“The detainees spend their imprisonment waiting for their families’ visits,” Dad once said, recalling the Israeli Prison Service IPS punishing him by denying him family visits during his 15 years of imprisonment. “Despite all the suffering and humiliation attached to their procedures, family visits are as important to prisoners as the air they breathe.”
Following the capture of Gilad Shalid in June 2006, Israel collectively punished Palestinian political prisoners from Gaza by banning family visits, one of their basic rights and a lifeline between detainees and their families. “Under international humanitarian law, Israeli authorities have an obligation to allow the detainees to receive family visits,” said Juan Pedro Schaerer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories.
Our detainees’ determination proved stronger than the jailers’ guns. In exchange for ending the one-month mass hunger strike in May, they made Israel comply with the international humanitarian law and reinstate family visits to Gaza Strip detainees after almost six years without them.
On July 16, 48 family members were finally allowed to see to their relatives in Israeli jails for the first time since Shalit’s capture, through barriers for 45 minutes. However, Israel imposed its own conditions on the visits. Only wives and parents were allowed to visit. Detainees’ young children weren’t, “for security reasons.” Fathers must imagine their children growing up without them, or wait for the miracles of their smuggled pictures.
Last Monday, August 6, the fourth group of detainees’ families gathered in front of the ICRC to visit their relatives in Nafha prison. The day before a visit, the ICRC usually announces the names of approved relatives.
Among those who received permits were the parents of detainee Yahya Islaih, who was captured on August 24, 2008 and sentenced to 12 years. His 75-year-old mother and 80-year-old father arrived very early at the ICRC, dressed very traditionally and beautifully. Yahya has not met his parents since his arrest. I used to see Yahya’s mother Aisha in the sit-in tents for political prisoners. She barely missed any protest, despite her advanced age. Last Monday was supposed to be her first reunion with her son in four years. But destiny stood between them.
Aisha breathed prayers of thankfulness that she had been blessed with another opportunity to talk to her son, and see him through a barrier after five years of separation. While sitting in the bus, wishing that time would move faster, she felt the gasp of death and leaned on a neighboring woman’s shoulder.
Later that morning, as I was getting ready to leave for the weekly protest for political prisoners, I read the terrible news. I found it difficult to believe that this had really happened. I thought that we only hear such stories on dramas. But it did happen. When she was so close to meeting her son again, she passed away. Death separated them, just as Israel had for so long.
I left home with tears in my eyes. When I arrived at the protest, people were very quiet. Everyone was in shock. I could read the sorrow in every eye. The elderly mothers of detainees cried while hugging the banners of their sons. Each seemed to wonder, “Will we share Aisha’s fate?”
Amidst silence and sorrow, the 75-year-old mother of detainee Ibrahim Baroud who has been detained for 27 years stood and began shouting. “Enough tears. Tears won’t bring her back to life! Just pray for her soul to rest in peace.” Om Ibrahim Baroud was in the first group issued permits to visit their sons on July 16. That was her first visit to her son, after 16 years banned “for security reasons.” “How would an elderly mother like me threaten their security?” she always complained. “They are simply heartless and merciless, and enjoy breaking mothers’ hearts over their sons.”
The world blamed her when she hurled her shoes at Ban Ki-moon’s convoy when he entered Gaza. She was angry and disappointed by his prejudice when he refused to meet prisoners’ families in Gaza, after repeatedly visiting Gilaad Shalit’s parents. But they didn’t know to how much she had suffered at Israel’s hands. Read the story of this incident, when shoes and stones welcomed Ban Ki-moon to Gaza, here.
After the protest, I went to say hello to her. “Are you joining us for the funeral, Shahd?” she asked, every wrinkle in her face revealing her sadness. “Yes, grandmother,” I answered, even though I hadn’t known of the plan. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go or not. Honestly, I fear funerals.
But when I said yes, she caught my hand so I could help her to the bus, and pushed me forward as if she sensed my hesitance. “When I saw her last Monday, she congratulated me for having visited my son, and sighed while hoping that her turn to see hers again would come soon,” Om Mahmoud said.
When we arrived at the funeral, we learned that Aisha hadn’t been buried yet. She was in a narrow room with two doors. It was crowded with women. They entered one by one from a door, kissed her, prayed for her, and then left through another door. I glanced at the scene, then pushed myself away, trying to postpone my turn. I recalled meeting my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni for the last time as a dead body.
I stood next to a woman who happened to be Aisha’s niece. “Yahya wrote her a letter once, asked her to remain steadfast and know that she would see him again,” she said with tears streaming down her cheeks. “He asked her to wear her traditional Palestinian dress when she comes to visit him again. And she did. After she learned that she would visit him, she was very happy. She ironed her new dress, which she had kept for Yahya’s wedding after his release.” She burst out crying and continued, “But she neither visited him, nor would she ever attend his wedding.”
Finally my turn came. I entered, one foot pushing me forward, the other backward. I saw her body and kissed her forehead. I still can’t believe I did. Traumatized, I returned home in the afternoon and slept. I couldn’t stand thinking of her, nor her son, who would never see his mother, alive or dead again. I felt like I wanted to sleep forever, but I woke up after twelve hours.
Please pray for Aisha’s soul to rest in peace, and for her son to remain strong behind Israel’s bars. Her story is more clear and bitter evidence of the suffering our detainee’s families endure because of Israel’s violations of their basic rights and their families’.
“Samer will get engaged!” My friend Loai said with a big laugh. “Oh my God! Really? When?” I burst out with an endless list of questions and exclamations in my head.
Samer Abu Seir is an ex-detainee who was released in Shalit’s prisoner exchange and deported from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip. Getting married should not be surprising for a single man at the age of 46. However, Samer is one of the few released prisoners who was cautiously considering getting married especially after he spent more time in the Israel jails than he spent outside. I remember when I first met him and asked him how long he had been detained and he answered me sarcastically, “Nothing! It was only a matter of 24 years passed like a blink of an eye.”
He always thought that he needed time to keep up with the updates of the outside world that occurred without him noticing. He always felt that he needed to be accustomed to seeing the blue sky, the green trees, the crowded buildings, walking on Gaza’s beach and feeling its breeze smoothly hitting his cheeks, instead of being under that dark-gray ugly ceiling, in a narrow jail, and between the same four surrounding walls where neither sunshine nor air could sneak in.
“What was the reason behind this sudden decision?” I asked. “His 83-year-old mother is in a grave situation,” Loai replied. “He rushed this just to make her happy, so if she dies, she can rest in peace.”
Samer has grown up fatherless. He lost his father when he was a little child when he was away in Jordan. His widow mother had raised him along with his other two brothers and two sisters by herself. He thinks the whole world of her. She is a symbol of motherhood who had raised her children on the noble values of love, dignity, and sacrifice for Palestine. She believed that there is always a price for everything you fight for, and she has instilled these beliefs in her children. Samer and his family have paid the price in many ways. The simplest example of pain that he has always endured was that his family never gathered for a meal. There was always at least a member missing.
Samer had always suffered the ban of family visits for long periods, especially during his detention in solitary confinement for 3 years and a half. These times were the most difficult that Samer lived inside prison as he constantly kept thinking about his mother and fantasizing how her wrinkles beautifully spread in her beautiful loving and peaceful face. The family visits were his only connection with the outside world. Once a family visit ended, he eagerly waited for the next one.
