With a voice full of hope for a brighter future, and optimism that the end of suffering is near, the prisoner Hasan Salamah repeated songs he has memorized in order to break the routine of a deadly dull life in cramped isolation cells where mercy is unknown and the only smells are those associated with depression, death or insanity.

The prisoner, Salamah, sentenced to several life sentences, has been held in solitary confinement for six years. The occupation authorities have accused him of responsibility for the deaths of scores of Zionists. He is one of more than 100 Palestinian prisoners being held in isolation cells in various sections of Israeli prisons. This isolation may continue for many years so as to drill into the prisoner's mind, body and soul effects which can not be easily erased. The psyche and the body are subjected to ongoing pressure by being deprived of everything, even the simplest conversation with another human being.

Although isolation is a punishment which is supposed to be limited to a specific duration, the occupation has deliberately set no time limits on it so as to crank up the psychological pressure on prisoners. Isolation is periodically extended throughout the period of confinement by means of a kangaroo court known as the Court of Extended Isolation. The prisoner is brought before the court without ever being informed of the reason for his isolation, which is usually based upon a recommendation by the Zionist internal security service, Shin Bet. The prisoner is merely informed that his isolation has been extended on the basis of confidential material. The extension will be for a year if the isolation is partial (i.e., two persons in one cell) and for a period of six months if the prisoner is completely alone in the cell. Throughout this new term the prisoner continues to endure all the forms of suffering he had previously endured until he is brought before a new court in the following year to receive a new extension from the judge for another year for the same reasons (confidential material), and so on, year after year.

Punishment for Leaders!

According to the Ministry of Current and Released Prisoners, in a report on prisoners being held in isolation, the Israeli Department of Corrections imposes the punishment of isolation on those prisoners accused of carrying out major resistance attacks that led to the death of Zionists or on prisoners who are considered leaders of the nationalist movement among the prisoners, whose words carry weight with the other prisoners.

The goal is to humiliate the prisoner, break his will, destroy his psyche, and turn him into a body without a spirit. They are keen to turn him into fertile ground for the spread of debilitating diseases that weaken the bones and impair vision. They want the isolated prisoner to lose both spirit and body, so that he will long for death a thousand times rather than remain stuck within the same walls, talking to himself and counting the hours and days that drag by, waiting to emerge from this dark tomb.

Riyad al-Ashqar, director of the Information Department of the Ministry, explains that isolation is of two types: The first is in individual cells -called snuke- in which a prisoner is held in solitary confinement. These are no bigger than 1.5 × 2 meters, and there is no room to move, walk or pray. There is one mattress, a blanket, one bottle for relieving oneself, and another for drinking water. The prisoner is only allowed to go to the bathroom once a day.

In these cells prisoners lose all sense of time; they do not know the times of prayer or even when day turns to night. They are not allowed to have watches, radios, newspapers, or any means of communication with the outside world, nor are they permitted to purchase anything from the prison canteen.

The second type of isolation is in a wing of the prison completely devoted to isolation cells. The cells in these sections are slightly better than snuke, and are large enough to house more than one prisoner. They have a toilet inside each cell, and prisoners are allowed to prepare food inside the cell.

The Prisoners Subjected to the Greatest Isolation

Al-Ashqar explained that the number of prisoners being held in isolation is more than 100 prisoners in various prisons, with some being held in solitary confinement within the isolation wings of the prisons of Askalan, Ramla, Ayalon, Nafha and Beer Sheba. There are a number of prisoners who have been singled out by the prison management for punishment by isolation on a continuous basis. They are:
  • Hasan Salamah, from the city of Khan Younis, has been sentenced to dozens of life sentences. So far he has spent six years in isolation.

  • Hamid Ibrahim, from Silwad, has been sentenced to dozens of life sentences. He has been held in isolation ever since his initial arrest more than three years ago.

  • Mahmoud Eesa, from Jerusalem, has been sentenced to several life sentences. So far he has spent eight years in isolation.

