JERUSALEM (AP) — 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.