Moreover, Samer had always led unsettled life in prison as he was moved around to every one of Israel’s prisons. Samer’s constant thinking of his mother made it more painful for him to tolerate such inhumane practices of the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). Samer’s mother never let that or any of the humiliating actions she received from strip searches and insults hold her away from having 45-minute meeting with her son through a barrier between them.
Even after Samer was released, she didn’t stop suffering. She handled the pain of Samer’s 24 years of imprisonment without complaining, and then she kept suffering the pain of him being forcibly deported away from her. This is another violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits deporting people within or outside the occupied territories.
While thinking about Samer’s motive to get married, I recalled his cute old mother who arrived to Gaza almost a week after the prisoners’ exchange, challenging her age and deteriorating health condition. Last November, I joined my family to a celebration of freedom where almost no one was taking seats, all people were happily performing Dabka, the folk dancing of Palestine, and waving Palestinian flags as revolutionary songs were playing loudly in the background.
There, my eyes fixed on an elderly woman wearing the Palestinian traditional dress. She could barely walk or stand but her happiness gathered all the strength inside her to dance slowly and erratically. My eyes were following her with joy and wondering who she was. I asked Dad about her. “She is Samer’s mother. Wherever you see her, she is dancing. When she gets out of the car, she dances. when someone visits her at home to congratulate her with her son’s freedom, she dances. Look how happy she is!” Dad answered smilingly. “She reminds me of your grandmother who was just like that when I was set free. All the Gaza Strip would hear of my freedom because of her. She’d be dancing and singing songs of freedom wherever she went.”
Samer was enthusiastically going to officially get engaged today’s evening and let his mother declare his engagement from Jerusalem through Skype. But destiny stood against his intentions of making his mother happy. Sadly, this morning he woke up on hearing the news of his mother’s death and what was to supposed to be a wedding turned out to be a funeral.
I am thankful that at least she lived long enough to celebrate her son’s freedom. This reminds me of another story I wrote last December of a mother of two former prisoners who have been deported from Hebron to Gaza, and who died a week after she arrived to Gaza and wrapped her two sons between her arms once again. Please say a prayer for Samer and his family.
I just returned from a wedding, a wedding that I waited for fervently since I met its groom in October, 2011. Oh October, how many nice memories you brought me and how many amazing people you introduced to me. Allam Ka’by, today’s groom, was one of them and has become a close friend. Feeling blessed to meet this person, I want to briefly express my thankfulness for the day that resulted in us meeting. October 18, the day of the first stage of Gilaad Shalit’s swap deal, was a remarkable memory in Palestinian history. It marked victory. This day is printed in my mind like no other day. How could I forget the day that brought freedom to 447 Palestinian’s, of which Allam was one?
In the 20 years I’ve lived in Gaza, I never witnessed a day as happy as this. Festivals were held in every corner. It felt like not only people were celebrating. The sky, the trees, the buildings, everything was celebrating freedom. It was a day of unity, a day of compassion. Happiness was shared all around Gaza. Even those families who weren’t lucky enough to see their relatives in prison that day were so happy; excited to meet the released prisoners to hear news of their relatives. They joined the celebration with a high spirit and greater hope that soon freedom would also be coming to their beloved ones, who are still locked behind the Israeli bars. “My son wasn’t released, but at least this swap deal brought me news about him from his fellows that calmed the fire burning inside me during all nine years I haven’t been allowed to visit him,” said Om Ibrahim Baroud, a mother of a prisoner who’s serving his 26th year in jail.
My first meeting with Allam Ka’by
Allam Ka’by spent aound 15 years in total in Israeli jails, but sadly, the day of his freedom was celebrated away from his family. He is originally from Balata Camp in Nablus, but Israel forced him to separate from where he was raised up, where his family lives and his new wife, Manar, used to live. He didn’t have his own family to receive him but we, residents of Gaza, welcomed him to the bosom of our homes with so much love and admiration that he considers himself as living at home. Since he was set free, the Hamas government has taken care of Allam and his comrades who were deported to Gaza, and they have granted them with good accommodations.
Allam first lived in a hotel overlooking the beautiful beach of Gaza, where we first met. In fact, it was the second, but I like to consider it as the first as the real first time didn’t give any of us a good impression about the other.
By the end of a festival held for the released prisoners, my friend, an American activist living in Gaza, asked me to help him with translation of an interview he had organized with one of them, who was actually Allam. He was in a hurry and Joe wasn’t fully prepared to start the interview as quickly as Allam wished. I kept asking Allam if he could please wait for five minutes. But 5 minutes in reality took maybe 15 minutes that Allam could no longer wait and he left us disappointed. It was almost a fight that turned out to be a sweet memory to laugh at when Allam and I remember it. So the second meeting, which was a coincidence, fixed the wrong impression caused by lack of preparation. It was our first meeting because it was when I first had the honor to get to know him closely.
He recognized me as he met me and then gently started apologizing for the clash we had when we met first. I remember very well how we peacefully sat in the hotel’s lobby and I felt magic about him that made me feel as if I knew him for ages. He had the art of attracting people’s ears to listen to him without any boredom. I lost the track of time while hearing his heroic and inspiring stories from his experience of imprisonment.
Allam started with cherishing his childhood memories in every corner of Balata Camp, which were shorter than any child around the world should enjoy. Israel deprived him from fully living it innocently. At the age of 15, the first Intifada, called the intifada of stones, his childhood’s innocence was brutally killed. The Israeli Occupation arrested him for being a stone thrower. His harmless stone that could cause armed Israeli soldiers no harm resulted in him being jailed for almost 5 years. They ignored that his detention was a crime against him and is a scandalous crime Israel still commits against children, violating International Law and all humanitarian agreements.
Allam’s experience as a child detainee and then as an administrative one
However, Allam looks back at his raped childhood positively, giving the gratitude for the educated, courageous and dignified man he is now, “they don’t know that they actually created a man of me so early by detaining me at such a young age.” His dark cell witnessed the torment and the humiliation he endured, but it also witnessed his unbreakable strength as he challenged the Israeli jailers’ inhumanity and brutality. He summed up his early struggle as a teenage in a sentence: “my early imprisonment taught me how I should let myself live in a prison but never let the prison live inside me.”
When he was 15, he wasn’t really aware of the situation and he used to question a lot about the occupation and all the crimes endured by Palestinians. Inside prison, everything became clear to him and he realized the significance and the meaning of resistance. He realized how his sacrifice of his years of prime was even worthless in relative to his precious land and his dear people. After his illegal and inhumane detention, he was set free at the age of 20 with a great passion toward his homeland and his people.
Then, he spent two years free on his occupied land before he served more than a year of administrative detention in 1997 with no charge or trial, but under secret evidence that can’t be shared by the detainee or his lawyer, to learn more about the cruelty of the Israeli heartless jailers. Upon his release, he joined the PFLP party as a means of resistance.
