Burnt, imprisoned mother languishes in Israeli jails as son grows up

Feb 06,2020

Palestinian prisoner Israa Jaabis spends 5th year in prison while her son Motasem grows old without mother.

By Salam abu Sharar

Israa Jaabis, a Palestinian mother whose car caught fire at an Israeli checkpoint in West Bank. Ignoring her serious burns, Israeli occupation sent her to prison, leaving her little son grow up at home alone.

Motasem Jaabis' paint set has dried up. He is waiting for his mother to return so that they can paint together like they used to when she was not a prisoner languishing in an Israeli jail.

While the boy would help his mother in household chores, she was his playtime buddy.

The good times, however, did not last too long.

On 11 October 2015, Israa Jaabis, 31, was en route to her place in Jerusalem when a gas cylinder in her car exploded and the car caught fire.

As she got out of the vehicle, she told her lawyer, an Israeli soldier accused her of attempting to stab him. "'Drop the knife,' the soldier told me ... but I was not carrying anything, my body was up in flames!"

Israeli occupation authorities accuse Israa Jaabis of intending to carry out a "terror attack,” a charge she denies.

The 31-year-old mother suffered third-degree burns which charred 60 per cent of her body including her face and hands, says her sister, Muna Jaabis.

A year later, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

She joined 41 other Palestinian women languishing in Israeli prisons, along with 200 children, according to Palestinian official figures.

Four of these women, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), are being held without trial.

Long wait

Meanwhile, Motasem Jaabis, who is now 10 years old, longs for his mother's return.

"I will play games with my mother when she returns," he told Anadolu Agency.

Muna Jaabis, who takes care of the boy, says he tries to stay strong, but misses his mother.

To top it all, due to a problem with his national identification number he is unable to visit his mother at a regular basis in Israeli northern Hasharon Prison.

After several attempts, the Red Cross was able to arrange a special meeting between the boy and his mother, one-and-a-half-year into her detention.

For Israa Jaabis, this meant a flood of emotions. Her son would for the first time see her disfigured face after the accident.

"Will he think I look like a gorilla?" she asked other inmates.

The women prisoners helped her sew a tiger costume to bring a smile on her son's face and hide the scars she carries.

This was a special visit where the prison guard allowed the mother and son to embrace each other.

Meetings between prisoners and visitors in Israeli jails are usually conducted via phones with a glass wall in between.

But the boy brushes these inhibitions aside. "I love my mother as she is, she will always be my mother, before and after the burns," he said.

Urgent medical care

Muna Jaabis says her sister needs urgent medical care.

Eight of her fingers were already amputated and her vital functions are declining.

In the scorching summers, her burn wounds develop irritations.

She needs plastic surgery and psychological counselling for her trauma.

In an Israeli court two years ago, during an in-camera hearing she raised what remained of her hands and asked for justice.

But the Israeli Supreme Court turned down an appeal by her lawyer to reduce the sentence on health grounds.

Killing time

Israa Jaabis who worked as a clown before the arrest still tries to bring smiles on the faces of the prison inmates, especially the children.

She draws puppets and together they perform plays and celebrate special days.

Outside the prison walls, Motasem Jaabis remembers his mother every time he watches something funny.

"I saw him watching TV and laughing and crying at the same time. I asked him what it was and he said: 'The clown tries to imitate my mother, but my mother is better than him. She made me laugh more'."

It is a long wait for the mother and son; 4,015 days until they meet again.