Detention of Palestinian Women and Political Engagement (1967–2009)

By Stéphanie Latte Abdallah

Confinement is a central experience in the Palestinian Territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Since this date, nearly a third of Palestinians have been imprisoned in Israeli penitentiaries for political reasons. As one generation succeeded another, various modes of confinement have created different Palestinian identities. Up until the first Intifada in 1987, female prisoners were political activists engaged in resistance to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After 1987, the arrests became more widespread. The activism of the first generation of prisoners was anchored in the actions of their fathers, becoming a kind of heritage or transmission rooted in the traumas of a childhood linked to occupation. The prison experience itself contributed to the development of political commitments, which were also feminist in nature. The prison was reconstructed as a place of apprenticeship affirming the identity of the political prisoner, which was forged in struggles for better conditions of detention, and which reinforced the strength of the collective national Palestinian body. These struggles posed a strong challenge to the female body, which was particularly targeted in the experience of incarceration and interrogation. Because the female body and female sexuality played such an important role in Palestinian society, the interrogators exploited them as an instrument of pressure. The Palestinian response was to construct arguments which would protect female ex-prisoners from the opprobrium heaped upon them. The prison became a major site in which society gathered against the occupant. With the failure of the Oslo agreements, the Second Intifada in 2000, and the hardening of the prison system as well as partisan divisions among Palestinians, this collective female body has been increasingly weakened by Israeli carceral politics.


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