An extract from Making Women Talk

Methods of Interrogation

The process of trying to make the detainee confess begins at the moment of arrest. Many of the same methods are used with detainees of both sexes. However, the General Security Services (GSS) have developed certain techniques specifically for women. These include sexual harassment, manipulation of the Arab notion of ‘female honour’ and manipulation of mothers’ concerns about their children. The methods which are specific to women will be given the most thorough consideration.


Arrival at the GSS Section

A police woman or female soldier may be present at the arrest, and during the journeys, again depending on the circumstances. The law requires that when a female detainee arrives at the interrogation centre, a female soldier or police officer carries out certain procedures, such as the body search. However, by the time the woman is taken to the GSS section of the centre, she is likely to be alone in the custody of men.


Arrest and Transportation

Whether she is arrested by GSS officers, police or soldiers, the woman defendant is likely to be subjected to sexual harassment from the first moment. Women are most commonly arrested from their homes, but sometimes in the street or for example on a demonstration. During the journey from the place of arrest to the initial place of detention, the female detainee is likely to be called a ‘prostitute’, ‘whore’ and other insulting names. Comments may be made about her body and she may be threatened with rape. She may also be beaten, kicked or spat at.

Suha Sanduqa, a Jerusalem resident, was arrested at age 14 outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on suspicion of swearing at a police officer. This was in June 1989. She was taken to the Qishlah police station in the Old City.

On the way to the Qishlah, I was beaten in the police car by a policeman using a truncheon. This was repeated on arrival at the Qishlah. I was struck on my left arm and my left leg.

Suha was arrested again in February 1990, as she was leaving school. She was now fifteen. This time she was accused of throwing a stone at an Egged bus.

I was put in a car and driven to the Russian Compound. In the car, one of the two men spat at me. I was also slapped on my face.

The woman may be taken directly to an interrogation centre, or she may be taken initially to a police station, military post or local prison and the later transferred to the interrogation centre. This will depend on the place and the circumstances of the arrest. All of these venues are staffed largely by men, and she may be subjected to further harassment along the way. Usually, once the woman reaches the interrogation centre, she remains there throughout her interrogation. In a few cases, women have been transferred several times during the interrogation, from one centre to another, presumably in order to disorientate them.

The GSS have their own sections in each of the facilities where women are interrogated and these sections are effectively under their exclusive control.

By this stage, the woman may have been given some indication of the reason for her arrest. Detailed questioning does not usually begin until the woman is taken into the first interrogation session. However, she may be informally questioned from the moment of arrest onwards. In cases where the detainee is a known activist, the GSS officers who are to interrogate her may have accompanied the police who arrested the woman, and questioning may have begun on the journey from her home to the interrogation centre.

Most women other than the very young would be aware that the fact that they are being taken to the GSS section means that they are going to be interrogated.

In most cases, even if it is her first experience of detention, the woman will be aware that once she is taken to the GSS section she faces the possibility of being held there for a long time in complete isolation. She will know that she could be held for days or even weeks without being able to contact her family and children, without seeing a lawyer, without receiving medical care should she need it and without being taken to court. The vast number of Palestinian men who have been arrested since the start of the intifada, and the general level of political awareness, ensure that most Palestinian women have heard accounts of interrogation experiences. Women who are politically active may have a detailed knowledge of what to expect; this, however, is not typical. A village woman from a remote part of the West Bank, on the other hand, may be completely ignorant of what she faces.


Sleep, Food and Hygiene Deprivation

The standard GSS practice during the first few days of interrogation is to try to destroy the detainee’s physical well being. She will be prevented from sleeping and efforts will be made to disorientate her. A foul-smelling sack will be placed over her head when she is transferred from one part of the GSS section to another. She may be interrogated in the middle of the night, and in between sessions she may be held in darkness, or in an artificially lit cell, so that she loses all sense of time.

Fatma Salama, a 28 year old woman from Nablus, described the beginning of her detention as follows:

I was arrested on July 25 1990 at 10.15 in the evening. They took me to the Shin Bet and Police Centre in Nablus. I stayed on a chair all night long until 9am. Then they handcuffed me and transferred me to Jalama. When we arrived at Jalama they placed a black sack on my head and made me sit on the stairs for such a long time that I cannot remember how long it was. Then they took me into interrogation, where there were three interrogators. I was already tired when they arrested me at home as I had my period, which affects me a lot.

Fatma Abu Bakra, from Gaza, now in her thirties, described more long term sleep deprivation:

I was arrested on 23 November 1986. After a day or two in Gaza, I was sent to Ashkelon and interrogated there. First, they prevented me from sleeping for four or five days. All that time I was sitting on a chair. Early in the morning, they let me sit on the floor, but not sleep.

During the first few days, there are likely to be at least two interrogation sessions in each twenty four hours, each one lasting for several hours. In between interrogation sessions, the detainee may be placed in shabah or in the ‘coffin’. Both of these make sleep impossible. Shabah means that the detainee is made to squat, stand with legs bent, or sit, handcuffed to the wall of an outdoor yard. The ‘coffin’ is a tiny closet, measuring about one metre square, into which the detainee is locked for hours at a time. Both will be described in more detail below.

Maha Nassar, a 36 year old mother of two from Jerusalem, was arrested on 4 October 1989. This was her fifth detention. GSS officers came to her house at 2.30am and took her directly to the Russian Compound. After a half hour interrogation she was placed in a zinzana or tiny cell. (This cell usually measures about one and a half metres by two metres. It is different from the ‘coffin’.) Two hours later, she was interrogated again briefly. Then, at about 7 am,

This time I was taken to the yard and placed in shabah. I was hooded. For the next four days, in between interrogation sessions, I was in shabah continuously. I was not taken to the cells at all.

Sometimes, the woman is placed in a cell on arrival, and in between interrogation sessions. It is almost always a tiny, filthy zinzana. At best there will be a very thin foam mattress on the floor and a hole for a toilet. There is unlikely to be a supply of water. Descriptions given by detainees suggest that the conditions vary from centre to centre and from detainee to detainee. Ra’ida Al’Ataba, a 23 year old woman from nablus, said

When we arrived at Jalama they immediately put us into a zinzana which was in horrible condition. There were cockroaches and dirt in it.

Roni Ben Efrat is a Jewish Israeli journalist and peace activist; she was arrested on 24 April 1988 and detained in the GSS section of Petakh Tikva police station.

On the first night I was placed in a cell measuring one and a half by two metres. It was filthy. I was given a dirty mattress and three stinking blankets. There was a hole in the floor for a toilet, which was blocked. There was no tap. The whole cell smelled very bad. I complained about the toilet hole in my cell being blocked. After three days I was moved to a new cell. Here the hole was not blocked but the light did not work and the walls appeared to be smeared with faeces. I remained in that cell, without light, for eight days. When I asked to be allowed to clean the cell, permission was denied. I was eventually moved to a cell with a light that worked.

Hanan Rahim, a 30 year old Palestinian Israeli from the Galilee, was arrested on 17 December 1989.

In Jalama I was taken to the women’s section, to a small cell measuring about two metres by one and a half metres. There were two windows, which were kept open all the time. The weather was very cold and there was no heating in the cell. The cell had a mattress, a toilet and a basin with a tap from which I drank.

During the early days of interrogation, the detainee is likely to be deprived of food and sometimes water. In the hot summer months, this can be life-threatening. If food is provided, it is usually dirty, unappetizing and insufficient in quantity. Sometimes access to a toilet is denied, and usually the woman is not allowed to wash or to change her clothes. Menstruating women are almost never provided with sanitary protection.