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Palestinian-American prolongs hunger strike over alleged torture in PA jail

Suha Jbara, arrested without charge by Palestinian security forces last month, says she was beaten and threatened with sexual assault
A member of the Palestinian security forces stands guard during a training exercise in Ramallah (AFP)

RAMALLAH, Occupied West Bank – In the notorious Palestinian Authority prison of Jericho, Suha Jbara, a mother of three children, sits behind bars in solitary confinement.

Her case is riddled with controversy and ambiguous claims. The 30-year-old was arrested without charge on 3 November during a violent raid by Palestinian security forces on her home in Turmus Ayya, a village northeast of Ramallah. 

'The court treated her like a criminal and not as someone who is accused of something that may not be true. The PA has become worse than the Israelis'

Khadija Jbara, Suha's sister

During a three-day interrogation, Palestinian security forces questioned her about collecting and distributing money “to illegal parties”, a claim usually made by the Palestinian Authority against members of Hamas or those who financially support the group, her lawyer said. They also accused her of “collaborating with Israel”, her family and lawyer said.

She denies both of the claims, and her family and lawyer say she has yet to be formally charged despite court appearances. Meanwhile, a Palestinian security force spokesman told MEE there is a list of charges against her, but declined to give further details.

Adnan al-Damiri, the spokesperson for the Palestinian security forces, told Middle East Eye: "Suha Jbara’s case is with the court. And as long as her case is with the court, we cannot discuss any details. We have a law - we are forbidden from speaking about a case that is currently being dealt with in court."

As the ambiguity around the case swirls, Jbara has been on a hunger strike for 18 days, ingesting only water, to protest her detention and alleged torture while in prison including being beaten, slammed against a wall and threatened with sexual assault, according to an Amnesty International report. Al-Damiri said the torture allegations are "fabricated and baseless".

Mohannad Karajah, one of Jbara’s lawyers, visited her on Sunday and said her health is deteriorating quickly.

“She is experiencing pain all over her body and she is not easily able to get out of bed,” he explained, adding that prison authorities are constantly transferring her between the prison and a nearby hospital.

'We don't understand'

On Thursday, the Jericho Magistrate Court postponed her court session for another 15 days, keeping her incarcerated without formal charges or a verdict. 

Her lawyer and family insist that there are no charges against Jbara and her sister, Khadija, said they are baffled by the claims raised during her interrogation that she gives to illegal parties and collaborates with Israel.

“She was never politically active - not with any political party, not Hamas nor Islamic Jihad," Khadija told Middle East Eye.

"We are social activists - we support the families in nearby villages. We collect money and give it to people who are in need - but not any one political."

The claims raised during her interrogation, said Khadija, are mutually exclusive.

“We don’t understand. If they are going to accuse her, it should be one or the other. How can she be collecting money for 'illegal' parties while also working with Israel?” she added.

A protest tent set up by Jbara's family in Turmus Ayya to protest her detention (Supplied)

Karajah, one of her lawyers, said the file on Jbara and her interrogation which he viewed is “weak”, but he refused to disclose information about any evidence which authorities may hold, citing the classified nature of the file. 

“The accusation of collecting and distributing money to illegal parties is a claim usually made by the PA against members of Hamas or anyone who has a hand in supporting the group,” Karajah told Middle East Eye.

Suha’s family, continued Karajah, is “a rich, religious family that donates money in the form of charity to poor families”.

“We hope that she is released because we think that the interrogation period should be over. She has not been convicted or even presented with a list of charges,” he continued.

‘Jericho slaughterhouse’

Last week, London-based human rights group Amnesty International released a detailed report of Jbara’s experience in prison on 5 December, calling on the PA to investigate her claims of torture and guarantee her a fair trial based on international standards.

A campaign poster calling for Suha Jbara to be freed (Twitter)

During a visit to the prison, Suha told Amnesty representatives of harrowing treatment during her weeks of detention.

“Welcome to the Jericho slaughter house,” Suha said armed men told her when they reached the Jericho Interrogation and Detention Centre after her arrest.

“At the detention centre, a male interrogator threw water in her face when she asked for a drink, slapped her, punched her on the chest and back, and threatened her with further violence. She was blindfolded and handcuffed throughout her interrogation and was not allowed to drink water or use the toilet,” the report said.

“He [interrogator] 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 Amnesty.

According to her sister Khadija and the Amnesty report, Suha was forced to give her testimony without the presence of her lawyer. She said that high-ranking police as well as doctors and nurses were constantly trying to persuade her to end her hunger strike.

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“The Palestinian authorities must urgently carry out an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations. Any officials identified as responsible must be immediately suspended, prosecuted and brought to justice,” Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty, said in the report.

Suha’s family has been barred from seeing her since she announced her hunger strike. Her three kids – the eldest of which is 12 – have been staying at their grandparents’ home.

“This is inhumane and monstrous,” says Khadija, Suha’s sister. “The court treated her like a criminal and not as someone who is accused of something that may not be true.”

“The PA has become worse than the Israelis.”