The following report was sent to us by Professor I Shahak, Chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights. It was written by an Israeli who visited the Dahariyah prison compound; he managed to get in by mingling with the members of a Palestinian prisoner’s family. Since this is against the rules, his name is withheld.
On 31 January 1989, Fatmah Mahmud gets up at 3 AM. She wants to get early to the queue of visitors at the Dahariyah compound. She is trying to locate her 15 years old son; she is not sure where he is held or why. Today she will try Dahariyah.
Dahariyah is hardly a proper prison; it is an old British army barrack, with a dozen additional tents crowded around it.
When I got there, at 9.30 AM, Fatmah had been standing for about four hours in the open, in the cold breeze. There are about 400 Palestinian visitors waiting there, close relatives of the 700 prisoners. A quick poll of the visitors reveals some common features: many, if not most, of the prisoners are under 20; a large number are children aged 14 to 16. Most are boys, but there are also some young girls.
Their families are not told about their detention or whereabouts. They simply disappear, and it is up to the families to locate them. The Israeli military authorities do not volunteer any information. The relatives keep asking ‘Is my son there?’, ‘How is he?’, ‘When will he be released?’ But their questions are not answered. Withholding of information is one of the weapons used by the army against the Palestinian population. The only contact is by means of brief orders muttered in Hebrew: ‘Come here!’, ‘Go there!’, or simply by pushing and shoving.
I slip in with the parents of a 16 years old boy who was picked up on the street 22 days ago. This is their first visit. They know he is there only because his name appeared on a white plastic-covered sheet of paper, attached casually to a pole outside the compound. Around this pole there is a dense crowd of people, each desperate to find out whether the name of his or her child appears on that small notice.
The visitors are thoroughly searched. They are not allowed to bring anything to their children: towels, soap, warm clean clothes, underwear – all these are especially prohibited. Someone asked me to take for his son medicine for eye infection. No medicine is available inside; but, like sweets and cigarettes, this too is not allowed to be brought in for the pre-trial detainees.
A group of 20 prisoners are brought to be met by 80 visitors. All must talk at the same time across the five-foot deep barbed wire fence. Parents cry when they see their young children imprisoned and think of the conditions to which they will return after the visit. Overcrowded rooms with a bucket instead of toilet; no running water; one shower allowed per week; no books, no radio, no TV; no change of clothes. Frequent beatings and other forms of brutality. No information about the future. And then – a trial before a military court.
Some of the parents have another reason for crying: after long delay they are informed that their children are not in this compound, that they have never been seen.
Suddenly, a commotion: one of the visitors has thrown a packet of cigarettes across the barbed wire fence. The guards pounce on him and drag him away. The prisoners make desperate attempts to hide the cigarettes under their clothes.
After 25 minutes the visit is over. We make the V sign. The young Palestinian prisoners are visibly encouraged by the visit. They are proud of their own and their families’ high morale. They continue to wave in unison as they walk, very slowly, back to their crowded cells.