After nearly two months of arbitrary detention, brutal interrogations, a hunger strike, and sexual harassment, 31-year-old Suha Jbara is expected to be released from Palestinian Authority (PA) custody in the next two days, her family told Mondoweiss.
Jbara, a Palestinian activist with American and Panamanian citizenship, was arrested by PA security forces on November 3rd over accusations that she collected and distributed money through “illegal methods,” a claim herself and her family vehemently deny.
Over the course of her detention, PA authorities were unable to bring substantial charges against Jbara, her father Badran Jbara, 56, told Mondoweiss.
Despite this, the mother of three was kept in a PA prison in Jericho, which rights groups say is notorious for torture and abuse. During her detention, she was denied a lawyer during several interrogation sessions, threatened with sexual assault, and was never granted a proper court hearing.
Badran Jbara spoke to Mondoweiss about the “nightmare” that his daughter and family have experienced over the past two months.
The arrest & interrogation
It was 8pm on November 3rd, and Suha was sitting at home with her children, sisters, and mother in the Ramallah-area village of Turmus Ayya in the central occupied West Bank.
“All of a sudden, four jeeps carrying more than 40 armed PA soldiers surrounded and stormed the house,” said Badran, who was in Panama at the time, where he lives and owns several businesses.
“They violently arrested Suha in front of her kids,” he said, adding that the officials provided no court-approved warrant at the time of arrest, nor any verbal explanation for why she was being detained.
Badran noted that the family lives in Area C — the more than 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli civilian and security control. “The PA technically has no jurisdiction here,” he said.
After detaining her from her home, PA forces transferred Suha to an intelligence center in Ramallah, and then to the PA prison in Jericho.
“Everyone knows that place is horrible,” Badran told Mondoweiss, “if someone goes there they are going to be put through a really difficult time.”
Rights groups have said that the Jericho facility where Suha was taken sees primarily political-related arrests, such as activists accused of speaking out against the PA, or Palestinians accused of having “illegal” affiliations with the PA’s rival factions like Hamas.
Several accounts have been recorded of torture taking place during interrogations at the facility, with beatings, stress positions, and being strung up having been reported.
According to Badran, Suha was prevented from contacting any family members during the first four days after her arrest, and was denied the presence of a lawyer during her interrogations.
He added that she was deprived of sleep for several days at a time, at that when PA authorities were interrogating Suha, “they would curse her and threaten her with physical and sexual assault, and threaten to harm her family.”
“When she would ask them to drink water, they would bring ice cold water and throw it on her face,” he said.
Earlier this month, Suha met with Amnesty International officials and told them that the interrogators “slapped her, punched her on the chest and back, and threatened her with further violence.”
She was also blindfolded and handcuffed throughout her interrogation and was not allowed to drink water or use the toilet, Amnesty International reported.
“He insulted me all the time, used very dirty and violent sexual language, threatened to bring a doctor to look into my virginity and say that I was a whore, and threatened to hurt my family and to take my kids away from me,” she told the rights group.
During her interrogation, PA authorities accused Suha of sending money to Hamas, saying that was the reason she was arrested.
“This is a lie,” Badran said. “We don’t have any connections to Hamas, nor have we ever illegally transferred any funds to an organization.”
Badran told Mondoweiss that Suha, who regularly donates to various Islamic charities, had made charitable donations to poverty-stricken Palestinian families, and the families of Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs” — Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.
“Praise be to God, our family is well off economically,” Badran said. “We always do our best to give charity to our fellow Palestinians who are less fortunate. And Suha has always done this with the best of intentions.”
Badran claims that after the family created a buzz in the media about Suha’s case, PA authorities began accusing his daughter of being an Israeli spy, saying that was the reason for her detention.
“This was done purely to destroy her reputation, and is evidence of the fact that they have no substantial proof that she was doing anything illegal,” he said, adding that he believes the PA is seeking any reason to imprison Suha.
“The two accusations against her are totally contradictory,” he continued, “If she was sending money to Hamas, why would she be a spy for Israel? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Badran continued, saying that the PA often uses this tactic — accusing people of being spies for Israel — to isolate people from their families and communities in order to force them into signing a confession.
“But Suha has nothing to confess to,” he said, “she didn’t do anything wrong.”
According Amnesty International, over the course of her detention, Suha was brought before a judge once, on November 7th in the Jericho Magistrate Court. During the appearance, the judge approved the prosecution’s request to extend her detention by 15 days.
“She was not given a chance to defend herself,” Badran said.
“There is no fairness or due process in Palestine,” he continued,“all of the judges are bought by the PA and do what they are told.”
On November 22nd, Suha launched a hunger strike in protest of her detention, torture during interrogation, and unfair treatment by the court.
Shortly after she began her strike, she was placed in solitary confinement.
“I am starting to get very tired. I feel pain in the lower back and lower back sides that sometimes travels to my legs,” Amnesty International quoted Suha as saying in a December 5th report.
By the end of the month, Badran told Mondoweiss that his daughter was suffering from severe weight loss and some internal bleeding.
Twenty-seven days after beginning her strike, on December 18th, Suha agreed to end her strike after PA officials reportedly agreed to release her from custody on December 27th.
After intense pressure from her family and lawyers, Suha was transferred to a hospital in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
“She would have died if she spent one more day in Jericho,” Badran said, adding that Suha is still in critical condition and on life support.
‘The children are scarred’
As Suha’s family anxiously awaits her release, Badran expressed his fears to Mondoweiss that his three young grandchildren will be “permanently scarred” by their mother’s detention.
“Until today, the whole family is affected by Suha’s arrest,” he said, adding that he flew from Panama to Palestine last month to be with his family in Turmus Ayya during this difficult time.
He says Suha’s children have been waking up with nightmares and regularly wet the bed. They are scared to go anywhere in or outside of the house without a family member, Badran added.
“The kids haven’t been going to school. We try to push them but some days they refuse,” he said.
When the children do go to school, Badran says they are distracted, which has negatively impacted their performance.
“One of her children keeps saying ‘if my mom will die, why should I go to school? I want to die with her’,” Badran said tearfully.
“No matter how much we try to comfort them, nothing can comfort them like their mother can.”
‘The PA is a mafia’
In the wake of his daughter’s arrest, Badran is pushing for American and international officials to launch an investigation into her detention and interrogation.
Despite the PA’s widely known suppression of dissenting voices, Badran said he is not scared of criticizing the government that tortured his daughter.
“My message for the international community is to rethink any agreements they may have with the PA,” he said, “The PA is not a legitimate government, they are a mafia.”
“They try to supress anyone who speaks out against them or demands their basic rights as a Palestinian,” he continued, accusing the PA of acting “outside any international law or norms.”
Badran accused the PA of ignoring more pressing issues plaguing the Palestinian people, like rising unemployment and the ongoing Israeli occupation, and instead “focusing on people like Suha, who have done nothing to harm anyone.”
“As Palestinians, we need to find a way to free ourselves from this fake government that uses its power to take our rights away,” he continued.
“My message to the PA and its leaders, is to open your minds, and actually work for the rights of your people, and make your people comfortable in their land.”
“A leader without the support of their people is nothing.”