Before 7 October 2023, Israel was holding 5,200 Palestinian political prisoners in its jails. This included 170 children and 1,264 administrative detainees held without trial or charge. Since 7 October, Israel has escalated its raids across Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, arresting dozens of Palestinians daily. There are reports that Palestinian citizens have been arrested over social media posts. After 7 October, Israel revoked the work permits of Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip, and thousands were arrested. An order was issued to consider these Gazans “unlawful combatants” in order to hold them for an unlimited amount of time without effective judicial review. Thus, Israel has more than doubled the number of Palestinian prisoners since 7 October.
Within prisons, Israel has launched a harrowing repressive campaign. It has completely halted all visits by family members and representatives of the International Committee for the Red Cross and severely limited lawyer visits. Two prisoners died within days of their arrest: 58-year-old Omar Daraghmeh, who was held in Megiddo prison, and 25-year-old Arafat Hamdan, who was detained in Ofer prison.
Prisoners have described the current situation in Israeli jails to be akin to the early years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip when there was no oversight whatsoever and inhumane conditions were the norm. Since October 7, Israel has effectively withdrawn the rights and concessions won by prisoners over decades of struggle, including through hunger strikes, disobedience, and military court boycotts. The Israel Prison Service has severely restricted access to water and electricity, closed prisoners’ canteens, confiscated cooking equipment, and limited meals to those provided by the IPS. In a series of violent raids of cells, guards have confiscated prisoners’ personal and communal belongings, including shoes, clothes, books, cleaning equipment, and electronic devices. Yard time has been restricted to less than 15 minutes per day, and in some sections has been stopped entirely, leaving prisoners in 24-hour lockdown.
The following testimony, presented chronologically as quotes, was collated from several prisoners’ accounts to a lawyer who was able to visit one of Israel’s prison and detention centers at the end of October. Their names and locations have been withheld for their security.
The chronology of quotes begins on 7 October when prisoners heard the news that Palestinians had broken through the walls of Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison.
The time is 6:20. Within half an hour, the news starts to crystallize. With all the noise, the prison service closed all wards as the prisoners woke up happy and awed in the wake of the momentous news. Everyone is happy; we were exhilarated by the feelings of strength and victory.
Every bit of news that came in exemplified a full sense of glory and pride.
Despite the prison service cutting off all [television] channels, we still had one antenna through which we tried to watch a local channel that was broadcasting Al-Jazeera. Everyone was shocked. The scenes were unfamiliar. That was as deep as the analysis reached among all media outlets and analysts. The battle is ongoing and the surprises rolls in and grows, as does the fear and the defeat of the Zionist intelligence and the joy that filled the entire nation and settled in our hearts and minds – the news of the seizure and arrest of a large number, the potential to completely empty the prisons.
We only realized the magnitude of the surprises and victory when we saw the faces of jailers during the count. Their faces were filled with hatred and sadness. The signs of defeat were etched on their faces.
Our cells now resemble dungeons. We went back to primitive life, washing what remained of our clothes by hand.
The closure continues. They barely let us out to shower. With every attempt to extend an antenna outside to capture a bit of news, the jailer quickly came to cut the wire.
The situation is getting worse – more and more pressure. But the heart-warming scenes that we witnessed alleviate that and bring us back our stolen dignity and pride. These scenes will be added to a string of historical October moments, a month in which the unbelievable courage of titans repeatedly reaffirms our foundational narrative, and to which this October presents a new defining model for our struggle against the occupation.
The morning is no different, except for the arrival of a search unit that wreaks havoc on the cell. The suppression makes us realize the magnitude of the news and the extent of their losses. We realize that every escalation comes in response to the resistance, marking new achievements and dealing painful blows to them.
The measures escalate and the pressure tightens to a peak this morning. In the morning, the suppression unit stormed our neighboring ward, harassing prisoners in their cells. Screams, sounds, and beatings grew louder. The food is very poor and undercooked – the chicken even still has feathers.
The food provided would not even be enough for a bird.
Electricity has been out the whole time; it is only restored during the “count” that takes place three times a day.
The situation did not change significantly. In fact, it is only getting harder and more complex.
• • •
The reason for the gap of a few days is the absence of information, not the absence of repression or a change in circumstances.
• • •
Tension is rising. Search units have started their raids. All I am worried about are a few pictures, my source of energy and life in captivity, and some scraps of paper.
The prison service has launched a new campaign – searches and harassment in the wards and confiscation of all personal and communal belongings. They are taking everything – each prisoner is left with only two sets of underwear, a towel, and a cover. No tennis shoes, only thong shoes. There is nothing left in the cells.
The jailers have seized everything, including the electric hob that detainees used to cook and heat food, pens and paper that marked the only escape in the state of dispossession they are living, and they are even deprived from visiting clinics and undertaking medical tests.
In one of the cells, the jailers deliberately threw many eggs to break them. This emitted an awful smell in the cell and the neighboring one too. Not only that, but cleaning tools were also confiscated so the smell lingered in the cell.
For those who have spent a long time in prisons and lived through different events in them, this is the first time such measures have been taken – the situation in prisons is akin to the situation back in 1968.
Detainees have had to resort to drinking water from the polluted taps in the cells, which smell bad. The cell that used to fit six detainees now has twelve.
One of the worst days. At 9am exactly, the suppression units entered the cell. The search went on well into the night, until 11 pm. We were cuffed without electricity or water. We went back into the cell and all we cared about was that we were able to hide some papers and a pen. That was enough amidst the terrifying turmoil.
After it was stormed, the cell was filthy. Broken eggs were scattered, everything had been confiscated; the cell was completely barren, devoid of any objects. It was a different kind of Nakba. We could see malice in their eyes as they smashed everything.
We don’t know what’s going on outside. We also don’t know what repression and measures the prison service will undertake next.
My body is exhausted – maybe from sitting for long periods of time and confined inside the cell which is maybe around 5-by-3 meters, and from the restrictions on yard time during which we would previously walk around (the yard is approximately 8-by-10 meters). I have started doing some exercise in the small space shared by eight prisoners in the cell, as it has become the only space available to us.
Showering has become impossible. Previously, detainees showered outside the wards, in a designated space called the “showers.” This is usually covered by fabric, which the prison service confiscated. Consequently, detainees are forced to shower in the open, which they have refused, opting instead to wash in their cells using plastic containers.
There is no water skimmer in the cells. We request them from the jailer and either they bring one or the water remains scattered on the floor.
• • •
Prisoners have been banned, since 7 October, from daily yard time, which is now restricted to less than 15 minutes for each cell in the ward, while preventing prisoners from different rooms from mixing. When they finally allowed a lawyer’s visit, Abu Nidal [cellmate] used the lawyer meeting room, which is no more than 4 meters squared for his walk.
Abu Nidal walks a little and smiles a little – a smile of victory and of anticipating freedom.
He asked: “Will you hold your wedding outside soon? How optimistic do you think our people are of our imminent freedom?”
• • •
A note from the lawyer: As I transcribe the prisoners’ testimonies, I recalled asking Nidal [the prisoner’s son] on 7 October about a pile of books he was preparing to send into the prison. At the time, Nidal responded quickly: there is no need for them now, my father will soon be reading them under a free sky.