Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The commodification of Palestinian prisoners; women bare the costs

By K. Künzl - November 02, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [women‘s rights]

Private Israeli companies profit millions every year from the incarceration of Palestinians. And with around 40 per cent of males living in the occupied Territories detained at some point in their lives, it is the women who are bearing the brunt of the cost. 

Husbands, brothers, and sons detained under Israeli Military Law in either criminal or administrative detention, in many cases, leave women as the primary economic providers in the household.

“In 2017, we (Palestinians) paid six million dollars to the courts for paperwork and fines,” Lana Ramadan, an international advocacy officer for Addameer told Al Jazeera.  This figure excludes the amount of money spent on prison food and medical care.

Founder of the Palestinian Prisoner Club, Raed Amer spoke to Palestine Monitor about how Israel is profiteering off Palestinian prisoners. “It is a huge business for Israel,” Amer explained.

The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported that in 2018 the unemployment rate among women in the labour force was 51 per cent and of this group, 54 per cent unemployed with 13 schooling years.

Saja Barghouthi, the Program and Development officer at Sawa, a Palestinian NGO that advocates for women’s’ rights, spoke to the Palestine Monitor about the obstacles women face when trying to find work in the West Bank, especially those living in rural communities with limited access to the cities.  


“Even for women with a college degree, an employer will not offer any support or opportunity for them if they have children, they cannot afford childcare so they cannot leave the house,” Barghouthi stated.

The PCBS also reports the percentage of poverty among individuals in households headed by women to be 54 per cent in Gaza and 19 per cent in the West Bank.

While Israeli prisons do provide detainees with meals, the food is often unsubstantial and of poor quality, in violation of the 3rd Geneva Convention which “obligates Israel to provide Palestinian prisoners and detainees with sufficient food and general hygiene that are sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to preserve their health”. 

Consequently, prisoners are forced to supplement the food with items available for purchase at the 'canteen’, sometimes double average prices of goods found in supermarkets across the West Bank.

“A prisoner needs around 700 shekels ($200) a month just for food, all provided by the families,” Amer stated. 

Miriam Shaheen, a 46-year-old cook from Hebron spoke to Al-Jazeera about bearing the economic burden of her five sons, all who have spent time in an Israeli prison. Shaheen explained that each time one of her sons is imprisoned she was forced to spend a quarter of her month’s salary on food and other essential goods from the canteen for him.

"We were paying around 400 shekels [around $113] a month," Shaheen told Al-Jazeera. "They have to pay when they're in jail and they pay a fine when they get out."

Prisoners can also be fined before their sentencing if they refuse to be strip-searched, give a DNA sample, or wear the prison uniform.

In a military court, prisoners can be fined up to 5,000 shekels (about $1,422), if they cannot afford it they must serve a longer sentence.

An Addameer report labels the Israeli prison system as a 'cycle of dependency’ where fines are collected regularly from an individual prisoners canteen accounts as a form of retaliatory punishment.

Detainees are also forced to pay for their own medical care and medication while in custody.  Addameer reported cases in which prisoners had to purchase their own hearing aids, prescription glasses, and fund surgeries. 

Yasmina, a 21-year-old architecture student at An-Najah University in Nablus whose brother who was imprisoned in 2015 spoke to Palestine Monitor about the lack of aid available to families with detained relatives. 

“We didn't have any financial support from any organisation, the Red Cross only afforded us free transportation to the prison every month when we visited my brother we would pay him the amount of money we could afford him for food and drinks, usually between 200 to 400 shekels.  We also had to hire a lawyer from Nazareth for 15,000 shekels,” Yasmina said.

Women's organisations like Sawa and Dalia offer economic empowerment programs to help women whose husbands have been detained start their own businesses from home. 

Courses range from baking, cosmetology to making clothes from recycled resources. 

“We are trying to change the mentality of women here.  Often they expect monetary aid but we are helping to create long term solutions in which the whole community gets involved,” Lina Ismai’l, community program officer for Dalia Association told Palestine Monitor. 

Dalia’s Women Supporting Women program allows women in rural communities across Palestine to determine their community’s primary needs and receive funding for initiatives of their own choosing. 

In Susya, a village in the south Hebron hills, often women find it difficult to find jobs, so along with grants provided by Dalia, they revived the traditional practice of making clothing from sheep wool and natural plant dyes for sale.

In the village of At-Tuwani, in south Hebron, women banded together to start their own greenhouse, producing vegetables and fruits for distribution.

However, the occupation also makes it increasingly difficult for women to maintain businesses.

“One-day Israeli soldiers threw tear gas canisters at the greenhouse windows, completely destroying everything and killing the plants, we had to raise a lot of money to rebuild,” Ismai’l said.

The UN brief for women economic empowerment in Palestine outlines how women are continually ostracised from the labour force due to the “economic, social and cultural system and contexts, along with a lack of a supportive environment for women's entrepreneurship.” 

There is a strong push from women’s’ rights groups to encourage women to seek jobs outside of the traditional female labour force made up of  “low-skilled, non-sustainable and low-income generating economic activities including part-time, seasonal and casual work.” 

Additionally, Palestinian women entrepreneurs are discouraged due to the lack of “non-traditional vocational and technical training and inadequate alternative sources of financing.”

As incarceration rates of male Palestinians remain high and legal fees strangle the average household income, economic empowerment of women becomes the key to poverty reduction.

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