TEL AVIV – A couple living in the West Bank has been indicted for keeping the husband’s daughter locked up in small dark rooms for 10 years.
The State Attorney’s office in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva filed charges Tuesday against the couple, both Israeli-Arabs, for locking up the now 22-year-old woman since she was 11, abusing her and encouraging her to kill herself.
The indictment said that the young woman, Baraa Melhem, was forced to sleep on blankets with no mattress and was only allowed out of confinement to help with cooking and cleaning.
Melhem was discovered in “deplorable conditions” in the house’s tiny bathroom by Palestinian Authority forces on Jan. 21 in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya after her aunt notified police. They handed the couple over to the Israeli authorities because the suspects are Israeli citizens.
“I have joy now. My life has begun,” Melhem told the Associated Press after she was freed. She said she was beaten, threatened with rape and given a razor blade by her father and stepmother who urged her to commit suicide.
“I don’t hate my father. But I hate what he did to me. Why did he do it? I don’t understand,” said Melhem, now living with her mother in an Arab part of East Jerusalem.
Melhem’s parents divorced when she was 4 and the father, Hassan Melhem, received custody. The stepmother was not publicly identified.
When Melhem ran away from home when she was 10 and returned by the police, her father forced her to sign a statement saying she didn’t want to go back to school, the AP reported.
The family, which includes two half siblings, moved twice and each time Melhem was locked up. When she was rescued, she was blinded by the sun.
“Is that the sun? Is that the sun I was dreaming of?” she asked the police.
“This is heaven. Because you have always been free, you don’t appreciate it,” Melhem said of her mother’s Jerusalem home. “But for somebody like me, who has tasted the bitterness of a prison, this is heaven.”
Asked if she would get married now that she’s free, the answer was decidedly no.
“If the violence I experienced was between a father and a daughter, what happens between a man and a wife? No, I never want to marry.”