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Family of Christian Palestinian woman held in Israeli detention speaks out

The mother of Layan Nasir, a young Palestinian woman recently detained by Israel in the West Bank, trusts her daughter will come out stronger from Israeli prison.
An undated image of Layan Nasir.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Photos and videos of former Palestinian detainees with their long beards, overgrown hair and emaciated bodies create constant fear for the relatives of other prisoners still held in Israeli jails and concerned about the dire living conditions of their detained family members.

Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in the Gaza Strip Oct. 7, Israeli forces have stepped up their arrest campaign in the West Bank, arresting 8,550 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society. The majority of them have been held in administrative detention, while some were released shortly after their arrest.  

The family of 23-year-old Layan Nasir, from the West Bank town of Birzeit near Ramallah, is going through this same pain. Layan was arrested April 7, when around 20 Israeli soldiers loudly hammered the door of her parents’ house before her mother opened it. She was arrested by the soldiers, and on April 15 Israeli intelligence decided to place Layan in administrative detention for four months without charges. 

The Israeli military told Sky News in late April that Layan was arrested based on intelligence information suggesting that she "poses a security threat." 

Stormed in at 4 a.m.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Lulu Arnaki Nasir, Layan’s mother, recounted what happened that day: “They were gearing up to blow open the door of the house at 4 a.m. Around 20 soldiers stormed the house in a frightening way and held us at gunpoint. They stormed the house and searched all the rooms. Their loaded weapons were pointed at us.

“The occupation’s soldiers forced us to stand against the wall and raise our arms. They barred us from moving and speaking,” she said. “They asked [Layan’s] father to bring the IDs of the family members [Layan, her mother and father] and told him that they had come for Layan.”

A female soldier took Layan to her room and ordered her to get dressed. The soldiers then blindfolded and handcuffed her and took her out of the house 20 minutes after they had arrived. “We were not allowed to look at her,” her mother said.

This is the second time that Layan has been arrested. On July 7, 2021, Layan was detained at her house over her participation in student activities organized by the Progressive Democratic Students Pole, a student group affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), at Birzeit University. Israeli authorities banned the student group in 2020. Layan was released on bail two months later. Yet she is still on trial for those activities, and has had an average of one hearing per month.

But the family pointed to the major difference between the first and second arrest, which is exacerbating their fear and worry about Layan’s life. “When she was arrested the first time, the soldiers stormed the house about 5 a.m., and they were quieter. This time the raid was brutal and violent, and we were held at gunpoint. The soldiers were more aggressive and seemed ready to fire in our direction at any moment.”

Layan is a young Palestinian Christian woman with a BA in nutrition and business administration, which she obtained from Birzeit University in 2022. She holds an administrative position in one of Ramallah’s women’s rights institutions, which the family refused to name. Sami Nasir, her father, is a member of the episcopal committee of the Episcopal Church in Ramallah.

Israel’s controversial administrative detention

Layan is currently incarcerated in Israel's notorious Damon Prison, and her family has not been able to either visit her, talk to her or to bring her clothes or any other necessities. According to the family, Layan was able to speak to a male and female lawyer, and so far no charges have been filed. The two lawyers were assigned to Layan to follow up on her case and visit her. However, family members are not given visitation rights.

The family learned from one of the lawyers that Layan and the other inmates are living in difficult conditions. They are allowed just one hour of fresh air in the prison’s yard, and the prisoners are separated from each other to ensure that they do not communicate.

Since Oct. 7, the Israeli prison authorities have taken away all of the Palestinian prisoners’ belongings and barred them from purchasing anything from the cantina, according to testimonies from former detainees and prisoners associations in the West Bank. The inmates get small quantities of low-quality food that the prison authorities serve, the former detainees said.

Administrative detention consists of a procedure outside the judiciary system that Israel uses to arrest and detain Palestinians without charge or trial. Israel authorities often extend the incarceration period under the pretext of having a secret security file against them. This procedure emerged during the British Mandate era in Palestine.

“Layan tried to reassure us through the lawyers that she has high spirits and is strong,” said her mother. As she spoke of her daughter’s qualities and character and the void left by her absence, her voice started to break and she burst into tears.

The first arrest had already taken a toll on Layan, Lulu said. She believes that the second will be more detrimental, especially since the raid was harsher.

“Layan is a mature young woman, and her first arrest made her stronger and fearless,” she said.

“She is a tough girl. She seemed confident and in control when the soldiers brutally stormed our house this time. She was not afraid of them, despite the violence they showed. Despite the harsh conditions in detention, I know Layan will come out stronger,” Lulu continued.

“Layan is outgoing, vibrant and full of life. She is always ready to extend a helping hand to those in need. Her absence is not easy for us. [Her detention] left a void in the house, which she would fill with joy and vitality.”

Layan’s family is convinced that prisoners’ rights institutions, human rights organizations and international organizations are incapable of doing anything for Layan. That’s why they didn’t get in touch with them.

“We are aware of our institutions’ inability to do anything for the prisoners, especially after Oct. 7. The international institutions are also powerless. Israel does not care for anyone and does not respond to either the international community, the UN bodies or even the United States,” she said.

Lulu did not hide her concerns about the future under the Israeli occupation and the war on Gaza. “Just like the rest of the Palestinians, we don’t know what’s next. We have deep feelings of fear and anxiety and negative emotions. We don’t know what lies ahead. The future is uncertain for us.”

Commenting on Layan's arrest, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby criticized Israel for arresting Layan. “Layan Nasir’s case is a breach of assurances made by Israel about the treatment of Christians. The case highlights the controversial Israeli practice of administrative detention used to hold thousands of Palestinians for months without charge,” the archbishop’s office said in an April 28 statement.