Invisible. Life Inside the Hamas Women Prison.
'The Reform and Rehabilitation Centre for Women' is the only female prison in Gaza and controlled by Hamas. With a population of 19-50 women, babies and toddlers – who stay with their mothers the first 2-3 years, they must after, stay with relatives or be referred to an NGO based in Rafah, in the south of Gaza Strip –, they live altogether in 8 tiny cells (at first two), irrespective of the crime. Inmates had to be moved amidst harsh conditions, to different locations during 2012 and 2014 wars, in order to stay safe. At the end of 2016, they were moved to a newer and bigger facility in the same building complex.
According to Amal Nofal, aka. “Em Shohaib”, head of the prison, inmates are divided into 4 categories: thieves, drug use, security convicts of crimes often related to cooperating with the Israeli Occupation and "moral" felonies, which includes prostitution, or sexual relations out of marriage. But moral crimes goes further than adultery. A woman can only walk with her husband, brother or father. Young couples experience serious problems in this regard, many followed and by the “mukhabarat” (secret police).
During interrogations, they're often beaten, sexually harassed and psychologically tortured, being
forced to sign (at gunpoint) false statements. The police keep them isolated, with no permission to contact their families for about 15 days. Some women are wrongfully convicted but they lack resources for a lawyer, ending up serving time in jail.
Due to the conservative nature of Gazan society, crimes committed by women are rarely heard of and families lie about their whereabouts for fear of public shame.
Amal Nofal is positive about reintegration. Less than 20% reoffend. Through activities such as sewing, history, math, religion, gymnastics, they prepare them for it. But many face terrible scenarios when they return home, with family and friends turning their backs on them, regardless of whether they're innocent or not.