Saturday, November 9 2002 Protest outside Damoun Prison

What is happening at the Damoun Prison?

Damoun Prison (on the outskirts of Haifa) holds some 500 inmates, incarcerated under inhuman conditions – many of them Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are being held for entering Israel to look for work.

On Saturday, November 9, 2002 Ta’ayush held a protest event outside Damoun Prison, which is located at the top of the road leading from the Atlit junction to Bet Oren. We brought with us food and basic equipment for the prisoners, for the beginning of Ramadan, in an attempt to alleviate their hardship, but we have not yet succeeded in bringing it in the prison.

In the activities at the Damoun Prison we:
* demanded the final closure of the prison, in which people are being held under inhuman conditions;
* protested the imprisonment of Palestinians whose only offence was a desire to feed their families;
* expressed solidarity by providing them with food for the Ramadan.

The current phase of the Occupation – including curfew, closures, and harrassment of agricultural laborers – forces many Palestinians to undertake the risk of entering Israel in a desperate search for work. If they are caught, these workers face imprisonment.

Damoun Prison is one of the sites designated by the State of Israel for this purpose, and many of its inmates were sentenced for “illegal sojourn”, to varying periods. Because of the prolonged closures there are essentially no family visits, and the prisoners include fathers who have never seen their children. In addition, there are people incarcerated for minor criminal offenses, and a small number for security offenses.

The conditions in the prison are inhuman. It was established in 1953 as a “temporary penitentiary”, in buildings which had earlier served as storehouses and stables. The prison was in continuous use until the year 2000, after the Minister of Police declared it “unfit for human habitation”. The harsh conditions underlying the decision to shut down the place included extreme cold, damp, and leaks in wintertime, suffocating heat in summertime, lack of a central sanitary system, and no showers or bathing facilities. Expert testimony before the Interior Committee of the Knesset indicated that raise the prison to a state fit for human habitation would take at least two years, and cost many millions of shekels.

Nevertheless, the prison was reopened in September, 2001 as part of a new policy of imprisoning “illegal sojourners” for longer periods, after a limited and underfinanced renovation completed within two months. At present there are about 500 inmates (as opposed to 400 before it was shut down). In addition to the severe physical conditions, the prison has no social services, and the inmates are allowed no furloughs.

A worrisome aspect is the difficulty to obtain more specific information about the situation within the prison. Inquiries addressed to the Prison Service yielded no further details, and unfortunately, none of the Members of Knesset and non-governmental organizations dealing with such matters knew anything of substance about what is happening within its walls.