Friday morning – it’s already hot. By 9am it is already in the high 30s. I approach HaSharon Prison, visible from Route 4 near Netanya. I am going to see my friend and human rights lawyer Zvi. It’s the first time I have a visit to this prison. After his removal from Ramle prison a week ago, I have been hearing some horror stories and I am hoping he is bearing up to the strain.
It’s been 5 months since his arrest in February as part of the alleged Cyber Terror Gang. Over a dozen arrested, with 3 still in prison facing trial in September. Whilst human rights activists have demonstrated for weeks and months, protests have become political and shadowed the real issues in Israel. Freedom of speech is fine once politicians take the stage and can criticise each other, but citizens are not afforded this freedom if alone.
Walking from the car to the entrance, it’s less than a minute or two, and I’m bathed in sweat on arrival to the turnstile. Visitors have to put everything into lockers outside. We are told to wait another 15 minutes before being allowed inside. It’s sweltering – the heat. I can only imagine how it is to be a prisoner.
We are allowed to enter, giving ID or passport in my case. Zvi’s relatives have brought new clothes, bedding and a bunch of legal papers for him to read. He has yet another arrest hearing after the weekend. The room is stuffy and has no air conditioning. We are checked in again at one window and sent to another one to deposit the things for him. Time passes, half an hour – an hour. The visiting time of 10am has no meaning. His things are passed through a window, sheets are checked around the seams and hems. There is a limit to how many socks, T shirts etc are allowed. All items are checked and thrown into a black bag. Cigarettes too. But the papers are another issue. They say all sheets must be read first and can be passed to him in a few days. That will be too late. Finally, we are allowed to take a plastic bag with the files to another window.
The heat is almost unbearable. Through a door we go to another check – shoes off, jewellery, pretty much everything, and pass through the detectors. We go on to another cubicle where men and women then go through a thorough body check. Finally, we reach an air conditioned room. Relief, but then we are the visitors so it’s not a thing to complain about.
I’ve seen my friend several times as a detainee in Ramle Prison, but nothing prepared me for this. After being moved due to it being dangerous for him due to his sexuality, he has endured a living hell. Now, he is locked up for 21 hours per day, with three separate hours of exercise periods. He keeps company in his cell with a child killer, a wife killer, serial killer, the list goes on. These are people who are serving life sentences. His protection? I find it unbelievable.
I’m later told by two criminal advocates that the wing he is in is a place where permanent hand out of ‘candy’ is offered by prison guards. He confirms this. The heat makes it impossible to sleep, and inmates are offered an array of pills to help them get through the day.
Zvi won’t take a single pill on offer. He looks exhausted through lack of sleep. Huge bites, red and angry, cover his arms. He cannot sleep. The inmates are like zombies, he tell us. He is facing weeks if not months in the cell. I cannot fathom the mental and psychological torture of putting a human rights lawyer who saved children in juvenile courts in a cell with a child killer.
Here is an example of the bites, obviously no cameras were allowed:
We learn that this neverending incarceration is based on his level of dangerousness. The State Prosecution will not consider his bail or house arrest on the basis he is allegedly more dangerous to the public than those he is now forced to share a cell with.
It appears that the bloggers who are in prison awaiting trial, all of them are accused and charged with insulting public officials. Zvi is now reading his accusations that he didn’t take blogs down and that makes him an accessory to the heinous crimes…of offending judges and social workers.
Judge Abraham Heiman, the arresting judge has ignored the fact that this detainee is a professional family and children’s lawyer; a fighter for human rights in Israel, and worked mainly pro bono. He has ignored the fact that because he is Gay his life is allegedly in danger. He ignored the assault on him in his own court room full of witnesses. The Judge has now to deal with the fact on Monday that this horrific hard core time being done is for innocent until proven guillty?
We sit, holding our phones, as he holds his phone on the other side of the glass – now 5 months deprived of human touch. Although we only have 30 minutes, there are gaps in talking as no one can really take in what is happening. It is just too awful, too unbearable.
He has had a bad week. Now he is ‘high risk’, his treatment has been inhumane. Solitary, tied down once, and moved like a dog in a cage from place to place. Though Netanya is only 30 minutes from Tel Aviv, we learn it takes over 24 hours to take him to a hearing. Shackles, cages, transit vans, cells, more holding cells, a dungeon cell below court…and then a few minutes of the Judge smiling wth pride that he will not let this most ‘dangerous man in Israel’ home on house arrest or bail to prepare his defence for a trial in a month. The Judge claims he wants to enjoy his 45 day recess and look at the matter in September. Forty five days of an inferno for Zvi, with endless days and nights and now doing the hardest time only warranted for serial killers.
We want to talk about things outside. He listens to family news, but it’s just too painful to tell and for him to listen. He’s strong in many ways, his mind keeps him coping. We are all fighting our emotions this visit.
He calls me after the visit, over and over. As he has done most days. Not only is he my friend, but an integral part of a civil society in Israel speaking out to the UN about human rights abuse of families and children. I want to rant and rage against the system, who are increasing the physcological and emotional torture on a man who is innocent until proven guilty. Guilty of upsetting a few public officials for not removing bloggers posts? It is an extreme punishment.
He thinks up idea after idea to fight for his freedom. Good days and bad days? No. It is bad days and less bad days. There is no way any Israeli Citizen should be put into a condition like this. But, he’s lucky – the hardened criminals are not homophobic. It beggars belief.
We are dazed after we leave. His family members were not prepared for this. Months in Ramle prison look like a picnic compared to this. Zvi is only allowed visitors every two weeks instead of weekly. He tells us that his exercise periods are on the roof, with no protection from the relentless sun.
He is only allowed 50 sheets of paper from the files. Nothing like enough to read and prepare for what will be another pointless hearing of the proud Judge who never gives house arrest, causing tens of thousands of people in the Tel Aviv District to be squashed in inhumane conditions for NO reason, and against all domestic and international laws.
We will continue our appeal to the UN for intervention. They will never publish what they do if anything, but we have no option. If the decision for detention until end of proceedings is upheld, this will be Zvi’s home for another 8 months.