“You cannot allow them to occupy your hope”

When EA Jamie was travelling to Jericho, he had a chance meeting with the Palestinian activist Sireen Khudiri. This is her story. 

Sireen Khudiri is active in the nonviolent campaign for human rights in Palestine. In 2013 she was arrested at a checkpoint in the West Bank. Her request to see an arrest warrant was denied. Onlookers threw stones at the soldiers to try to prevent the arrest. Sireen says one soldier used her as a human shield as he shot at them.

Sireen Khudiri, image credit: Sireen Khudiri

Sireen was 24 at the time. She was taken to Kishon prison, which she  describes as “one of the worst jails in Israel”. Forcible transfer from an occupied territory to the territory of an occupying power is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).

Sireen was held in solitary confinement for 22 days. She says she was kept in a small, windowless cell, containing only a toilet and a thin mattress, without being able to see her lawyer or her family. This practice contravenes UN guidelines which state that all detainees should have access to legal counsel and be given means to communicate with their families (Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons Under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, 1988).

She was shown a fake magazine falsely showing that her mother was in hospital

Sireen described how she was subjected to psychological torture. She was blindfolded while rifles were cocked near her head, to suggest she might be shot. She was shown a fake magazine falsely showing that her mother was in hospital. The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988) states that “no circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Isolation cells in an Israeli prison, image credit: middleeastrising.com

“Then they played another game”

Sireen said that she was taken straight from solitary confinement to her trial, where she was charged with (but not convicted of) threatening the security of Israel. She was then moved to Shikma prison, which is also inside Israel. Soon after her arrival, a Palestinian man came to her cell window, saying that he was a cleaner in the prison and could call her family to ask after them. Sireen agreed, but gave him a false phone number. He later returned to say that he had called them and they were well.

After some time, the man returned to ask for information that he could supposedly use to help Sireen – the same information requested by the Israeli interrogators. Sireen said that she gave the same answers, and before long was taken back to Kishon prison. There, Sireen was subjected to physical torture, being shouted at and slapped during interrogation sessions, and strip-searched by male guards every time she was taken to or from the prison cell. Under the revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (2015), “intrusive searches, including strip and body cavity searches should be undertaken only if absolutely necessary… intrusive searches shall be conducted in private and by trained staff of the same sex as the prisoner.”

“you have to be sorry”

After two and a half months, Sireen was released. She remained under house arrest for two additional months, and had to pay a ₪7000 (£1500) fine. She was forbidden from engaging in any activism for five years. In addition, Sireen said the judge asked her to apologise, to which she replied: “you have to be sorry”.

Shortly after the end of her house arrest, while Sireen was visiting a friend, the Israeli military raided her family home to try to arrest her, again without a warrant. She went into hiding, but was tracked down and arrested two months later.

“What followed was one of the worst nights of my life”

Sireen was taken to a military base, and described being subjected to torture once again. An Israeli military officer took her jacket and shoes and hit her. He tied her feet and told her to run. When she refused, he set dogs on her, so she ran. By the end of the night,her feet were bleeding and she was bruised all over her body.

The next day, the Israeli military told her that she had been arrested “by mistake” and released her.

she was so traumatised by her torture that she could not leave her family home for months afterwards

Sireen told us she was so traumatised by her torture that she could not leave her family home for months afterwards. Eventually her brother was able to help her come to terms with what had been done to her. He told her “you cannot allow them to occupy your hope” and encouraged her to not let this experience stop her from living her life.

Today, Sireen is working at the Ashtar Theatre which seeks to promote creativity and change in Palestine through acting training and theatre performances. She also works at the Jordan Valley Solidarity Movement, which documents human rights violations and runs projects to help people who are suffering as a result of the Israeli occupation. Sireen has recently married, and has a one-year-old son.

Sireen Khudiri and son, image credit: Sireen Khudiri

According to Amnesty International, in 2017 Israel “unlawfully detained within Israel thousands of Palestinians”. It also says that “torture and other ill-treatment of detainees, including children, remained pervasive and was committed with impunity”. The Israeli Defense Minister maintains that the Israeli army is “the most moral army in the world”.

Take Action!

Write to your elected representatives today to raise your concerns about the unlawful detention and torture of Palestinians. Ask them to take action under revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.