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Israel detains 20 Palestinian women in West Bank escalation

Female writers, journalists and former detainees will be used as bargaining chip in prisoner exchange negotiations with Hamas, says rights group
Palestinian women look at destruction after an Israeli army raid on a Palestinian refugee camp, Nur Shams, in the West Bank, 20 October 2023 (AP)
Palestinian women amid the destruction after an Israeli army raid on a Palestinian refugee camp, Nur Shams, in the West Bank, 20 October 2023 (AP)
By Fayha Shalash in Ramallah, occupied West Bank

The Israeli army has escalated its detentions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank as popular anger over its deadly air strikes on Gaza continues for the third week.

In the aftermath of the surprise Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on 7 October, which killed 1,400 people, the Israeli army has unleashed a ferocious campaign against Palestinians in occupied territories. 

In addition to the aerial bombardment of Gaza, which has so far left 7,703 Palestinian killed, concurrent measures in the occupied West Bank have included the killings of dozens of Palestinians, by both Israeli soldiers and settlers, and the detention of hundreds. 

Those detained included 20 Palestinian women, according to the media spokeswoman for the Palestine Centre for Prisoner Studies, Amina al-Taweel. Some of the detained women have been released under the condition of house arrest and others transferred to administrative detention.

The latest crackdown brings the number of Palestinian female prisoners in Israel to more than 60.

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Among them is 66-year-old Suhair Barghouti.

On 26 October, dozens of soldiers raided Barghouti's house in the town of Kobar, north of Ramallah, searched it, vandalized its contents, then arrested her, her son told Middle East Eye. This is the second time she has been detained.

Her eldest son, Asif, who lives in the same town, told Middle East Eye that he woke up to the sounds of military vehicles storming the town at 2am on Wednesday. They then surrounded his mother's house and dozens of soldiers stormed it.

"They vandalized the house and told her that she was under arrest. They brought more than 11 detainees into her house that they had arrested from the town at the same time. They tied her hands and took her to a military vehicle."

The next day, a lawyer told her family that she was held in Ofer Prison and would be transferred to administrative detention and be sent to Damon Prison, where female prisoners are held.

Known as Om Asif among the Palestinians in the West Bank, she is the widow of Omar Barghouti, who spent more than 30 years in Israeli prisons. Om Asif is also the mother of Saleh Barghouti, who was killed by Israeli soldiers in late 2018 after carrying out a shooting attack near the Ofra settlement east of Ramallah.

Then in 2019, Israeli authorities arrested her other son, Assem, and sentenced him to life imprisonment after he carried out a shooting attack that killed four Israeli soldiers days after his brother's death.

Israel released Om Asif more than a month after her arrest in 2019, then demolished the homes of her two sons Saleh and Assem. 

Her youngest son, Muhammad, was also arrested several times, the last of which was five months ago, and he remains in administrative detention until today.

‘They were very violent’

Also on Wednesday, dozens of Israeli soldiers raided the home of writer Lama Khater in the city of Hebron. Khater, 46, is the mother of five children.

Her husband, Hazem al-Fakhouri, told MEE that more than 20 soldiers stormed the house and vandalized its contents, then informed her that she was under arrest.

"They were very violent. They insulted us all the time and terrorized our children. They made me sit on the ground and started screaming. The officer in charge of them said, 'We are here to take revenge on you. Our goal is revenge,'" he said.

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Khater was able to speak to her lawyer briefly 24 hours after her arrest, when she said that the method and conditions of her arrest were "very bad", without explaining further.

Khater had been arrested in mid-2018 for 13 months in connection with her writings, which Israeli authorities described as inflammatory.

On the night of 26 October, the Israeli army also arrested two female students at Hebron University, and the following night it arrested a woman and her husband from the town of Dura, south of Hebron, along with a woman from Jenin to pressure her husband to surrender himself.

On Saturday, Palestinian journalist Sujud Darassi was detained in an attempt to pressure her husband, journalist Mohamed Badr, to surrender himself to Israeli authorities. 

Bargaining chip

Commenting on the latest detentions, Taweel, of the Palestine Centre for Prisoner Studies, said that the Israeli army "has no red lines in arresting Palestinians".

"The goal of arresting women is to carry out a policy of deterrence, intimidation and emptying the West Bank of active and influential feminist elites who are a part of the struggle against the occupation," she told MEE.

Taweel said that increasing the number of female prisoners is related to concluding any upcoming exchange deal with the Hamas movement, which holds more than 200 captives. The female prisoners will be used as a bargaining chip in any negotiations, she said.

At least 15,000 Palestinian women have been arrested since 1967 and subjected to various types of physical, psychological and moral abuse, Taweel's organisation has documented.

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