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Spanish Palestinian Freed-Prisoner Shares her Journey

Jerusalem24 – Freed prisoner, Juana Rishmawi, Spanish Palestinian, has been married to Palestinian Elias Rishmawi for over 36 years, when moving to Palestine Juana lived in Gaza to later move to Beit Sahour in the West Bank, and work in 1993 with the Health Work Committees.

Following is an interview with Rishmawi by 24fm:

How was it when you got arrested?

It was hard, never expected it, I was working with the Health Work Committees for 20 years, and I used to travel twice a year, set and talk with governments about the health situation and women in Palestine, which were very important to me.

It all happened suddenly, between 10 to 15 Israeli soldiers entered our home because you know that’s what they do and they search the homes they break into as well. Then they started questioning us and told my husband the Israeli intelligence wanted to question me.  I got dressed and they asked me if I take any kind of medication, I said yes, and they took it with them, when they did so, I figured out that this is going to take a long time.  Along with the medicine, they took papers and searched my daughter’s room. They kept moving me from one jeep to the other and finally took me to the Itsyoun Investigation center, where they searched me, took my pictures, my fingerprints, chained my legs and wrists, and moved me to the “Bosta” which is a tiny prison, the worst.

How long did you stay in Hasharon Prison, how did the time pass?

I stayed for a month in Hasharon, I arrived at 12 am, and was met with a little girl, she took care of me and talked to me, I used to cry and she was there to comfort me. I kept saying I didn’t do anything; I didn’t kill anyone. I do my best to help people, I was a humanitarian worker. It was very hard in the prison, it was unsanitary, very dirty. I remember the iron door, the sound it made, it was hard and harsh, they used to bang it so hard. It even made me ask my husband Elias to remove our own iron front door.

What was the hardest moment you went through during your imprisonment in Hasharon?

When they used to take me from Hasharon at 7 am to the Asklan – Ashklon – investigation center, to return after 7 pm, extremely exhausted, with no food or water.

Also, when they removed the girl that used to stay with me in the cell, for 13 days I stayed alone, it was devastating. This incident was the hardest throughout the 10 months I was in prison.

How did these 13 days pass?

I spent them sleeping. Then one day, a diplomat from the consulate visited and asked me what I wanted, I told him clothes, I stayed in my arresting outfit for 15 days. I also asked for books because I was bored, the prison administration first refused but the consulate membered insisted it was my right to have books and read.

The food was bad, they used to make it very spicy, and not healthy at all. My health got worst, I lost 12 kilograms.

How was your experience in the Damon Prison?

When they moved me to Damon I was scared, but everything was different and surprising. I found the girl that used to stay with me in Hasharon and she told me everything will be alright. The first day I got moved to Damon prison was the first day of Eid al-Fitr. I also had a court session, during it I was presented with an indictment which came as a shock since I haven’t done anything they were claiming.

The court was 2 hours, it was exhausting. When I went back to the Damon Prison, the girls embraced me, they gathered around me and comforted and helped me, gave me a watch, which I still have and love, provided me with everything I needed.

The language barrier!

I had to speak in Arabic for 10 months, and it’s funny how my Arabic got better since I didn’t use Spanish at all. Now my kids make jokes that my Arabic is great. The girls in Damon prison were worried first about the communication between us.

The girls I was surrounded with were strong and great, I was the oldest and they took care of me. I taught 8 girls Spanish, 4 of them are great now in Spanish. We also used to work out in the morning sometimes.

I learned how to make Kunafeh, we had a girl from Nablus who knew how to make it, and taught who wanted to learn, and we used to make it with the simplest things we had.

In Hasharon, what surprised you the most?

Every girl has her own personality, her own political thoughts. But at the right time, we all stand together. We had our own representative to talk to the prison administration, she took care of everyone and their needs.

The girls used to laugh at my broken accent, but we all used to have fun with it. And since I was the oldest, I saw them all as my daughters. the cells were our rooms so having them tidied up was very important.

Many prisoners worry about their families, how did you touch that and see it in Damon prison?

Rawiya, one of the girls in the Damon prison, got the news that her father died. It was hard for her and tried to comfort her. It’s the hardest thing in life to lose your loved ones and to add salt to the injury, lose them when you’re not around.

Khalida Jarrar, lost her daughter too while in prison, she heard the news on the radio. As a mom, I understand how hard this wound is. It never heals.

 How did your kids, Maria and George, deal with the situation?

Maria had a final when I got arrested. And she was surprised that I didn’t wish her good luck, her father told her that I had a meeting and not to worry. After her final, Elias let her know that I got arrested, both Maria and George were in Spain, it was hard for them. They were worried and didn’t understand why it was their mother.

George and Maria used to call Ajyal radio prisoners show and let me know through it, that they miss me and can’t wait to see me every Friday.

Maria is a lawyer, she contacted the consulate and mobilized support for me. I was surprised to know that many heard about my story and beli8ved it, since you know how Israeli propaganda is, I was afraid they would make me look like I’m lying and call me a criminal, but Maria let me know that I had a lot of support from people in Spain, Chile, and even Argentina.

Christmas in prison:

Back home, I made sure my family had the charismas we always used to have. So, they put up the tree and had our annual Christmas dinner.

In prison, Israa Jabies came to wish me a Merry Christmas and made me a gift of the Christmas tree. It was one of the most thoughtful things I’ve got. I was the only Christian in prison and they made sure to make me feel the Christmas spirit.

Leaving prison:

One of the girls told me to take a shower and get ready to leave the prison, I told her it won’t happen, I didn’t expect it. I cried before leaving, I told the girls I won’t ever forget them. It was hard for me. You never know when you will see them again.

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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