Allam met the love of his life amidst struggle
With no previous intention, he fell in love for the first time with a beautiful girl from his camp Manar, and unintentionally made another person involved in his rugged life of struggle. Because the most precious things we own, even our souls, are valueless in comparison to our freedom and dignity, in Palestine, the sacrifice has ended up meaningless and tasteless. All our lives represent a medley of sacrifices that started to feel like a routine we are bound to live with.
The second intifada started, the intifada of Al-Aqsa. Allam got engaged to the love of his life but that didn’t make his life any easier. Between his love for Manar and his love for the land, he got torn. But he couldn’t stand idly by.
In 2003, Allam and his childhood friend Ameer were trapped in a building in one of Nalus streets by intensive forces of Israeli armed soldiers. They were attacked and in the same time a call for them to succumb and hand over their weapons was spread all around the city through loudspeakers. They chose confrontion and death with dignity rather than surrender making one of the most heroic and epic battles in the history of struggle in occupied Nablus. Their confrontation lasted for 9 hours, proclaiming that “surrender isn’t one of morals, but the sacrifice of souls for the sake of dignity and freedom is.”
Their limited repertory ran out and they got badly injured but never raised the white banner. Before the IOF raided the building, Allam wrote on the wall with his blood “stick to the path of resistance!”
I can’t express how emotional he made me feel after hearing this story right from his mouth. I was looking at him with all admiration feeling thankful for that God was merciful enough to make him survive even though that wasn’t his plan. I felt so grateful that I could see him in a good health and what was more, “FREE”. I knew he would become someone close to me, someone to trust. I wasn’t wrong.
“And what happened with your fiancée?” I interrupted trying to add a cheerful topic. “Who would have ever believed that I’d be free after being sentenced to 9 life sentences?” He said while laughing sarcastically with glittering eyes and continued, “after I got arrested, I never thought of a possibility that I’d ever be free. Thinking that holding one captive is better than two, I decided to set her free. I divorced her.”
Allam and Manar have reunited in Valentine’s Day
Then my face turned sad. I expected that Manar gave up and married another but I was surprised that he was still smiling with hope. “She refused to marry any other person and convicted herself to be either with me, or single forever. We have discussed our reunion since my release!”
Since his release, they have fought the barriers that Israel built in their way to meet at one point. They won over it. She arrived from Balata Camp to Gaza last Saturday and made the Valentine’s Day be the day that witnesses their deep and passionate love that no occupation nor apartheid could kill. Absence diminishes small loves but increases great ones. In their case, over ten years of absence has made their love greater. I can’t tell you how beautiful they were in the wedding, like two love birds. I could tell from their eyes that they were like living a dream. They didn’t pay attention to the crowd of people who came from every part of the Gaza strip to witness their successful love story that has overcome all obstacles. Be happy Allam and Manar forever and bring revolutionary children just like you and keep teaching the world about Palestine, the land of love and struggle.
My voice is muted but every feature of my face speaks sorrow and anger. There is no need to wonder why. It’s Palestine, the rich land where smiles can turn to tears and laughs can turn to sighs in a second. It’s Palestine, where series of sad stories mixed with strength, will, and glory never end.
Anees and Akram Al-Namoura are brothers who were released in the first stage of the prisoner exchange on October 18 after spending ten years, originally supposed to be two life sentences, in prison. They joined the resistance by the beginning of the second Intifada, answering the call of their occupied lands and oppressed people to defend them, ready to pay any price that their precious homeland, Palestine, would require. While Israel was aggressively and continuously attacking, killing, wounding, and detaining Palestinian citizens, the brothers took to arms against the occupying army hoping for a better future for their family, their neighbors and their community. They planted a bomb beneath an Israeli tank, killing two Israeli soldiers.
I coincidentally met Anees, the elder brother, in his hotel while I was interviewing some other former detainees. After having a short chat, I learned that he was somehow related to my mother’s family. Then he told me that his imprisonment started five months before his brother’s. I commented innocently, “I can’t imagine how hard it is for your mother to have two sons in prison at the same time. But it is a little fortunate that you and Akram met each other there.” He shook his head, smiling at my naïveté, and corrected me. “No. We were in prison at the same time, but separated by the Israeli Prison Administration for the first five years. We tried legal remedies, but no lawyers and no courts could bring us together. So we started an open hunger strike to pressure them, and we were clear that our hunger strike would end only after they had met our demands. We could eventually meet and live as brothers in Armon Prison, in the same cell, for the last five years of our imprisonment. “
Anees and Akram couldn’t enjoy the blessing of kissing and hugging their elderly parents even after they gained their freedom. Israel imposed a separation of a different kind on them as they were exiled from Hebron to the Gaza Strip. But this was only additional pain from a wound that was already existed, as their 80-year-old father, a cancer patient in a wheelchair, and 65-year-old sick mother weren’t allowed to visit their detained sons for more than three years.
When I Googled Anees and Akram’s names, I encountered a video of their parents from a year ago. They were interviewed about how it felt having sons in the Israeli tyrants’ prisons. “How can an old man like me, sick with cancer, threaten Israeli security?” their father wondered with a shaking voice full of sadness. “I collected all papers that explain my health situation, which is getting worse, and tried every possible way to meet my sons again before I die.” After watching the video, I smiled despite my sadness, thinking of how merciful God is: Anees and Akram’s father is still alive and has witnessed his sons attaining freedom.
In the same video, their mother, with expressive wrinkles that evoked long years of suffering, said, “I only wish I could sit on their beds, as I used to when they were young, and play with their hair while their heads lie on my knees.” The father challenged his disability by joining his sick wife and one of his daughters in a trip to the Gaza Strip to meet their sons only six days ago. This trip couldn’t happen earlier, as their permission to leave through Jordan was denied by Israel, and they obviously couldn’t come here through the Erez border for “security reasons.” However, if there is a will, there is a way. They eventually overcame all obstacles and made it here.
Six days ago, I heard Mum speaking cheerfully to Dad about the arrival of Anees and Akram’s parents and sister safely. Today, I saw Mum’s tears for the death of their mother, who had waited long to hug her sons and celebrate their freedom. “Oh Allah, her destiny was to live and not die before she enjoyed seeing and hugging her sons between her arms once again,” Mum said with tearful eyes as she entered our home after the funeral. After ten long years of waiting, with worry, sadness, suffering, and humiliation between checkpoints as she tried to visit her imprisoned sons, she lived six days with them before passing away, leaving us a real legend, a symbol of patience, challenge, and motherhood.
Update on August 7, 2012: After Akram and Anees lost their mother, Anees suffered some medical problems. He had a kidney failure. Doctors thought that this might be caused because of the mass hunger strike he joined which lasted for 24 days and ended following the agreement between Israel and Hamas to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 prisoners, including him and his brother.
Anees’s medical situations was so bad. Doctors said that in order to rescue his life, someone has to donate a kidney for him. Hazem, his 30-year-old brother decided to sacrifice one of his kidneys for Anees. Thankfully, the surgery was successful. I saw Anees after he recovered many times and he looked very well and healthy.
