Date of birth: 30 August 1976
Place of residence: Nablus
Date of arrest: 11 November 2009
Place of detention: HaSharon Prison
Date of sentencing: 8 December 2010
Date of release: 12 July 2011
Nelli Zahi As’ad Sa’id As-Safadi was arrested by the Israeli army on 11 November 2009 at an Israeli military checkpoint between Nablus and Hebron in the occupied West Bank. After stopping her at the checkpoint and confirming her identify, the soldiers took Nelli for a body search, without informing her of their intent to conduct the procedure or securing her consent. After the body search, Nelli was formally arrested and was transferred by military jeep to Petah Tiqva Interrogation and Detention Center inside Israel. Immediately after her arrival to Petah Tiqva, she was taken for a cursory physical examination, and then Israeli authorities began to interrogate her. At no stage during this process of arrest and detention was she informed of the reasons behind her arrest, nor was she permitted to call her family or a lawyer to inform them of what had happened.
Nelli spent a total of 48 days in interrogation, from her arrest on 11 November 2009 until 28 December 2009. During this entire period, she was held in solitary confinement and was barred from meeting with her attorney following a ban implemented by the military courts on the motion of military prosecutors. In addition, because Palestinian prisoners held by Israel do not have the right to family visits or telephone contact during the entire interrogation period, which can last up to 180 days,(1) Nelli’s contact with the outside world during these weeks was limited to one visit from an ICRC delegate three weeks after her arrest.
However, even this slight contact was limited by Israeli authorities, who took efforts to prevent Nelli from meeting with ICRC in the first weeks of her interrogation. Nelli reported to Addameer attorneys that, two weeks after her arrest and detention, the interrogation police intentionally transferred her to Ramleh Prison a day prior to the scheduled weekly ICRC visit to Petah Tiqva in order to conceal the ill-treatment to which she was being subjected.
Torture and Ill-Treatment during Interrogation
Nelli was subjected to numerous means of physical and psychological torture and ill-treatment while under interrogation, including the use of painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, abusive language and threats. The ill-treatment began almost immediately upon her arrival to Petah Tiqva, where she was held continuously in the interrogation room for more than two consecutive days, from the evening of Wednesday 11 November until the early morning of Saturday, 14 November 2009, with her hands shackled behind her back and her legs tied to the chair and without the possibility of relaxing them at any time. Nelli was also deprived of sleep during this period, not permitted to shower, and was only allowed to use the bathroom a few times during those two days. Nelli reported to Addameer attorneys of these abuses, and described how at first she was interrogated continuously for many hours, but then the interrogators shifted gears to the use of physical and mental exhaustion by leaving her alone, sitting in the interrogation room in the same position for several hours at a time, with her hands tied behind her back. time Nelli, by then terrified but utterly exhausted, began to fall asleep, one of the interrogators would enter the room and shout at her, waking her up and then immediately leaving the room.
On Saturday morning at about 12:30 a.m., after more than 48 hours of this treatment, Nelli was taken to a cell and allowed to rest and sleep on a mattress. The following morning, Sunday 15 November 2009, Nelli was brought back for another interrogation session, once again shackled and tied to the chair in a painful position. Each time she relaxed her legs during the interrogation session, one of the interrogators would shout very close to her face until she cried. She was also constantly exposed to abusive language and threats. At one point, Nelli was implicitly threatened with physical and psychological torture when one of the interrogators mentioned the experience of a detainee, “Walid A.”, who they said was driven to mental illness when he refused to cooperate with the interrogators and subsequently was interrogated for an extended period of time. The interrogators then insinuated that the same would happen to Nelli if she refused to cooperate and did not confess to the offense they said she committed.
Israeli Interrogators Pressure and Arrest Nelli’s Family Members: Threats Carried Out
During Nelli’s interrogation, Israeli interrogation police routinely used Nelli’s family members as a means of applying psychological pressure against Nelli. Interrogators used her husband, Adadah Sa’id, 29, who is currently serving an 11 year sentence in a prison inside Israel to pressure Nelli to cooperate, and threatened that her family members would be arrested if she failed to confess. Indeed, just two days after Nelli’s arrest, the threat was carried out. In the early morning hours of 13 November, Israeli soldiers stormed Nelli’s family home and arrested her two brothers, Ma’moun, 30, and Fouad, 36. A few days later, as Nelli continued to refuse the interrogators’ pressure to confess to crimes she says she did not commit, Israeli forces raided Nablus again and arrested Nelli’s mother-in-law, aged 64, her brother-in-law 'Amer, 27, and his young son, Sa’id, who is less than 18 years of age. All of them were then brought for interrogation to Petah Tiqva and manipulated by interrogators against each other and both Nelli and her husband in order to exert additional pressure on everyone involved. Nelli also reported to Addameer that at one point during her interrogation period, she was transferred to Salem Military Base, located in the West Bank near the town of Jenin. As Israeli authorities did not inform her of the reason for her transfer, or where she was being taken, she assumed that she was being transferred to the Military Court in Salem for proceedings before the courts. Instead, however, she was taken to the interrogation center at the military base, where she was confronted with her brother-in-law, 'Amer, who was also arrested subsequent to her detention.
