Palestinian Women Prisoners: The Struggle for Freedom

Palestinian Women Prisoners: The Struggle for Freedom

"Our battle is united, as we are all fighting oppression on the basis of gender, fighting class exploitation and fascist colonialism and foremost among which is the occupation on our land...For all Palestinian women, we believe that our social struggle is an inherent part of the struggle of our people, and for the liberation of land and people, we sacrifice, struggle and bring forth strugglers.”
– Bir Zeit University student prisoners, Layan Kayed, Elia Abu Hijleh, Ruba Assi, Shatha Tawil, Damon prison, Mount Carmel, 8 March 2021

There are currently approximately 35 Palestinian women in Israeli jails, representing all facets of Palestinian society: students, activists, organizers, parliamentarians, journalists, health workers, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, strugglers, freedom fighters.

Palestinian women have always been at the center of the liberation movement through all aspects of struggle and have led within the prisoners’ movement, organizing hunger strikes and standing on the front lines of struggle even behind bars.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the leading role of Palestinian women in struggle and urges the immediate release of all Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli occupation prisons.

Palestinian women prisoners include 11 mothers, six injured women and three jailed without charge or trial under administrative detention.

They include Khalida Jarrar, Palestinian parliamentarian, feminist, leftist and advocate for Palestinian political prisoners, sentenced to two years in Israeli prison for her public political activities just days prior to International Women’s Day; Khitam Saafin, President of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, jailed without charge or trial, her administrative detention renewed for another four months; Bushra al-Tawil, Palestinian journalist and activist whose detention without charge or trial was also renewed for another four months on 7 March 2021.

They include Palestinian students, like Layan Kayed, Elia Abu Hijleh, Ruba Assi and Shata Tawil of Bir Zeit University. Hundreds of Palestinian students are routinely detained by the Israeli occupation, especially those who are part of student organizations involved with campus political life. At Bir Zeit University alone, approximately 74 students were detained by occupation soldiers during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Palestinian women prisoners are among 5,000 total political prisoners, but Palestinian women are broadly affected by the mass incarceration of Palestinian men as well. Palestinian women are the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, lovers and friends of Palestinian male prisoners. They make homes for themselves and their children, denied access to their husbands and fathers.

Palestinian women lead the movement outside prison to highlight the names, faces, voices and stories of all Palestinian prisoners struggling for liberation. However, too often, the stories, names and experiences of imprisoned Palestinian women remain unmentioned and unhighlighted. 

Since 1948 and before, from the earliest days of the Palestinian national liberation movement, Palestinian women have been expelled from their homes and targeted for repression on multiple levels, their very capacity to reproduce and raise their children labeled as an unacceptable threat to the racist settler-colonial project of Zionism. Since 1967 alone, around 10,000 Palestinian women have been jailed by the Israeli occupation for their political activity and involvement in the Palestinian resistance, including Palestinian women in Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian women holding Israeli citizenship in occupied Palestine ’48. Palestinian women in exile and diaspora have been denied their right to return to Palestine for over 72 years yet continue to struggle, facing political repression, criminalization, deportation and imprisonment.

Palestinian women prisoners are routinely subjected to torture and ill-treatment by Israeli occupation forces, from the moment they are detained — often in violent night raids — and throughout the interrogation process, including beatings, insults, threats, aggressive body searches and sexually explicit harassment. Within Israeli prisons, the official state policy of “worsening the conditions” of Palestinian prisoners has particularly targeted Palestinian women, denied family visits or even phone calls, subjected to intense surveillance that violates their privacy, denied education and held in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. They are transported in the “bosta,” a metal vehicle where women are shackled on a long, circituous trip that takes hours longer than a direct route and often denied access to sanitary facilities.

Damon prison, itself formerly a stable for animals, is located in occupied Palestine ’48 — in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and making it even more difficult for Palestinian women’s family members to visit them. All visits are subjected to an arbitrary permit regime which is often obstructed by the Israeli occupation regime.

Palestinian women behind bars continue to resist and to lead. In April 1970, Palestinian women prisoners at Neve Tirza prison launched one of the first collective hunger strikes of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement when they refused food for nine days. They demanded access to women’s sanitary supplies as well as an end to beatings and solitary confinement. Palestinian women have been consistently involved in general hunger strikes and protest actions, including strikes led by women prisoners in 1985, 2004 and 2019 that inspired global women’s solidarity. Despite the denial of formal education by the Israeli colonial regime, Palestinian women prisoners have developed revolutionary education for all prisoners, expanding their knowledge and commitment to struggle.

Palestinian women prisoners are not alone; they struggle alongside fellow women political prisoners in the Philippines, Turkey, India, Egypt and around the world. And their imprisonment is also international: it is funded, backed and supported by the diplomatic, military, economic and political backing given to Israel by the imperialist powers, including the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and the European Union states. Palestinian women also confront the role of the Palestinian Authority’s “security cooperation” regime under Oslo and the normalization politics and repressive attacks of reactionary Arab regimes.