Sadly, when Anees’s medical condition got better, Hazem’s health was under risk. Today, Hazem passed away. Please pray for this symbol of brotherhood to rest in peace. And pray for Anees and Akram to stay strong after their mother’ and their brother’s loss.
|A beautiful halo around Gaza’s full moon|
In a nice restaurant overlooking Gaza’s beach, beneath a full moon with a beautiful halo surrounding it, I sat with my new friends who recently were released from Israeli prisons. Their freedom was restricted by Israel’s inhumane rules, including indefinite deportation from the West Bank, away from their families and friends. However, they all shared one thought: “The problem is not here. Both the West Bank and Gaza are our homeland. The problem is that our freedom will not be complete until our land and people are totally free.”
I listened carefully to their prison stories and memories of their families in other parts of Palestine. One of the most interesting things for me to hear was the warm, strong, and caring friendships they remembered from inside the painful cells. These unbreakable friendships were their only distractions from the wounds that used to hurt them deeply inside.
|Palestinians in Bethlehem are protesting in solidarity with Chris who is deported to Gaza|
One of my new friends is Chris Al-Bandak, the only Christian of the released detainees, who was freed in the first stage of the swap deal. After I was introduced to him, I congratulated him on regaining his freedom. He faked a smile and replied, “Only one half of me is free, but the other half is still there, locked up behind Israeli bars.”
I didn’t know much about Chris, except for his religion, but many things about him made me want to get to know him more closely. I was quite certain that this impressive 32-year-old man had many interesting stories to tell and learn from.
Chris said that he was one of the people besieged by the Israeli Occupation Forces at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002. That alone made me impatient to hear the rest of his story. “The siege lasted for 40 days. It became more unbearable as time passed, with the food and first aid equipments dwindling. The injured people were under the threat of death, and the others’ lives were endangered as well as the IOF’s pressure increased.”
As Chris spoke, his eyes evoked anger and sorrow as they wandered to his right. He sounded like he was replaying a tape of his most difficult memories. Then he suddenly began stuttering as he said, “My best friend, Hafith Sharay’a, was one of the injured people.” I reminded him that he didn’t have to speak about it if it made him feel bad.
He pulled himself together and kept telling his story. “On the 28th day of the siege, we were on the top floor of the Church of the Nativity, responsible for the lives of the people downstairs and guarding the church, when he was shot in the right side of his stomach. With every drop of blood he lost, my soul burned inside. I couldn’t watch him die and do nothing.”
Impatiently, I interrupted, asking, “Was he killed?” He shook his head and continued. “His injury left me only two choices: let him bleed to death, or send him to the Israeli Army for treatment, while I was certain that he would afterwards receive at least a life sentence.”
Each option was worse than the other. Chris thought that if Hafith died, he would never see him again. If he was treated and then imprisoned, he might meet him, even though the chance was very small.
Hafith and Chris were like soul mates. They didn’t share many things in common. Hafith is older and a Muslim, while Chris is a Christian. However, they prioritized their deep passion for Palestine above everything else. This overcame all their differences, and they share a strong friendship that will last forever.
So Chris chose to put his emotions aside and rescue Hafith from death by delivering him to the Israeli army. “On the 29th day, I somehow managed to sneak out of the church and escape. But ten months later, I was kidnapped by the Israeli entity’s army.”
Chris described in detail the horrible story of his capture. He had gone to visit some of his relatives. Within 20 minutes of his arrival, the Israeli army arrived in great numbers and surrounded the house. He faked a name for himself and answered the police’s questions in a very sarcastic way. He told all his relatives to say his name was Fady if asked, which they did. He refused to admit that he was Chris. After several hours of investigation, pressure, and threats of bombing the house and arresting his mother and brother, one of the children was shedding tears out of fear. Seeing this, a policeman used the child’s innocence and tricked him. After the policeman said that the soldiers would leave if he said the real name of Chris, the child admitted it.
Chris was persistent, and didn’t admit his identity until they were about to bomb the house in front of his eyes. After his confession, he was asked where he had been sleeping at night. He replied, “You bombed my house, so where did you expect me to go? I spent my nights in the cemetery.” The interrogator was very shocked at his reply and asked him, “Weren’t you afraid among all dead bodies in their graves?” He answered, with an angry, challenging look in the Israeli soldiers’ eyes, “One shouldn’t fear the dead. They are dead. But we should be afraid of the living people whose conscience is dead!”
Then they blindfolded him, pushed him inside one of their Gibbs vehicles, and headed to an interrogation center, where he was psychologically and physically tortured for 43 days.
Chris constantly thought of his friend Hafith, and hoped that his imprisonment would allow him to meet his best friend again. This happened in a very narrow cell in Ramla Prison, as he waited to find out which prison he would be jailed in. The detainees were having <em>foura</em>, an hour-long break that detainees take daily outside their jails in a hall, and a very small window, closed with a revealing cover, separated him from the hall. Suddenly he glimpsed his friend Hafith and found himself screaming his name loudly to get his attention. “Our reunion was so emotional, especially behind a fenced barrier,” he said with a broken smile.
Their happiness didn’t last long, as they had to separate once the <em>foura</em> was done. Chris was transferred to Ashqelon Prison, then to Nafha. “I didn’t see Haifith for over a year, but during that time, I never stopped hoping that God would be kind enough to bring us together again.”
Chris was in Nafha when his friend was transferred there, finally uniting them. Then they went through a series of separations keeping them apart for a total of four years. “A prison offers no sense of stability.” Chris said. “When we were imprisoned, we didn’t stop our struggle, but we started another stage of resistance of a different kind, determination and persistence mixed with hope.”
During the period before Chris was released, he shared a prison cell with Hafith. “Other detainees received the news of their freedom with screams of joy and happiness, but I received it with tears. I didn’t even feel one percent happy, as I realized that only I was included in the swap deal. Even now, I feel like my body is outside but my heart is still inside the prison with Hafith and all the other detainees,” Chris said with sadness on his face.
“I am very grateful for having Hafith as a big brother. But I am broken inside because he didn’t get his freedom back. I am sure that he’s such a steadfast man that nothing can depress his spirit,” he said, attempting to console himself.
Their friendship amazed me. It can’t be described in words. I pray that Haifith, along with all the Palestinian political prisoners, will be freed soon. I hope Hafith maintains his strength which used to inspire and strengthen Chris. Chris said that Hafith made him believe in his principle that “the prison’s door must unlock someday. It’s only an obstacle, and is bound to fade away at some point.” I hope it will be unlocked soon to let all prisoners breathe the sweet fragrance of freedom again.
Press here to read this article in French. Thank you Nour Halimi and Claude
The day before the start of the Eid al-Adha holiday is the day of Arafa. It is said that a believer who fasts on this day expiates the past year’s sins and the sins of the coming year. As it is considered to be a day of forgiveness from sin, many Palestinians fasted on that day. Despite me fasting, I eagerly accepted the offer of my friend, a solidarity activist from Holland, to have a walk in Jabalia Camp. Approximately 108,000 registered refugees live in the camp, which covers an area of only 1.4 square kilometres.
I passed by the Jabalia market, which was so crowded that one has to keep pushing people out of his way in order for him to pass through. With every step forward I could glimpse many faces of different ages, genders and features. I could see children jumping around from one stand of clothes to another, excited to pick their new outfits. At the same time, other children seized the opportunity of this unusually large crowd. They were carrying heavy boxes containing simple goods, trying to earn some money so that they could help their poor families have sort of happy atmosphere, to at least buy some candies.