Nelli’s mother-in-law was released after two days in detention, when her rapidly deteriorating health required her release. Her brother-in-law and brothers, who were held for interrogation for 28 days, were also eventually released. However, her nephew Sa’id remains in Israeli detention, after receiving a sentence to serve five months detention for allegedly throwing stones.
Addameer submits that the Israeli interrogators’ treatment of Nelli during interrogation, including the use of constraint of movement in an uncomfortable position causing physical pain, rises to the level of torture in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.(2)
Conditions during Interrogation
During most of her 48-day interrogation period, Nelli was held in Petah Tiqva Interrogation and Detention Center where she was constantly transferred between different solitary confinement cells. These cells, which contained only a mattress, toilet and sink, were uniformly dirty, measured only 3-by-2 square meters, contained no window, lacked adequate ventilation, and was typically held at uncomfortable temperatures, as the room temperature is controlled by guards from the outside.
In addition, Nelli was forbidden from having recreation time and access to the prison yard during her entire interrogation period. As a result, Nelli saw hardly any sunlight for the 48 days of her interrogation, and she lost all sense of time and could not differentiate night from day. The frequent transfers between cells, interrogation centers and prisons, only exacerbated her feeling of disorientation, anxiety and vulnerability. Several times during the interrogation period, Nelli was left in her cell for two or three days in continuous solitary confinement without being able to see or talk to any other detainees, interrogators or guards. She cites this time as the hardest part of her interrogation experience, even harder than the exhaustive questioning sessions and repeated threats and abusive language to which she was subjected.
Addameer’s experience has shown that detainees held in prolonged solitary confinement in such a manner often begin to question their own understanding of reality, a condition that causes great disorientation and a sense of panic. In certain cases, the extended use of solitary confinement can even rise to the level of psychological torture. In Nelli’s case, the isolation of her confinement and the forms of ill treatment levied against her took a heavy toll on her physical and emotional wellness. She describes a number of events that occurred during her interrogation that evidence a shocking deterioration in her overall wellbeing. In one event, as Nelli was placed in a cell in a wing of Petah Tiqva where no other detainees were held and which contained no offices, she had a nervous breakdown. Out of fear, she began banging on the door of her cell, asking for help. Shortly after, she fainted. She was then taken to see a doctor who gave her tranquilizers. Nelli was brought to the clinic several times afterwards and even subjected to an electrocardiogram to test her heart beat as her panic attacks re-occurred.
When Nelli was transferred to Neve Terza prison in Ramleh, the only specialized women’s prison facility in all of Israel, and where Palestinian female prisoners are kept only on rare occasions during transfers or while in isolation, she was held in a section with female Israeli criminal offenders and suffered greatly from abusive language they used against here. However, as Nelli noted, for the first time since her arrest, she was served food of acceptable quality and had access to fresh air and natural sunlight during recreation time.
In general, Nelli describes the 48 days of interrogation as a period of disorientation, vaguely recalling that she was taken four times to the military court for extension of detention hearings, which took place at Salem Military Court and at the military court located inside of Petah Tiqva.
Conditions in Prison
Nelli was detained in Section 2 of HaSharon Prison inside Israel until her release, in an area of the prison that also houses female Israeli criminal offenders. Although there was one window in her cell, it was covered with an iron sheet, preventing natural sunlight from entering and rendering the room very cold and humid.
Moreover, Palestinian female detainees held in the Israeli criminal offenders’ section of HaSharon Prison suffer from harsh treatment levied by the Israeli criminal offenders they are detained with. The Israeli prisoners routinely shout obscenities and insults at the women, and make every effort to threaten and humiliate them at every opportunity. Palestinian female detainees are also discriminated against by the facility’s Israeli administration, enjoying less or, at times, no recreation time, and living in dorms without access to books, newspapers or other media. At other times, the discrimination extends even to threats to the women’s’ physical wellbeing. According to Nelli, on 4 January 2010, the prison administration sprayed insect repellent into Section 2 to disinfect the dorms and rid the cells of the cockroaches that are often present. Because of the insect repellent’s harmful chemical smell, the prison guards made all female prisoners in Section 2 wait in the prison yard until the disinfection process was over. Only Nelli was not allowed to leave her room and escape the noxious fumes, despite asking the guards for permission to do so.
On 8 December 2010, after almost 400 days in detention and prison, Nelli was sentenced to twenty months in prison and 2000 NIS fine by the Military Court in Salem. Nelli was sentenced on charges of passing information between her husband, Adadah Sa’id, 29, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence in prison, and Hamas; and belonging to a student organization at An-Najah University, allegedly affiliated with Hamas.
On 12 July 2011, Nelli was released after completing her 20-month sentence.
1 Under the Israeli military orders that govern the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), a Palestinian can be held without charge, by order of a military judge, for an initial period of up to 90 days. This period can be extended for another period of up to 90 days by request of the Chief Area Legal Advisor for the OPT, via an order from the military court of appeals. By comparison, an Israeli citizen can be held without indictment for an initial period of 30 days, which can be extended three times in 15 day increments on the authority of the Attorney General.
2 Article 2(2) of the UN Convention Against Torture provides that: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”