While inside Damon prison in Haifa, the Palestinian politician and academic Khalida Jarrar launched an initiative to educate Palestinian women in Israeli prisons more than two years ago.
In cooperation with Al-Quds Open University and the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education, the unprecedented initiative allows female prisoners to study for bachelor’s degrees in social work, history, and Islamic law. The university itself has a programme that guarantees prisoners in Israeli jails the right to continue university education.
Today, eight months after Jarrar’s release from Damon prison last September, the initiative is continuing, with seven female students currently enrolled.
Jarrar is proud of her initiative.
“Education is liberating for women, because it helps them expand their knowledge, strengthen their personality, and gives them a degree of independence to face society and its problems, as well as helping them find work after leaving prison,” she said in a recent interview with Al-Fanar Media.
Jarrar said her students would study for a Bachelor of Social Work after they had passed the Ministry of Higher Education’s conditions, which include a high school completion exam score over 60 percent and being able to study for four years.
She added that completing their education despite being in jail “is part of the prisoners’ resistance to the occupation’s efforts to keep them isolated from the outside world, unaware of the development of events and education.”
“Education is liberating for women, because it helps them expand their knowledge, strengthen their personality, and gives them a degree of independence to face society and its problems.”Khalida Jarrar
It was not easy to start the initiative.
Jarrar had to meet the Ministry of Higher Education’s requirement that three women with master’s degrees be in prison to teach the female students. She also had to overcome the resistance of prison authorities, who tried to stop lawyers from giving educational books to the women prisoners.
Jarrar herself has a master’s degree in democracy and human rights from Birzeit University.
She said the support of higher education officials and the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs was key to establishing the initiative. The arrest of several female students from Birzeit University who were studying sociology in late 2019 provided the teachers.
Jarrar got the Ministry of Higher Education to set up an education committee, including herself and two other women prisoners, and develop a study plan to meet with female students during the five hours they were allowed for exercise.
There were three lessons a week of three hours each.
Jarrar said the education committee tried to get educational books in through lawyers’ meetings with female prisoners or placing books with other goods “because educational materials are prohibited from entering prison.”
Finding Creative Methods
The committee also got Palestinian TV to broadcast educational lectures for the women prisoners. They used this method whenever they were unable to get educational materials into Damon prison.
“We were always thinking about what would guarantee the programme continued despite the restricted entry of educational materials, or the sudden prison inspections that forced us to postpone classes,” Jarrar said.
The education committee was not satisfied with just the Ministry of Higher Education and Al-Quds Open University’s approved courses, so Jarrar designed training courses for women students in human rights, international law, literature, biographies, and Arabic and English.
“We succeeded in introducing the four Geneva Conventions after heavy pressure on the Red Cross, and a book that includes the most important international conventions, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
“We were always thinking about what would guarantee the programme continued despite the restricted entry of educational materials, or the sudden prison inspections that forced us to postpone classes.”Khalida Jarrar
The women prisoners studied these agreements, Jarrar said, then conducted their own research applying these topics to prison conditions or conditions in Palestine in general.
One of the papers they produced was titled “Application of Michel Foucault’s Theory on Self-Censorship and the Concept of Imprisonment on Palestinian Female Prisoners”. Another study reviewed the conditions of sick female prisoners and their right to treatment. Another explored economic conditions in the city of Jerusalem.
Jarrar noted that education inside prison had revealed to her the impact of university studies on the hearts of female prisoners, especially minors. She said the women found in study “a way to free themselves from restrictions, discover their capabilities and become aware of how to deal with the prison administration and demand their rights.”
Jarrar, who now teaches the “feminist captive movement” to master’s students in the Democracy and Human Rights programme at Birzeit University, added that the women prisoners’ learning about the concepts of equality and women’s liberation through study and research ignited their passion and perseverance to study and learn until late at night to accomplish what was required of them and achieve high grades.
Ensuring the Initiative Continues
At the time of her release last year, Jarrar had spent two years in Israeli jails, either in administrative detention with no charges or on charges of being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, and the European Union.
She was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 as one of the PFLP’s three deputies.
Since leaving prison, Jarrar has worked to ensure the educational initiative for women prisoners continues, with assistance from representatives of the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees’ Affairs. She supervises exams, which she sends on to the ministry, and delivers books and curricular materials to the women prisoners.
“Education is the greatest weapon for these female prisoners to discover,” she said. “Through it, they discover themselves a second time. The initiative must be continued to help female prisoners overcome the difficult conditions of prison.”