I could see faces full of anger because of the high prices of goods, which result from the siege which has been illegally imposed since 2007. Parents would spend hours going around to every stand, searching for the cheapest clothing to buy for their children, who still innocently think that Eid means having new clothes. Yesterday, I could see how the inhabitants of Jabalia Camp, who are mostly refugees, face obstacles like low income, shortages of goods, and high prices for the available ones. They are desperate for happiness, even if it’s always missing something: the feeling of freedom, security and independence.
As Gaza welcomed Eid al-Adha, hymns played as the sun dawned. I could hear children and men gathering around the microphone in the mosque right behind our house, singing continuously and happily in one voice, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar …” I couldn’t help but wake up earlier than I always do, and more energetic than ever, excited for what would come next.
My mother said that the door has been knocked on constantly since the early morning by people with Eid greetings. Some of them could afford to buy sacrificed animals, “Uḍhiyyah,” and hand out a slice of meat.
Eid is a very special religious holiday, as it reconnects people with each other, strengthens social life, and reminds the rich of people who are in need. In Palestine, Eid exceeds its conventional frame. It’s a festival of tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and thoughts of the people who are missed in prison, in Diaspora, or in the grave. My father and his brothers, for example, visit the families of martyrs and prisoners in the neighborhood.
On the second day of Eid, there was a demonstration in solidarity with our detainees at the Red Cross headquarters to convey that their spirits live among us, and that they are never forgotten. We also meant to show sympathy with the mothers who waited many long years, hoping for their sons’ freedom, who passed away before they could celebrate their release.
It was a day of support for our heroes inside the merciless Israeli bars, encouraging them to stay steadfast, as well as a day of compassion for their families, who have passed through several important holidays with one, or in some cases more than one missing, making their happiness incomplete, to help them stay strong and optimistic.
While celebrating Eid, I felt blessed for having all the people I care about around me. At the same time, I felt like I couldn’t enjoy my happiness at its fullest while thousands of people in Palestine couldn’t feel this blessing.
How can Palestinians fully enjoy our happiness while these heartbreaking stories are so very common in their daily lives? I hope next year the happiness of Eid and other occasions will be complete, with the Israeli jails emptied and Palestine independent and free. Insha’Allah, God willing.
To read it in French, press this link (Thanks to the webmaster, Claude)
The Palestinian political prisoners suffered 22 days of hunger as they decided to fight with their empty stomachs the oppression and the injustice of the Israeli Occupation. They eventually decide to no longer go on with their battle against the violation of their rights as the Israeli Prison Service promised to meet their list of demands which had on the top “ending the solitary confinement policy”. However, that wasn’t but another cruel trick for them to break the hunger strike.
As usual, they’ve never stuck to something they said and their hypocrisy has been one of their traits which characterize them the most. Israel keeps on breaking all the International treaties including Geneva Convention which guaranteed the right of Palestinian prisoners to be treated as War prisoners, and instead, they describe them as “terrorists”.
A friend of mine who had the sit-in tent as a shelter during the hunger strike of our prisoners and who himself joined the hunger strike in solidarity texted me that Ahmad Saadat, the PFLP secretary-general, is bound to serve one more full year of pain in isolation. They have ignored the worrying health condition of Saadat as a result of the carelessness of medical care along with his solitary confinement which started since March 16, 2009. Saadat was not allowed any visitations and even denied his right to write or receive letters from his family during his solitary confinement.
Saadat was sent to court ignoring his lawyer, who never received a notice regarding this court session. The Ad-Dameer, one of the human rights organizations, stated that by sentencing Saadat to solitary confinement for an additional year, the court violated promises by the Israeli Prison Administration to receive treatment that is guaranteed by the International law. No justification for this criminal and illegal decision has been provided.
My internal conflict and my worries reached its peak as I remembered when I was sitting with Loai Odeh, one of the released prisoners in Shalit’s swap deal and who participated in the hunger strike, and said that “the mental health of the prisoners who are in isolation should be expected to be in jeopardy after two or three years of isolation and that was the first motif for us to take that step; hunger striking till solitary confinement is no more.”
“It would be difficult for a prisoner in a normal jail to pass through his imprisonment without suffering psychological problems or at least depression, so imagine how difficult it would be for a prisoner in the solitary confinement for long time.” Loai continued. No wonder that is true; the mankind is a sociable creature, and if one is totally isolated from the outer world in a very narrow cell in which light could barely sneak, psychological and mental problems are hardly avoidable.
The brutality of the Israeli entity can never be imagined by someone who has never experienced their inhumane behavior. As Ahmad Saadat’s case occupied my thoughts, I remembered what my father told me about the psychological methods of torment which he endured during his imprisonment and which Israel continue to exercise daily over all the Palestinian prisoners inside the Israeli jails which never follow any of human virtues or the International Humanitarian Law. The more I think about this, the more I fear about Ahmad Saadat’s mental and physical health.
Trying to be positive, I recalled when my father told me “Ahmad Saadat is one of the toughest men I’ve ever know in my life.” It’s true, but that doesn’t mean that Israel should continue breaking its obligations to end its solitary confinement policies, and to implement the demands of the detainees after they conducted a hunger-strike for 22 days. It’s time to take action to fight injustice and to guarantee human rights for all people.
Mohammad Barash is a disabled political prisoner inside Nafha Prison; one of 85 prisoners who are either physically or mentally disabled. On the 17th of February, 2003, he was arrested after he was badly injured, and despite his disability, which resulted from his injuries, he was given three life sentences plus 35 years. He is still continuing his struggle with pride inside a cell paying a double price; his precious years of prime and the consequences of zionist entity’s crimes.
‘Don’t tell my mother that I can no longer see. She can see me but I can’t see. I fake my smiles when she shows me the photographs of my siblings, friends, and neighbors as she doesn’t know, that I have become blind after illness spread in my eyes till the darkness filled me.
Don’t tell her that I waited for several years to have a surgery to plant a cornea. But the Israeli Prison Service kept on procrastinating and procrastinating providing my eyes all reasons to leave me.
Don’t tell my mother that the shrapnel of bullets and the bombs which managed to hit me is still settling in my body, and that my left leg had been mutilated and replaced by a plastic one. Don’t tell her that the other leg rotted and dried of blood and life.
Don’t tell my mother that the prisoner’s emotions got stripped of the most basic elements of human life as he is sentenced to see only ashes and iron, lightless life and hopelessness.
Tell her that I am alive and safe. Tell her that I can see, walk, run, play, jump, write and read. Don’t tell her that I am shouldering my pains on my walking stick, and I can picture every martyr as a moon souring in the sky and calling me with the power of lightning, thunder and clouds.
Don’t tell her that I suffer from sleepless nights, and that I live under the mercy of the pain killers till it drugs my body. Don’t tell her that I keep twiddling my stuff till I barge into the iron beds or another prisoner sleeping close to me, to wake him up to help me reach the bathroom. Don’t tell her that wakefulness always hurts me and sleep never visits me.
Don’t tell her that a piece of lead entered my eye in that bloody day in the camp streets. They aggressively shot me until my leg was cut off, and my eye was gone. And before I fainted I saw a little kid running toward me waving the Palestinian flag while screaming: a martyr, a martyr.