  • Tayseer Samoudi, from Yamoun, has spent more than 14 years being shifted from one isolation cell to another.

  • Mu'taz Hijazi, from Jerusalem, was sentenced to 11 years. So far he has spent six years in isolation.

  • Abd al-Naser Halees has spent more than ten years so far in isolation.

  • Jamal Abu Haija of Jenin, has been sentenced to several life sentences. So far he has spent four years in isolation.

  • Abdullah al-Barghouthi, of Ramallah, has been sentenced to dozens of life sentences. So far he has spent five years in isolation.

  • Ahmed al-Maghrabi, from Bethlehem, has been sentenced to several life sentences. So far he has spent five years in isolation.

  • Mohammed Jamal Natsheh, from Hebron; a member of a Legislative Council, he was sentenced to eight years. He has spent five years in isolation.

  • Uwaydah Kallab from the Gaza Strip, was condemned to life imprisonment. He has stayed more than ten years in isolation.

  • Hisham Sharbati was sentenced to eight years; he has spent three years in isolation.

  • Zaher Jabareen, from Hebron, was sentenced to life imprisonment. He has been isolated more than once; the longest period was for two years.

  • Musa Dudeen, from Hebron, was sentenced to life imprisonment and has been subjected to isolation more than six times.

  • Mahawish Nu'aymat of Rafah has spent more than a year in isolation since his arrest.

  • Mohammed Jaber Ubaydi, of the town of Kafr Ni'ma, has spent four years in isolation.

  • Usamah al-Ainabusi of the town of Tubas.

  • Saleh Dar Musa from the town of Bayt Luqya.

  • Jihad Yaghmour of Jerusalem.

Suffering without Limits

Al-Ashqar identified a number of forms of suffering endured by prisoners confined in isolation cells. Among the most serious is being confined in sections that house common criminals; there they are subjected to every form of abuse, curses, and having flammable liquids thrown at them. They are also subjected to a steady assault on their religious sentiments and continued harassment by loud music, constant drumming on their doors and being repeatedly subjected to prisoner counts at short intervals.

Prisoners are not allowed to go out to the exercise "yard" except one hour a day, and the guards manipulate the timing of that hour so that on bitterly cold days they come at six in the morning to announce that anyone who wants to exercise must wake up. If one prisoner wants to sleep and the other wants to go out, the one who stays must wake up to have manacles placed on his hands so that the other can go out. If he doesn't wake up, the other will be deprived of the opportunity to go out in the yard. If they both want to go out, manacles are put on both, and they go out one by one. Frequently one of them will be required to remain out in the yard in manacles. Worse still, manacles are a feature of all the details of daily life. Prisoners are handcuffed when the trash is taken out, when receiving visits from lawyers or family members, and when going out to the clinic or the court. The prisoner will be placed on the examination bed and made to lie with his hands under his back. Prisoners are even forced to give urine samples in a most humiliating way while manacled.

The prisoner in isolation is imposed upon in all aspects of life. The prison administration may, for instance, require one prisoner to be paired off with another in cells that are usually cramped and poorly ventilated. The administration will deliberately pair a non-smoker with a smoker or a religious prisoner with a non-religious one to set the prisoners up for 24-hours-a-day of conflict. If one of them tries to protest or get a transfer away from the other, the solution is blows and truncheons. They are forced to live together, and if they refuse, all their personal belongings are confiscated and the cell is converted to a snuke or torture chamber stripped of all personal belongings. More than once the brothers are told, "One of you could get rid of the other by having the other one die."

A prisoner is subjected to the severest penalties if he reads the Qur'an aloud, or breaks anything inadvertently, or speaks with another prisoner in the section. If a piece of metal, wire or string tied for some particular purpose is found in a cell, all electrical devices will be removed from it and the prisoner will be denied access to the canteen and the daily exercise outing. As for visits from family members, these are already prohibited, except in rare cases.

