Last updated at 10:25 PM on 23rd January 2012
Baraa Melhem, 20, holds a doll, in her room at her mother’s house in the West Bank village of Qalandia, near Ramallah
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 is now living with her mother, Maysoun, in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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.