March 8, an evening about women prisoners
In recent years March 8, the International Women's Day, is ceremoniously marked in Israel in dozens and even hundreds of events. Some of them are rather dubious, such as those featuring keynote speeches by Education Minster Limor Livnat, notorious for her ceaseless efforts to introduce a militaristic curriculum in the Israeli school system and remove any remotely humanist or universalist content.
Of quite a different character was the gathering at the modest premises of the Jaffa Arabs' Association (Al-Rabita), to mark the decades-long work of Women for Political Prisoners (WOFPP). Hava Keller, director and founding member, told of the group's beginning: "It was in 1988, the beginning of the first Intifada. We were at some feminist meeting. Suddenly, an activist from Jerusalem burst in, telling of a Gaza Strip woman who was detained in order to pressure her husband, and even when the court ordered her release, she could not afford to pay the bail set. We quickly raised the money and got her free, but meanwhile we heard of another case and another, and suddenly we found ourselves with a full-scale organization dealing with the Palestinian women prisoners, monitoring and helping where we could. The day when all women were set free as part of the Oslo peace process, after years of struggle, was one of the happiest in my life - but with the second Intifada, the women's prisons all too soon filled up again."
Adv. Taghrid Jahshan told of a difficult and often frustrating routine: "Palestinian women from the territories are presently held in two prisons, some ninety at Hasharon Prison and another thirty at Neve Tirtza. In Hasharon the physical conditions are very bad, including open sewers running through the cells - in some of which prisoners have their babies and small children with them. In Neve Tirza, the cells are better but the prison administration's attitude is much worse, endless petty harassment of the prisoners themselves, their families who come on visit, and also their lawyers."
Two former women prisoners, Terry Bulata and Sahar Abdo, told of prison life, of the aformentioned petty harassments and some major confrontations ending with brutal use of tear gas in closed cells, but also of more pleasant moments, of companionship among prisoners and some humane gestures by individual guards. Sana Salameh of the Association for the Prisoner (Ansar al-Sajin) told of how it feels to have a husband already more than twenty years behind bars with little prospect for his release at any time soon, and of the prison administration's efforts to roll back the achievements and improvement to daily prison life which Palestinian prisoners (male and female) won at the great hunger strike of 1992. A last moment addition to the speakers' list was Sarah Lahiani, mother of the famous (or notorious, to much of the Israeli mainstream) Tali Fahima. Lahiani told of the process by which her daughter moved from being a Likud supporter into a proponent of dialogue with the Palestinians and specifically making contact with the Jenin militia leader Zakariya Zubeidi, and of the parallel process by which Lahiani herself came to devote most of her time and energy to campaigning for her daughter's freedom, including in the hostile millieu of the impoverished and nationalistic Kiryat Gat where she lives and where Tali grew up. "I stand in the market-place and talk about it, even when they start shouting. I am not afraid of anybody, I tell them Tali had done nothing wrong, she just tried to help bring peace and coexistence. Not many people agree with me on the basic problem, but some tell me afterwards: yes, you are doing right, a mother should stand by her daughter."
Suddenly, an elderly woman in traditional Muslim clothing rose from the audience to embrace Lahiani. "We are one. My daughter is also in prison, Tali is my daughter, too!"
Contact: WOFPP, POB 31811, Tel-Aviv, firstname.lastname@example.org ,