Middle East

Israeli-Arab couple charged with imprisoning daughter

Baraa Melhem (23 January 2012)
Image caption Baraa Melhem said she was first locked up after she ran away from home

The Israeli authorities have charged an Israeli-Arab couple with imprisoning their daughter for nine years at their home in the West Bank town of Qalqilya.

According to an indictment, Baraa Melhem had been locked in a bathroom or other small rooms since the age of 11.

She was only let out at night to clean the house, do laundry and cook.

Her father, Hassan, and stepmother are accused of abusing a minor, unwarranted imprisonment and attempting to pressure a person to take their own life.

Mr Melhem was arrested by Palestinian security forces in Qalqilya and handed over to the Israeli authorities, while his wife was arrested in Israel.

'Deplorable' condition

According to the indictment filed at Petah Tikva District Court on Tuesday, Ms Melhem was imprisoned between the ages of 11 and 20.

She was forced to sleep on a blanket with no mattress and was let out of her locked room only to help with the housework.

She was also beaten by her father, and told by both him and her stepmother that it would be better if she killed herself, according to the indictment.

Ms Melhem was rescued by Palestinian police on 21 January after an aunt notified them. A police spokesman said she was in a "deplorable" condition.

Hala Shreim, a social worker who accompanied police on the rescue, said Ms Melhem was found in the bathroom, which had a tiny window, wrapped in a blanket and wearing clothes so old that they were disintegrating.

She is now living with her mother, Maysoun, in the West Bank. She divorced Mr Melhem when their daughter was four, and told social workers he made up excuses about why Ms Melhem was never around.

"I have joy now. My life has begun," Ms Melhem told the Associated Press two days after her release. "I don't hate my father. But I hate what he did to me. Why did he do it? I don't understand."

Ms 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 did not want to go to school.

She said her father had threatened to rape her until she became pregnant if she tried to escape, and that he would then have used the pregnancy to accuse her of shaming the family and justify killing her.

He regularly beat her with electric cables and sticks, and poured cold water on her when she asked for her mother, she added.

Ms Melhem said she was given bread, oil and an apple every day, and kept sane by listening to a small radio that she was allowed to keep.

She added that her half-brother and half-sister, who were mentally disabled and not sent to school, were also not allowed to leave the house when their father was not home, although their conditions were better.