Despite all attempts of the Zionist regime to isolate them from the global movement for the liberation of women and humanity through imprisonment and repression, Palestinian women continue to organize and struggle from behind bars, in the streets and fields of occupied Palestine, and everywhere in exile in diaspora, seeking return and liberation. Now is the time to act and urge their immediate release and the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners, and of Palestine, from the river to the sea.

Below are images and links to information about many of the Palestinian women political prisoners today held behind Israeli bars. To submit more information or contact us about a campaign, please email samidoun@samidoun.net.

Images for Palestinian Women Prisoners: Please download and use in your campaigns!

Thanks to Samidoun Palestine for the design of these posters!

الأسيرات الفلسطينيات

Take Action to Support Palestinian Women Prisoners

Here are some actions that you can take to join the campaign and spread it in your local area and community!

We join together to call for action and support for imprisoned Palestinian women: 

  • Boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
  • Ending all military and economic aid, military transactions, joint projects and direct funding to the Israeli occupation regime by governments around the world.
  • Challenging “normalization” programs that aim to legitimize Israeli occupation.
  • Organizing to build direct links of solidarity with Palestinian women’s organizations and movements, to ensure that they will not be isolated from their global community of support despite all attempts by the Israeli occupation.

Writing Solidarity Letters

Palestinian prisoners and detainees repeatedly report that receiving letters from supporters around the world boosts morale and provides them with support. Israel wants to isolate Palestinian student leaders by keeping them behind bars, and letters help to break their isolation. This is a simple activity that can be done with physical distancing or combined with other prisoner support efforts. Contact us at samidoun@samidoun.net for a physical mailing address, or send us your letters — Samidoun in Occupied Palestine will share directly with the families and lawyers of detained women. 

Adopt a Prisoner

Share the stories of Palestinian women detainees with your community by “adopting” a prisoner. Share their stories, write letters to them and include their name and photo in your activities. Above, we’ve presented 33 women prisoners, and we’ll be continuing to share their stories and photos throughout this campaign. Please contact us at samidoun@samidoun.net for even more info on your organization’s adopted prisoner. 

Boycott Israel!

Join the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Highlight the complicity of corporations like Hewlett-Packard and the continuing involvement of G4S in Israeli policing and prisons. Build a campaign to boycott Israeli goods, impose a military embargo on Israel, or organize around the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Protest, Rally and Organize

Organize a protest or direct action! The United States, Canada, EU states, Australia and Britain, among others, provide ongoing military, economic, diplomatic and political support to Israel to continue the repression of Palestinian women. Protest on your campus or in your city, highlighting government and media complicity, or act and organize at Israeli embassies, corporations and institutions in your area. Ad hacks, postering and other outdoor actions – especially near an Israeli embassy or consulate – can draw a significant amount of attention to the Palestinian women prisoners and the Palestinian cause at this critical time.

Share These Stories on Social Media

You can support Palestinian women on social media as well. Use the prisoner photos above on your individual or group social media pages, on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Take a selfie or a group photo with our posters or just post these images with a message of your own.

Support Palestinian Women’s Organizing

The Palestinian Feminist Collective has launched a campaign: Palestine is a Feminist Issue. Sign on to support the Pledge and support Palestinian women’s anti-colonial organizing for liberation.

Resources On Palestinian Women Prisoners

We recommend the following resources for more information on Palestinian women prisoners:

News on Palestinian Women Prisoners and Detainees

The following article was largely translated from the original French at Collectif Palestine Vaincra: Throughout the month of March, the exhibition "Inspiring women, Remarkable women,"...

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network is an endorser of the following statement issued by the Palestinian Feminist Collective. In honor of International Women’s Month, the...

On the International Day of Solidarity with Revolutionary Political Prisoners around the world, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network launches the following resource on Palestinian...

The struggle of Palestinian women and particularly Palestinian women political prisoners was visible on International Working Women's Day 2021, with activists of Samidoun and...

  "To our colleagues, to Palestinian students and those around the world, from the heart of the Zionist prisons. On the occasion of 8th of...

On Sunday, 28 February, activists in Brussels, Belgium, protested the renewal of the arbitrary Israeli administrative detention order - for imprisonment without charge or...

In the latest injustice perpetrated in the illegitimate Israeli military courts, Palestinian feminist, leftist, parliamentarian and defender of prisoners' rights, Khalida Jarrar, was sentenced...

On Thursday, 25 February, Israeli occupation authorities ordered Khitam Saafin, the President of the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees, detained without charge or trial...

On Saturday, 12 December, Samidoun Network in Occupied Palestine and the Alkarama Palestinian Women's Mobilization organized a webinar featuring Palestinian women former detainees, scholar...