Saturday, July 04, 2020

Activist Sireen Khudiri Sawafteh detained and prosecuted for a Facebook page

By Fatima Masri - June 30, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Behind Bars]
Tags: [Tubas] [Sireen Khudiri Sawafteh ]

All photos by Eugene Peress.

The 24 year-old human rights activist, Sireen Khudiri Sawafteh, is being detained in the Israeli prison of Eichel for having created a Facebook page that allegedly threatens the security of the State of Israel. On the afternoon of Tuesday 14 May, her car was stopped at a temporary checkpoint on the road between Nablus and her hometown, Tubas. Sireen and the other passenger, Abed al-Majid Sawafteh, were questioned for four hours and then taken into custody by the Israeli forces. 

Sireen has been active in denouncing Israeli abuses in the Jordan Valley through Facebook and other tools of communication. However, the accusation raised by Israeli army is of having informed “external enemies” in Syria and Gaza of the prices of weapons in the West Bank. A picture of Sireen holding a gun is claimed to be a proof of her affiliation with armed resistance movements. “I don’t know if the picture is true”, says Rashid, one of her three brothers, “but Sireen has been an activist in the international campaign of the Jordan Valley against violence since 2009 and works in a school where she teaches the principles of nonviolence to children. Maybe she took it for fun, but she is not involved in any kind of violent struggle.”  

The court hearings have been repeatedly postponed, as part of a commonly used strategy by the Israeli authorities to gain time with the prisoner. Sireen’s lawyer, Adel Samara, is trying to arrange for Sireen’s transfer to the Ofer Prison−in the West Bank district of Ramallah−in order to begin preparation for her court hearing scheduled for mid-July.  

Sireen's empty room at her family's home in Tubas, occupied West Bank. © Eugene Peress

Israel’s detention of West Bank Palestinians across the Green Line and within Israel proper –as in Sireen’s case− contravenes Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva convention. Movement restrictions imposed on Palestinians often make it impossible for both defence councils and family members to reach a prisoner in Israel. Sireen’s brother, Rashid, is the only family member who has been granted a permit to visit her. “The Israeli soldier who brought Sireen into the room pushed her violently, as if she was an animal”, he recalls from his visit to Eichel Prison on 24 June. “For half an hour I could not think of anything else but that scene.”

Sireen will be judged by a military court, in which military orders take precedence over both Israeli domestic and international law. The prosecutors are Israeli soldiers and the defendants are never Israeli citizens, but Palestinians accused of “security violations”—a term that can be applied to a wide range of activities, including nonviolent protests. 

Sireen has not been physically harmed, but has been subjected to constant psychological harassment and humiliation. When forced to undergo strip and body searches, Sireen’s request to close the door so that male soldiers outside the room would not see her undress was refused. Male officers may burst into her cell at any time without warning, laughing if she is found without the veil or with few clothes on. Even when using the toilet, Sireen has to bear the attentive look of an Israeli female soldier. 

Such living conditions would strain anyone, but they hit even harder on the psychology of Muslim women, for whom modesty is a matter of moral integrity and honor.  According to the Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Addameer, humiliation is a common practice in Israeli jails designed to mentally break the prisoners and coerce them into giving confessions.

Sireen's father sits outside their family home in Tubas, visibly distraught over his daughter's detention. © Eugene Peress

Following Sireen’s detention, around twenty-five jeeps entered the town of Tubas during the night and broke into the house where the Sawafteh family was sleeping. They were kept into one room for several hours without food, water and blankets, despite the presence of two children. Three computers—Sireen’s and two other—were sequestered by the Israeli soldiers. “They checked the walls with their guns, they broke a cupboard, then they called me for an interrogation”, Rashid recounts. “They told me to say hi to the PA, and to bring Hamas because 'we need action’. Then they questioned me on the economical situation of my family, and when I told them that we don’t have a lot of money the soldier asked me to work with them. Obviously I told him I would never work with those who harm the Palestinians”. 

The incursion gave spark to a protest among the inhabitants of Tubas, a town located in area A and therefore under total Palestinian military and civil control. Despite this administrative division, established during the Oslo Accords, Israeli forces constantly violate the Palestinian Authority’s sovereignty over the area. During the clashes, tear-gas and sound grenades were fired, leaving 20 years old Omar Abed al-Razaq in serious condition. According to Rashid, who visited his family, when Omar was at the hospital “his brother covered him while he was still unconscious, so when he woke up he did not realize immediately that he had lost one hand and some fingers of the other one. When the family finally gathered the courage to tell him the truth, he started screaming and could not be calmed down. He wanted to see with his own eyes what had happened to his body”. 

Since 1967, over 650,000 Palestinians have been detained in Israeli jails, which makes up approximately 20% of the total population of the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). Women are subject to especially harsh condition in Israeli jails, even when ill or pregnant. A study conducted by Addameer in 2008 demonstrates that approximately 38% of female Palestinian prisoner suffer from diseases that go untreated. 

A video portraying Sireen with her students has been posted on You Tube, and a petition to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to demand Sireen’s release is currently being subscribed from all over the world.

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