Juana Ruiz: “With my arrest, Israel wanted to send a message to humanitarian organizations”

The Spanish aid worker Juana Ruiz -detained by Israel in West Bank last April – was released more than a month ago, after spending ten months in jail. Ruiz was convicted of working for an illegal organization for the israeli state and for having “smuggled money under false pretenses into the West Bank.” Ruiz has been working since 1993 as project coordinator for the Health Work Committeesa Palestinian NGO that provides medical services to the population of the occupied territories.

First of all, how are you?

Recovering a little tranquility, stability. I have my moments, but every day better. The affection of my family, my friends and all the people who have been with me in all these moments is having an effect. I have gone through states that I had never experienced: depression, sadness, crying, longing… I have gone through all of this, little by little, chewing as best I could.

He has been doing humanitarian work in Palestine for almost 30 years. Had she ever imagined that something similar could happen to her?

No, I never thought so. I never had any problem. During all these years, 28 years of work, no one has ever told me to do something wrong or illegal. I work in a healthcare organization. It was unthinkable. This has been crazy, I don’t know what has come to mind. Well, more or less I know why it came to mind… I have no political concerns of any kind. My work and my person are given to the defense of the person.

From her experience in prison, she especially highlights how her companions helped her.

I have had the great fortune to meet my colleagues. They had so much more to be angry or hurt about. And yet, they were positive and have given me a lesson in humility, joy, respect. I have decided to be the spokesperson for Palestine, for its voices, for the people, for what they need, for what they are, for what has happened. Tell a little about what situation they were in and ask that they continue to support them from the outside, that they take into account that they are women, many mothers, many girls who have destroyed their lives and who are sentenced to many years. You have to be there to support and help them.

Solidarity and empathy between women was very important to be able to endure prison.

I left the first prison where I was very shattered, after many interrogations. They had already formally accused me and I was quite morally shattered, with a fairly great depression. When I arrived, they showed me solidarity, empathy, affection… I was the only Christian, the only foreigner and the oldest woman. And yet, she was the most pampered, the most pampered. They took great care of me.

What was Israel looking for with his arrest?

They wanted to demonstrate to Europe – and above all to Spain, which has very good relations with human rights organizations in Palestine – that we were doing what they accused me of and that I was aware of it. In that sense, they have come out a bit scalded because Europe and Spain have presented documentation that Juana is a humanitarian worker who has nothing to do with politics. In addition, all the projects have been audited and it has been seen that there was no false billing. I was arrested in April 2021 and I didn’t know anything. They made the organization illegal in July 2020, but they did not inform us. For them I am guilty of working in an organization and bringing funds. The reality is that I do not bring funds, my work has nothing to do with this. For them, if they arrest you, even if you are innocent, you are guilty.

Do you think that, with his arrest, Israel wanted to send a message to humanitarian aid organizations in Palestine?

Exactly. It has sneaked into some places, like Holland and France. But Spain has had a lot of pressure from hundreds of organizations of all kinds, including political parties. Three towns have passed and this has hurt a lot in Spain.

How has this whole process affected you physically and mentally?

Mentally it has affected me, I think about it a lot. I have dreams about my teammates, I have worries…Physically, I am trying to recover, I have a pressure in my chest that has not yet gone away. I believe that all this is psychological and takes time. I need some peace. I really want to go on vacation, to be in front of the sea, to take a bath, to forget about Palestine a little. I tell you honestly, Palestine is very stressful, very oppressive and there is a lot of suffering here. People are going through a very serious economic crisis, young people are dying every day.

Does this peace happen by taking early retirement?

Yes. I am 63 years old and my health is not that great. I need to be with mine. I do want to write a book. First, from my experience in Palestine and then to dedicate another to my girls, the prisoners, to recount everything that has happened.

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