Tell her that my dream is not enough. My nostalgia for her is too much and her soul never leaves me. I still have from her my language, my purity, my symbols stuck on the wall, all of which heal my pain every time the light disappears around me.
Tell her that I always embrace her holy prayers, to survive from the dark cloud that surrounds me after my body has tortured me. I might get back to her or I might not, but I left the answer to this question open, although I’ve chosen spiritually to be close to her heart, as if I chose my future, of which I have officially no control.
Don’t tell her that Israel, a country in the 21st century, has turned the prisons into places where diseases are planted and bodies are ruined slowly; and slowly, it turned to be fields of trial for living people whose death is inevitable sooner or later.
Don’t tell her that I have become knowledgeable of all names of horrible illnesses and strange medications, along with all types of pain killers, while I’m witnessing my friend Zakariyya diving into a coma, with an ending unknown to me.
Don’t tell my mother about the sick prisoners whose diseases launched an insane war against their bodies: Ahmad Abu Errab, Khaled Ashawish, Ahmad El-Najjar, Mansour Mowqeda, Akram Mansour, Ahmad Samara, Wafaa El-Bis, Reema Daraghma, Tareq Asi, Mo’tasim Radad, Riyad Al-Amour, Yasir Nazzal, Ashraf Abu-Thare’, Jihad Abu-Haniyy. The merciless Israeli prisons slaughter them; illness and carelessness of a country that enjoys slow death sentences and funerals for others.
Tell her that I am still 30 doors away from you and I get closer every time a bird flies and a fire flames up my eye, and barbed wires wound me, carrying me to your arms and to your prayers.’
This was Mohammad’s letter to his mother which unveils the inhumane nature of Israel which claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East while violating the most fundamental human values. I meant to share with you those powerful words he wrote in Arabic to help you picture the torturous conditions that the prisoners endure inside the Israeli cells, especially the disabled.
The core of their shameful crimes which offend any sense of propriety in any heart with any shred of conscience, were done under the banner of maintaining security. However, in this case where those disabled prisoners can hardly threaten their holy safety, how would they justify this?
|crowds of thousands have greeted 310 former prisoners on Tuesday, 18th of October|
The first stage of the prisoner swap deal has already taken place. As agreed on, 477 Palestinian detainees were set free before an Israeli soldier held in Gaza was delivered by the resistance to the Red Cross to enjoy the full range of freedom.
In Gaza, crowds of thousands have greeted 310 former prisoners — 131 of whom are from Gaza, and another 179 who were deported to Gaza according to Israel’s inhumane stipulations. The release of a total of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners should be completed within two months.
As prisoners have returned to their families, celebrations of freedom have been heard all cross the Gaza Strip, bringing a sense of hope for freedom. However, the road to freedom will remain incomplete even with one Palestinian still suffering inside the Israeli occupation prisons. So what if approximately 6,000 political prisoners are still locked up, including 164 children, in violation of international law?
The deported prisoners
The most painful part of this swap deal is the deported prisoners. They have long waited to be free again to return to their families, but Israel has instead deported them to other places where they have to wait even longer before they can wrap their arms around their loved ones again. The freedom of these deported former prisoners is not true freedom.
My parents recently went to a celebration held in the neighborhood for some released detainees. I was sitting alone when suddenly my phone rang. It was my mother. I could hardly hear her because of celebrations that were going around her. “You should come and see how people are dancing with joy and singing for freedom,” she said. I got so excited that I could no longer stay home and I decided to join them immediately and see for myself the joyous atmosphere there.
I didn’t know the exact address of the festival but I didn’t worry about it as I was certain that the resonance of the songs of freedom would guide my steps. The lights along with the Palestinian flags of all sizes were everywhere, decorating the dark blue sky. The walls were dressed with photos of our heroes who sacrificed precious years for the cause of freedom.
People came from different areas of the Gaza Strip to share with the released detainees the happiness of their freedom. The festival included folk dancing performances, songs of liberation and poetry dedicated to those who were free and to those who are still suffering behind Israeli bars.
|Loai is holding his mother, Rawda, after his release in Gaza City.|
A long-awaited reunion
Near the end of the festival, which lasted for several hours, my father called over me and mom to introduce us to his friends. A woman wearing a beautiful Palestinian traditional dress decorated with threads in the colors of the Palestinian flag — white, red, black and green — was standing beside a bald man.
“Rawda, Yacoub, here is my daughter, Shahd,” my father introduced us. Then the man, Yacoub, stepped forward, kissed my forehead and hugged me and left me surprised and still wondering who he was.
Then Dad continued with a big smile on his face: “This is my friend from Jerusalem who was detained with me in Nafha prison for 15 years, and we were freed together in Ahmad Jibril’s exchange deal. And this is his brother’s wife, Rawda, who was imprisoned for five years as well in the 1970s.”
I then realized that they were here a day ago to see Loai, Rawda’s son, who was freed in the swap deal but deported to Gaza. She was hoping that she would hug her son, Loai, as soon as he was released. She had been waiting for ten years, daydreaming about that day.
Her son was sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment but thanks to the prisoner swap, he only spent ten years behind Israeli bars. However, it was very disappointing for her to find out that he would be deported to Gaza and that he would not return back home.
She did everything she could to tightly hug her son again and for that she traveled with her husband and his brother by bus from Jerusalem to Eilat and then to Egypt and then to Gaza through Rafah crossing. It’s so ironic to know that she had to suffer two days of travelling to enter Gaza when it would take her less than two hours if Israel allowed her to enter though Erez checkpoint.
Shortly after meeting Loai’s mother and uncle, I met him. “Congratulations for your freedom. I’m very glad you’re finally released,” I said, my face expressing happiness and admiration.
After short chat, I discovered that Loai has completed his bachelor degree in sociology. Since the beginning of his imprisonment, he applied for the Israeli Prison Administration to study at Hebrew University. While he must have finished his degree in four years, it took him around 10 years to eventually have it as many times his application to continue his study was rejected for no reason.
After I told him that I am studying English at Al-Azhar University, he replied so enthusiastically, “I’m going to further my studies at Al-Azhar University and you will have to help me and give me so much support as I am new here.” I kept nodding my head, admiring his unbelievable determination and his civility, and replied: “Of course! Any time!”
We soon had to separate, as it was getting late and everyone needed to go back home and rest after long hours of dancing and chanting. On the way back home, my father was expressing how happy he was to meet his friend, Loai’s uncle, again after more than 24 years of separation, as he is denied access to Jerusalem by Israel.
“Can you imagine that his baldness is because of the torment he endured by the Israeli army?” he asked me with an angry voice.
He added, “The Israeli soldiers used to use a thin stick and knock on the top of his head in sensitive places continuously and slowly for long hours as a way of torturing psychologically and physically at the same time. However, this is maybe the least torturing method. Israeli soldiers are very creative at bringing new methods of torment…”
My father left me speechless and thinking of how much our prisoners have endured in Israel’s cruel jails. It’s true that those former prisoners, including Loai, are now out of Israeli prisons, but still their freedom is conditional and incomplete, as they were forced to accept their fate to live in exile far away from their land and families. It makes me sad to think that this beautiful family is now going to be scattered between their home in Jerusalem and Gaza, where their son is forced to live from now on.
|My drawing for the Palestinian women, especially those who are still waiting for their relatives in Israeli prisons|
The prisoners’ families make sure not to miss any day of the weekly protests, so the number of the people inside the Red Cross building is more than usual on Mondays. Therefore, one should expect to see lots of tears and hear lots of tragedies, especially after the names of the soon-to-be released prisoners were declared.
