Locked up in Israeli-Occupied Palestine

Locked up in Israeli-Occupied Palestine
By Kelly Bornshlegel

It has been over 5 years
since I was imprisoned in an
Israeli immigration prison, but
my memories of the time remain
vivid. I was held for a month
then deported to New York,
leaving my partner and friends
behind in Palestine. I was arrested
participating in a demonstration
against the apartheid
wall in Bil?in, a small village
in Palestine. Residents
of Bil?in have been resisting
the building of a wall
that would steal their land
and turn their village into a
virtual prison. At the time
of my arrest I was fi lming
two Israeli soldiers brutally
beating a Palestinian boy.
Six soldiers tackled me and
dragged me up a muddy hill
to an army jeep. I was taken to
an abandoned school where I
was stripped searched twice in
front of groups of soldiers.

The friends I made in prison,
migrants from Eastern Europe,
Southeast Asia and northern
Africa are untraceable. Most
of them came to Israel looking
for work?the Israeli economy
relies on this cheap and precarious
labor. Israel has a ?revolving
door? policy that limits migrant?s
stays in Israel to 63 months, constantly
bringing in new workers
to ensure that people don?t settle.
Israel also prohibits the marriage
of migrant workers to Israelis
and deports women if they give
birth in Israel.

Many gave the authorities
fake names and refused to say
where they were from in hopes
they could delay being sent
back, even if it meant remaining
incarcerated. Some wanted to
return but remained waiting for
their families back home to raise
money for their fl ight. Many
had partners and families inside
Israel they were leaving behind.
Many were mourning the loss of
their families in addition to their

This differs from Israeli
prisons for Palestinian prisoners,
which are mainly tents in the
desert. Palestinians are systematically
tortured and given multiple
life sentences, or are held
indefi nitely under administrative
detention. Many Palestinian
women are held in regular Israeli
jail where they have reported assault,
discrimination and rape.

The fi rst prison I was taken to
was near a big city. Friends were
able to smuggle in food, cigarettes,
and books. On the second
day I was given a deportation
order that I refused to sign, and
was taken before a judge who
spoke to me in Hebrew, a language
I could not understand.
During the fi rst week I was
moved 3 times and interrogated
without a lawyer countless more.
I repeatedly asked about my
charges, demanded my rights,
access to a lawyer and a phone
call. Each time I was met with a
blank stare.
The fi nal move brought me to
a prison far out in the desert, the
conditions starkly worse than the
previous one. There the guards
seemed to work with complete
impunity, the geographical isolation
giving them a sense
of freedom from scrutiny.
Every mundane detail of our
lives was controlled by the
all-male guards.

The other incarcerated
women were from all over
the world including Nigeria,
Uganda, Latvia, Russia and
Vietnam. Many of the women
were extremely vulnerable:
they didn?t speak Hebrew,
were far from their homes
and hadn?t been able to contact
families or lawyers. The prison
administration turned a blind eye
to widespread abuse.

The kindness and strength of
the women I met in the prison
system stunned and strengthened
me. In a situation of dehumanization?
where we were called
?Mongolia?, ?China? or ?USA?
instead of our names, where
food and cigarettes could be
traded for sex, where we were
transferred if the guards noticed
any friendships forming?each
woman went out of her way to
help the others cope and survive.
The injustices I experienced and
observed and the strength and
resilience of these women were
the catalysts that began my activism
against the prison industrial