Palestinian ex-prisoner: You sit there wishing you would die

by Zena Tahhan

Haifa Abu Sbaih says she was psychologically tortured and mistreated as a prisoner in Israeli jails for 16 months.

Hebron, occupied West Bank - Haifa Abu Sbeih was only 15 when she witnessed the immediate aftermath of a horrific massacre outside her family's home in the Old City of Hebron.

She recalls standing outside her home in 1994, searching for her older brother after she heard gunshots in the Ibrahimi Mosque nearby, where an American Israeli settler had opened fire on hundreds of Palestinians during dawn prayers, killing 29 and wounding more than 100.

"All the men poured into the streets, their clothes dripping with blood, crying and seeking refuge in our home," she tells Al Jazeera. While she stood outside calling for her sibling, Abu Sbeih says the army shot and killed a young man, Nour al-Muhtaseb, right before her eyes.

This incident, was for Abu Sbeih, a taste of what would become a lifetime of challenges as she lived in Hebron, the only Palestinian town with a Jewish-only settlement located in the heart of the city.

Due to the presence of some 800 Israeli settlers, Hebron is exceptionally militarised, with the Israeli army imposing severe restrictions on everyday life and the movement of 40,000 Palestinians living there.

Many Palestinians have resorted to building metal enclosures around their homes to avoid being targeted by settlers who regularly hurl abusive comments, throw stones and attack them.

For Abu Sbeih, a particularly testing experience of the occupation came in December 2015 when she was arrested by the Israeli army for plotting, along with three of her nephews, to shoot and kill an Israeli settler in Hebron. According to Abu Sbeih, the settler, Anat Cohen, had for years harassed Palestinians in Hebron with regular and targeted abuse.


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