JERUSALEM — A Palestinian woman was imprisoned for nine years in a bathroom by her father, beaten, barely fed and only let out at night, a social worker and police said Monday.
She was given only a blanket, a radio, and a razor blade by her father, who encouraged her to kill herself, said the social worker, Hala Shreim.
Palestinian police freed Baraa Melhem on Saturday in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, after a relative told authorities of the woman’s plight, said spokesman Adnan Damiri.
Authorities said Melhem was in her early twenties and that she was initially locked up when she was between 10 and 12 years old.
The woman was found by Shreim and the police in a small bathroom with a tiny window. She wrapped herself in a blanket for warmth, and her father also gave her used clothes.
“It’s a miracle she didn’t go mad. She had a small radio that she used to listen to programs. She was aware of herself – of her own mental health. She said the radio was her only friend in the darkness,” said Shreim.
The social worker said Melhem was well-spoken and up-to-date on current affairs because she listened so intently to the radio.
The young woman was not immediately available for comment, but told Israel’s Maariv newspaper that she hoped her father would suffer as she did. “I want them to put him in an underground bathroom, so he doesn’t see the light of day for 11 years, without food and water, to let him go through what I went through,” she said.
Baraa Melhem’s mother, who remarried and moved to a different town, asked about her daughter, but her ex-husband would make up excuses why the young woman wasn’t around and sometimes told the mother to mind her own business, Shreim said.
The young woman told an Israeli newspaper that said she stopped asking to see her mother, because her father would beat her every time she made the request.
It was not clear why the mother did not report to police earlier that she had not seen her daughter for years. The young woman’s paternal aunt finally told Shreim of the situation. Shreim says she then persuaded the aunt to alert police.
In a statement the young woman gave to the social worker, she said her father locked her up when she was about 10 years old after she ran away from school. Police returned her home and her father later forced her to sign a statement saying she didn’t want to go back to school. Melhem’s parents divorced when she was young and her father had custody.
Melhem told the social worker her father initially locked her up because he said he wanted to protect her from the world outside, describing other people as “animals,” the social worker said.
The father, an Israeli Arab who moved to the West Bank, was transferred to Israeli police. They identified him as 49-year-old Hassan Melhem.
Shreim said the young woman had been locked in the bathroom with a heavy metal door and an outside lock. She told the social worker that her father beat her with electric cables and sticks when he was angry, poured cold water on her when she asked for her mother, and sometimes shaved her head and eyebrows. She was only let out late at night to clean the rest of the house, and given leftover food.
At one point, her father gave her a razor blade, telling her it would be better if the young woman killed herself, Shreim quoted her as saying.
The social worker said the young woman clung to the hope that she would be found one day, drawing strength from her small radio.
The father appears to have created a culture of fear and silence among his family, who were terrified of even speaking about the imprisoned girl.
He remarried to another woman, and had two other children, aged 11 and 18, Shreim said. His new family was also locked in the house when he wasn’t around, she added.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the father was being held in an Israeli jail pending a court hearing on Wednesday. Rosenfeld said the man’s wife was also detained for questioning.
Social worker Shreim said the young woman’s first request, after she was released, was for hard candy – something she had been denied since she was a child.
Then she asked to see her mother.
and from the Daily Mail…
A young Palestinian woman who was imprisoned for 10 years in a series of dark rooms by her father revealed today she survived the ordeal by listening to the radio, dreaming of seeing sunshine again and finding small pleasure in an apple she was fed each day.
Baraa Melhem, 20, said she was enjoying her first taste of freedom after a decade of isolation and threats of rape and abuse, and she hopes to use her experience to help others.
‘I have joy now. My life has begun,’ the young woman, dressed in red sweat pants, white shoes, a black shawl for warmth and a headscarf, said.
Miss Melhem was rescued by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya on Saturday after an aunt notified police. Adnan Damiri, a Palestinian police spokesman, said she was in ‘deplorable’ condition.
Her father and stepmother, both Arab citizens of Israel, were turned over to Israeli authorities. Locked up in Israel, neither could be reached for comment. The father, Hassan Melhem, 49, is expected to appear in an Israeli court on Wednesday, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The stepmother’s name wasn’t available.
