’: On International Women’s Day, Palestinian Female Prisoners Endure ‘Harsh Conditions’

Israa Jaabis was arrested in 2015 after a faulty cooking gas cylinder in her car exploded near an Israeli checkpoint. (Photo: via MEMO)

By Palestine Chronicle Staff  

29 Palestinian female prisoners are currently held under harsh conditions in Israeli prisons, subjected to a systematic policy of medical negligence, Palestinian prisoners’ support and human rights group Addameer said.

Releasing the figures on March 7, the human rights organization took the opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of two 16-year-old teenagers who are among those detained.

According to Addameer’s report, several female prisoners are injured while 15 suffer from various health issues, in addition to six mothers, two minors, and a female prisoner who are under administrative detention.

Among them, there is Israa Jaabis, 36, who was arrested in October 2015 after a faulty cooking gas cylinder in her car burst into flames 500 meters from an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.

Jaabis was severely wounded in the blaze, suffering 65 percent burns across her body. Israeli occupation forces accuse her, who has a ten-year-old son, of attempting to harm Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near the site of the explosion. No evidence was presented and she vehemently denied the charges.

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Despite her debilitating injuries, Israeli occupation authorities denied her much-needed medical attention. In 2022, they refused to perform urgent surgery to help her breathe through her nose.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Jaabis’ sister, Mona, published in Ramzy Baroud’s book These Chains Will Be Broken:

No Pain is Like Mine

It is too difficult to describe the first time we saw Israa’. We learned bits of information here and there about the nature of her wounds, and of the fact that some of her fingers were amputated. I thought that I was mentally prepared to see my sister in that condition, but I was wrong. […]

I was trying to prepare my nephew, Mu’tasim, for the transformation that had taken place. I told him that his mom had had an accident and that he would be allowed to meet her soon. But he is a smart kid. Although only eight years old at the time, he searched the news and found out what had happened. But he still could not find pictures of her after the accident. I sat with him again and told him: “I love my mother no matter what she looks like, white, black or red; whether her face is blemished or not.” He said: “I love my mom, too, no matter what.” Then I showed him a photo of her that was intentionally distorted. I did not want him to actually see right away how horrific her disfigurement was. He sat in silence for a long time. He seemed emotionally disconnected, as if the story was about someone else. […]

The first time we were officially allowed to meet with her was in HaSharon prison (Footnote ). We were separated by a thick wall of glass. My mother only recognized her from her height, as Israa’ is particularly tall. My mother rested her head in her hands and said nothing; she only wept.

I kept myself from crying, though. I told Israa’: “We love you and we will stand by your side, no matter what the obstacles.” My father seemed to have lost his mind. He hobbled around the room, crying: “Israa’, sweetheart. Israa’, I am your father.” Israa’ kept telling him: “I am Israa’, Daddy. Please look, just look at me. My face is burned, but my heart, my mind and my whole being is still the same.” I kept assuring him that this was Israa’ but he was too confused and kept walking in circles, screaming her name. She was always a source of strength for him. When he finally realized that she was his daughter, he broke down, weeping like a child.

Israa’ was the backbone of our family. When I visited her the second time, I told her: “You don’t always have to be the strong one. It’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes.” As soon as I said that, she began crying, and she cried for a long time. […]

A year and two months later, Mu’tasim was finally allowed to see her. He was nine years old then. I took him, as my mother could no longer cope with the pain of seeing her daughter in that condition. But the prison guards did not allow me access to her room. They only allowed Mu’tasim to talk to her from behind the glass barrier. He begged them to let him hug his mother and, finally, they relented, agreeing to allow him to spend ten minutes with her. I watched from behind the glass as Israa’ walked in wearing a Tigger costume. She had sewn it inside the prison, as she knows how much Mu’tasim loves the Winnie the Pooh cartoon. She even designed and wore a Tigger mask. When Israa’ was younger, she loved to dress up in costumes and perform as a clown for various community events for children. Mu’tasim told her: “I know you are my mother. I don’t want Tigger. I want to see your face.” So she removed the mask. Mu’tasim was shocked. His eyes filled quickly with tears. He told her: “I love you, no matter what.” He told her that the “acne on your face will soon go away”. When it was time to leave, he clung to her, refusing to let go. The guards asked me to intervene. Mu’tasim kept repeating: “You either let me stay, or let her come home with me.”

On the way home, Mu’tasim told me, after a long silence: “My mom will always be beautiful, even if the acne never goes away.”

My heart breaks for Israa’, my tall, slender, sister with a beautiful face, the lovely one whose hands were always adorned with henna. In her we saw hope, strength and beauty. The harshness of the occupier scarred her face and body, amputated her fingers and is relentlessly trying to break her spirit. I will never forget when a journalist asked her across the court room, as she sat surrounded by armed Israeli officers: “Are you in pain?” She raised whatever remained of her hands and answered: “No pain is like mine.”

(The Palestine Chronicle)

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