As I entered the Red Cross on Monday last week, an old woman was sitting in a corner, hardly noticeable. She was putting her hand on her cheeks, closing her eyes and saying nothing. The wrinkles on her face, with expressions of sorrow and burdens and the broken glass frame of the picture she was holding, directed my steps toward her.
I tried to talk to her but I didn’t get an immediate answer. She responded only after I started talking very loudly while holding her hands. I realized that she can barely hear anything and her vision is very weak.
“Who’s this man in the picture?” I asked loudly.
“This is my son Fares, my darling. He’s not going to be released. I am very sick and about to die. I even spent last night in hospital. Why wasn’t he included to fill my last days of my life which passed for 20 long years without him? I want to enjoy hugging my son before I die,” she said with tears falling so intensively and bitterly.
Calming her was a very difficult task, but one can imagine how deeply her wounds were felt. I was looking around asking who accompanied that lady to the tent, as I found it impossible to imagine that a blind woman came by herself. However, what I thought was impossible, was actually a fact.
A dreamer who never gives up
After questioning people in the Red Cross about her, I met a young woman who seemed to know her. She told me that the old woman, Umm Fares, lives alone in Beach Camp. Her husband passed away years ago and she has nobody to take care of her. It was very hard for me to believe that this very old woman, who can barely walk, see or hear, lives alone. I was very angry and questioned aloud how an old sick woman could be left alone with no one to look after her. But the young woman calmed me down after she declared that Umm Fares was a reason for her to keep coming to the weekly protests. She even arranged a group of girls to help her and show solidarity with her. They have taken turns during the week to visit her as much as they could. Hearing that, I couldn’t help but smiling with relief to know that there are still some caring people, and without her asking me to join her group, I stated that I am already a part of them.
The young woman told me that she once was sitting with Umm Fares in her very simple and narrow house, chatting, attempting to make her feel that she was not alone or forgotten. Suddenly Umm Fares asked her to bring a piece of paper and a pen to write down what she heard her say.
“Dear Fares, when you are free, I’m going to pick for you the most beautiful bride in Palestine. I’m going to build a big house for you to live in with your kids. Stay steadfast my darling and God willing your freedom will be soon,” she said while her weak hands dried the tears that fell on her cheeks. The poor woman didn’t realize that she was only a dreamer, but a dreamer who never gives up.
No one has left a profound impact on me as much as this woman, Umm Fares. I pray that she gets the chance to see her son before she dies and I promise her that she will never be alone. There are many people who will never forget her or her precious tears over her son’s ongoing imprisonment.
Press this link to read it in French (Thank you Claude)
“I waited long enough for him to come back to me; 19 years of forced separation between us. I’ve always fantasized about our unborn child, as the imprisonment of my husband after less than one year of our marriage prevented me from ever having one,” she said after I asked her whether she feels better.
“They broke into our house in October of 1993 and kidnapped him very late at night from inside our home in an excessively violent way,” she continued while tears struggled to fall from her eyes. She looked in a different direction and fell in silence trying to hide that feminine character inside her.
I learned that her husband Salama Mesleh was sentenced for 99 years inside the Israeli prisons. I was amazed at her ability to stay strong and optimistic for a day that would come when she would be united with her husband in a warm house full of love and harmony and bring up their first child.
My sympathy got even deeper for her as I learned that she had been very close to delivering a child. She was 2 months pregnant when the Israeli army attacked her house and turned everything upside down and kidnapped her husband. Her experience was too much to tolerate. The Israeli army didn’t only take her husband away but also killed the fetus growing inside her. If she didn’t go through all these horrific circumstances, maybe this fetus would have turned out to be an 18-year-old man by now who would take care of her while she bravely fights her harsh destiny.
Determined to share pain
My affection for her has been increasing as I knew more of her stories. She is on a hunger strike for the sixth day trying to share with her husband and other Palestinian detainees their battle of empty stomachs. She has refused to break her fast despite all the attempts which people made to persuade her to, especially after she fainted. However, she insisted on going on demonstrating. “Salama, my husband, suffers from more than merely hunger,” she said. “Let me at least feel like I’m living some of his pains even though I know that I’m not even close!”
I suddenly realized that I ran out of time and it was the time to go back to my lecture at university. I had to go there only for the attendance check and be in the class only in body but I knew that my mind would stay with the prisoners and their families. I couldn’t wait till the lecture ended to return to the Red Cross.
I thought that I would go back and see the usual sight of people sitting in the tent chatting while songs for freedom for our detainees are playing. But that wasn’t the case. There was an emergency taking place; people were running inside the Red Cross. An ambulance’s siren was very loud and its red lights were flashing all over the place. My heart skipped a beat as I realized I had missed something during the hour I was at university. My fear of the unknown overcame me.
I was trying to pass through the crowd to discover that the same woman, Najiyya, lost consciousness again. She couldn’t bear the psychological conflict she had inside her — not knowing whether her husband was going to be released or not.
At first, she heard that her spouse was included; and then discovered that he was not. She was swinging between facts and illusions to realize later the fact that her husband will stay jailed inside the dark cells. I learned that she was walking around while talking to herself unconsciously and she suddenly stopped and looked at a big banner that includes the picture of her husband, and then fell down.
I know no matter how strong and how much of a fighter she is, she is a human at the end of the day. The fact that her husband is not going to be free was very hard for her to accept, especially since she was lingering with the hope which the swap deal had brought her.
When I arrived at the tent on 12 October, the wife of the prisoner Nafez Herz, who was sentenced to life-long imprisonment and has been jailed for 26 years, shook hands with me and said very excitedly that she had heard that her husband would be freed. Then she said, “But you can’t imagine how much my heart aches for those families whose prisoner will not be released in this exchange deal. All prisoners’ families have become like one big family. We meet weekly, if not daily in the Red Cross, we share our torments, and we understand each other’s suffering.” I grabbed her hands and pressed them while saying, “We will never forget them, and God willing, they will gain their freedom soon.”
While I was writing this article among the crowd of people at the Red Cross building, I suddenly heard people chanting and clapping and could see a woman jumping with joy. While on the phone, she said loudly, “My husband is going to be free!” Her husband is Abu Thaer Ghneem, who received a life sentence and spent 22 years in prison. As I watched people celebrating and singing for the freedom of the Palestinian detainees, I met his only son, Thaer. He was hugging his mother tight while giving prayers to God showing their thankfulness. I touched his shoulder, attempting to get his attention. “Congratulations! How do you feel?” I asked him. “I was only one day old when my father was arrested, and now I am 22-years-old. I’ve always known that I had a father in prison, but never had him around. Now my father is finally going to be set free and fill his place, which has been empty over the course of 22 years of my life.”
His answer was very touching and left me shocked and admiring. While he was talking to me, I sensed how he couldn’t find words to describe his happiness at his father’s freedom.
