Solitary confinement turns Palestinian inmate into mental wreck

HEBRON, Palestine

Life had come to a standstill for Yousef Shahateet, 73, and his wife in 2004, when their 17-year old son Mansour was arrested by the Israeli security agencies.

But, more shock was in store for the elderly couple when their son, released on April 11 after spending 17 years in Israeli prisons, could not recognize them.

The years of solitary confinement had turned Mansour into a psychological wreck.

After two years of trial, the Israeli court had sentenced him to 17 years of imprisonment on charges of stabbing an Israeli settler.

His mother said he had stopped recognizing faces some years ago, as he was put in solitary confinement.

She recalled that when once a jailer allowed her to meet him face-to-face instead of behind glass walls, he looked at her with blank eyes, even when she hugged him.

The shocked mother had been running from pillar to post over the past years, pleading international organizations to intervene and help end the solitary confinement of her son.

“When we met him, he wasn’t able to stand on his feet, he was leaning over his brothers. All of us cried when he said on his first freedom hour that all his pains were for freedom and homeland,” said Yousef.

His mother said that in 2004, the Israeli army stormed their home and threatened to demolish it.

“They didn’t demolish the house but they have destroyed my son, taking him into custody and lodging him in solitary confinement cells,” she said.

“At one of the court sessions, I asked the judge why my son is in solitary confinement, I told him this is dehumanizing and it must end. The judge said my son must be in solitary confinement until his death,” said the elderly Yousef.

He was frequently shifted from one jail to another as part of the torment.

For over seven years, Yousef was not allowed to visit his son. Then, he was given a permit to see his son once a year. But was not allowed to proceed beyond the check post most of the time.

It is believed that Israeli prison services isolated Mansour after he had given a sermon at Friday prayers inside the jail.

Compounding catastrophe

“He didn’t allow them to humiliate him, so they punished putting him in isolation for years. On the visits, I noticed how his health was declining until he lost his ability to recognize me during my visits,” Mansour’s mother told Anadolu Agency.

Sitting outside his home leafing through the documents, Yousef said that in 1948 he had lost his lands,  his son has lost his memory.

“It has compounded the catastrophe. What have I to seek restitution, the [lost] land for which I have the documents or the son, whose body is with us, but not his memory?” he said.

Since he was released, Mansour spends his days in the family home. He does not want to meet people, although his parents try to take him on long walks.

“Solitary confinement causes a mental regression. Humans are social animals and most of his knowledge of himself is taken from the reflections from the others,” said Samah Jaber, a psychologist working at the Palestinian Health Ministry.

“In the condition of isolation, the only other there is the jailer who controls the details of human life, and there the inmates are completely isolated from any sympathetic person. The isolation prevents the inmate from speaking to anyone, which turns all the attention to the self which may lead to hallucinations,” she added.

Jaber said that an isolated inmate has no chance to share his or her ideas or concerns with any person to protect his mind from delinquency. She added that those who spend long terms in solitary confinement show psychotic symptoms.

There are ten inmates currently in solitary confinement in Israeli jails.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, there are four inmates in the isolation suffering from severe psychological conditions. The organization believes that putting a prisoner in solitary confinement is the most dangerous tool of torture

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