In addition, there are sudden raids in the middle of the night by a special unit wearing masks and equipped with video cameras. They conduct violent searches in which the prisoner is stripped naked for no reason and handcuffed while his personal belongings are broken and trifled with and the room is turned upside down. After the inspection is completed, the door is locked and the prisoner sticks his hands through a large hole in the bottom of the door to have the handcuffs removed. For two or three days after an inspection a prisoner will work to restore order to his room, only to have the same procedure repeated a few days later.

If a prisoner in isolation is afflicted by any health ailment he will have to go through a complicated set of procedures before being able to see a doctor. He will have to register for the clinic several times. Often the isolation section will have a specific day of the week set aside when those prisoners are allowed to go out for clinic visits. If the day is Monday, for example, and the prisoner gets sick on Tuesday, he will have to wait the whole week before being allowed to go to the clinic. If the officer assigned to take him happens to be busy or has the day off, he loses his chance and has to wait for another week. When he does finally get to the clinic he will remain handcuffed during the examination and forced to listen to insults from the doctor and the nurse. If blood tests or imaging are necessary, he will have to wait for months, if he ever gets one.

Isolation wings tend to be unhealthy places with poor ventilation and poor hygiene; rats run on the food, and the rooms are filled with cockroaches and mosquitoes. Worst of all, the daily exercise yard is no more than a room 5 meters longs by 4 meters wide with a cement roof. It gets no sun, and it is not possible to use it for exercise or even a walk, it being frequently filled with the leftovers of the common criminals, such as urine, feces and other filth.

Prisoners in isolation are denied all religious rights such as holidays, Friday prayers, even religious books. A prisoner may even sometimes have his prayer rug taken away. They are, likewise, deprived of family visits and of newspapers.

Psychological effects

The report pointed out that isolation leaves great psychological effects on a prisoner. For years on end he does not see anyone; he is either entirely alone or with one other person, but the two of them cannot mingle with other people. He is subjected to all forms of psychological torture and deprivation, and then when he shows some signs of protest or of being affected by his situation, he is accused of being suicidal. Force is immediately brought to bear; his hands and feet are bound fast to a high iron "perch" on which he sleeps. He is set free only twice a day for half an hour each in the morning and evening to eat and go to the bathroom.

Many international human rights organizations have confirmed that isolation leaves clear, striking psychological effects on prisoners. Some prisoners go insane as a result of isolation from the world for long periods, for humans are by nature social beings; they need to talk with others. Should a person be forcibly deprived of expression of this natural instinct, he will be vulnerable to serious mental illnesses that will affect the course of his life.

The prisoner Uwaydah Kallab from the Gaza Strip was sentenced to life imprisonment and has spent 20 years in Israeli prisons, during which he has been isolated for more than 12 years. This has led to serious mental illness and the loss of mental and legal competence. It has resulted in his inability to recognize his friends in prison. He refuses the visits of his relatives, and he refuses to acknowledge his only son, who was a young child when Uwaydah was taken away and is now a young man.

Afeef Awawidah is suffering a serious psychiatric illness caused by isolation for long periods. The prison administration attempted to exploit the prisoner's disease by goading him to attack one of his colleagues in isolation. The prisoner Darwish Dawhal is also suffering from a psychological and neurological condition as a result of solitary confinement; he does not wish to talk with anyone or come out of his cell for the daily exercise session.

There are many other prisoners who are suffering from depression and mental illness as a result of isolation from the world for long periods. The situation calls for a serious stand to stop this criminal policy against the prisoners, which is in contravention of humanitarian conventions. The ministry is calling for immediate intervention by international institutions to curb the Israeli policy of punishing our male and female prisoners by isolation, and to improve the living conditions in prisons to bring them in line with the requirements of international law. They need to do that before they make demands of the Palestinians to release Corporal Gilad Shalit or allow him a visit by the Red Cross.