Speaking softly but confidently, Miss Melhem said she was beaten, barely fed and let out only in the middle of the night to do housework. She was given only a blanket, radio and a razor blade by her father and stepmother, and both of them encouraged her to kill herself.
‘I don’t hate my father. But I hate what he did to me. Why did he do it? I don’t understand,’ she said.
Miss Melhem said she was first locked up in a bathroom after she ran away from home when she was 10. Police brought her home, and her father forced her to sign a statement saying she didn’t want to go back to school. Miss Melhem’s parents divorced when she was four years old, and her father received custody.
Miss Melhem she said she was finally happy in her new home – a shabby, purple-painted room with pink curtains, four mattresses on the ground and a red blanket. She clutched a large doll that her mother gave her as a gift.
‘This is heaven. Because you have always been free, you don’t appreciate it. But for somebody like me, who has tasted the bitterness of a prison, this is heaven.’
Mrs Melhem, who has remarried, refused to give her last name or age. She said she was so eager to divorce her first husband that when he insisted on keeping their daughter, she agreed. She took their son because the father used to spray perfume into his eyes. She said he was not violent toward the daughter.
‘I was so young when I was getting a divorce. I didn’t understand anything. I was just so desperate to be rid of that man,’ she said.
Miss Melhem described her father as a violent man who also terrified her half brother and half sister. Although their conditions were better, they, too, were not allowed to leave the house when the father wasn’t home. She said the siblings, who are believed to be staying with relatives now, were mentally disabled and were not sent to school.
‘Fear, fear, fear – that was the basis of my life,’ Miss Melhem said.
Miss Melhem said she kept sane by listening to a small transistor radio that her father gave her in the past five years. The young woman was up to date with news and current affairs and named her favorite radio hosts.
In one instance, she said, her spirits were lifted when she heard on her radio that her astrological sign was Leo, meaning she had a fiery personality.
Over the years the family moved twice more. Each time she was locked up. In her final home in Qalqiliya, she was kept in what she described as a bathroom that measured 3ft-by-3ft.
She said when he was angry, he regularly beat her with electric cables and sticks. He poured cold water on her when she asked for her mother, and sometimes shaved her head and eyebrows. She was let out only late at night to clean the rest of the house. Before dawn, her father then locked her back inside. He gave her bread, oil and an apple every day.
At one point, her father gave her a razor blade, telling her it would be better if she killed herself. Miss Melhem said her stepmother urged her to do it, telling her she was a nobody.
To cope, Miss Melhem said she often jumped up and down for exercise, cleaned the bathroom, dusted off her blanket, washed her clothes and then listened to the radio all day.
Hala Shreim, a social worker who accompanied police on the rescue, said Miss Melhem was found in the small bathroom with a tiny window. She said the woman was wrapped in a blanket and wore threadbare clothes so old that they were disintegrating.
When she was taken outside, Miss Melhem said she was blinded by the pale winter sun. It was more sunlight than she had seen in 10 years.
‘Is that the sun? Is that the sun I was dreaming of?’ she said she asked police. Miss Melhem said the sight of so many people startled her. ‘Are those the people I was hearing on the radio?’ she asked the police.
Miss Melhem said her first request, after she was released, was for hard candy – something she had been denied since she was a child. Then she asked to see her mother.
Miss Melhem’s mother, who remarried and moved to a different town, had asked about her daughter, but her ex-husband would make up excuses why the young woman wasn’t around and sometimes told the mother to mind her own business, said social worker Shreim said.
Miss Melhem said she paid special attention to mental health programs on Palestinian radio. She believes that listening to voices from the outside world, modest exercise and eating an apple each day saved her. Although she has nothing more than an elementary school education, she said she hopes to study psychology and one day treat people who had similar fates.
‘There is no house in the world – look outside the window. In every house, somebody is suffering,’ she said.
When asked if she hoped to marry, Miss Melhem was visibly upset. ‘If the violence I experienced was between a father and a daughter, what happens between a man and a wife? No, I never want to marry,’ she said.
- Palestinian man jails daughter in bathroom for 9 years (iamiranaware.wordpress.com)