The celebration continues for an hour. Then I return to my former confusion, feeling drowned in a stream of thoughts. The families of the 1,027 detainees will celebrate the freedom of their relatives, but what about the fate of the rest of the prisoners?
Don’t forget the hunger strike
I have heard lots of information since last night concerning the names of the soon-to-be-released prisoners, but it was hard to find two sources sharing the same news, especially about Ahmad Saadat and Marwan Barghouti and whether they are involved in the exchange deal. I’ve always felt spiritually connected to them, especially Saadat, as he is my father’s friend. I can’t handle thinking that he may not be involved in this exchange deal. He has had enough merciless torment inside Israeli solitary confinement for over two and a half years.
Let’s not forget those who are still inside the Israeli occupation’s prisons and who have been on hunger strike, as this hunger strike wasn’t held for an exchange deal, but for the Israeli Prison Service to meet the prisoners’ demands. The people who joined the hunger strike in Gaza City has included those with loved ones in prison. We have to speak out loudly and tell the world that Israel must address our living martyrs’ demands. We will never stop singing for the freedom of Palestinian detainees until the Israeli prisons are emptied.
I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately. Last night I was exhausted in body and mind, but tried to keep my eyes open to follow updates on the Palestinian prisoners’ conditions. My heart and mind were with them completely, in every corner of the horrible Israeli prisons where our heroes continue to display persistence and steadfastness.
Deciding to rebel against the cruel conditions they could no longer endure, hundreds of prisoners started a hunger strike on 27 September. Approximately 6,000 detainees inside Israeli prisons are forgotten about and treated as if they are less than animals.
Israel, which claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, seems to forget that prisoners are humans and have rights. The Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike in the hope that Israel will grant their simple demands. But while they are calling in loud voices for their rights, Israel is reacting negatively, using every method it has to force the prisoners to give up. Prisoners are being sent to isolation cells in increasing numbers, family visits and lawyers are being denied, families threatened, and identity cards, belongings and clothing confiscated. This is all in addition to the constant torment they already have to endure.
Israel is violating international law and nobody is stopping it. Oh, pardon me for forgetting that Israel is beyond any law! Approximately 285 Palestinian children are currently imprisoned, and the world is still silent. Nobody will dare challenge Israel.
I am very emotionally attached to the prisoners’ issue, especially their hunger strike, not only because I am Palestinian but also because I am the daughter of a released prisoner. I was brought up hearing my father’s sad stories, full of suffering and despair, which remain stuck in his memory and will never leave him.
My father’s experience of hunger striking
My father’s eyes would have never seen the sun if Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command (PFLP-GC) didn’t manage to make a deal exchanging three Israeli prisoners he held captive in 1985, in return for the release of 1,250 Palestinian political prisoners. My family was watching the news concerning the current prisoners’ hunger strike when Dad started telling us about his imprisonment, which lasted for 15 years.
“I witnessed and participated in the longest hunger strike in the history of Palestinian prisoners in 1982, which lasted for 33 consecutive days,” he said. “Three prisoners died and tens of cases were sent to hospital, including about 27 for dehydration, but what else could we do to pressure them to provide us with the smallest things?”
Thinking deeply about my father’s words, and trying to imagine the awful conditions of the Palestinians inside the merciless Israeli jails, broke my heart. All the unbearable treatment prisoners endure is totally unfair and against humanity.
Before I wrote this article, I took part in a Gaza City demonstration in solidarity with these prisoners, whose health is getting worse every day, but who will bravely continue. I was lucky to not have early lectures at university, so I could be there at 9:00 am protesting against the situation facing our prisoners. I had some conversations with other women protesting there, too. Most of them were either released prisoners or had sons, brothers, or husbands in prison and on hunger strike.
One of them was a mother of six children, who grew up as if they were fatherless — her husband is spending his 26th year inside a damned Israeli prison. “I was one month pregnant with my youngest girl, who is 25 years old now, when my husband was arrested,” she said. “My oldest girl was only seven years old. All my kids do have a father but they became adults without their father around, like orphans.”
She kept describing to me how hard it was to be alone without her husband taking care of six children, and how much she suffered and endured to make her husband, sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, proud of his children when he hopefully someday gets his freedom back. “I was very young, only 24 years old, when he went to prison. I stayed in this state of a married woman who has to live without a husband for 26 years for my six children. Thankfully, I now have 25 grandchildren,” she said proudly.
Miracles needed to contact prisoners
Then she burst out crying, and said that she was worried because she heard that the Israeli army attacked Ashkelon prison where her husband is held the day before. They violently attempted to force the impossible — to make the hunger strike end.
I couldn’t hide my tears anymore, despite trying so hard not to let them fall. I didn’t know what to do to calm her down. The woman told me that she and all other prisoners’ families have been denied visitation rights since Hamas won the 2006 election. They hear nothing from their imprisoned family members, except rarely, when some miracle happens; like when someone from the West Bank visits relatives who are imprisoned with her husband. Then, her husband can ask the visitor to convey a message to her that he is doing well.
I couldn’t say anything but for prayers that God provide her with patience and that her husband gets his freedom back soon.
My father has always said that prisoners are the living martyrs. I think they really deserve this honor for all the injustice and suffering they endure. This open hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners will continue until Israel addresses their demands. International solidarity is needed now more than ever. Everyone needs to wake up and do something. We shouldn’t let the cruel conditions of the Palestinian detainees last forever.
On 21 May 1985, my father Ismael regained his freedom, after being in the dark of Israeli prisons for 13 years.
“I was sentenced for seven lifetimes plus 10 years and I thought that Nafha Prison would be my grave. Luckily I didn’t stay that long there, and I was set free to marry your mother and to bring you to this life,” my father playfully said while my mind struggled to understand his underestimation of such an experience that is inconceivable to most. His reference point was, however, different. It is only “not that long” if compared to the original sentence to which he was bound if the deal to exchange Palestinian and Israeli prisoners didn’t proceed.
I can’t recall my Dad ever showing any regret or sorrow for the precious years of his youth that were stolen from him. He turned his prison experience into a song of life. He believes that it is the reason behind his solid principles, his strong character, his intimate friendships, and his emancipatory perception of life.
I’ve always been proud to be his daughter, and I’ll always be. He is a revolutionary to whom revolutionary thinking is an organic part of his upbringing as a Palestinian refugee. My father was born to a dispossessed family from Beit Jerja, 4 years after Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, an event we call Nakba (Catastrophe). He was born in Jabalia refugee camp where minimal means of survival did not exist, and Israeli oppression defined their daily lives with a defiant form of resistance.
“The Triumphant Power of Revolution”
As a 19 year-old detainee, this organic revolutionary thinking was voiced to his anti-Zionist Israeli lawyer Felicia Langerwho fought against the Israeli unjust judicial system throughout her 23-year career before returning to her country of origin Germany. In her book With My Own Eyes(1975), Langer recorded her encounter with my father on 6 April 1972 in Kafer Yonah, an Israeli interrogation center. Thanks to her, I have access to my dad’s earliest quote:
“I saw how children were being brutally shot dead in the camp’s streets by the Israeli border guards. I witnessed the murder of a little girl who was just leaving her school when an Israeli soldier from the border guards shot her dead. They raid the camp with their thick batons beating up everybody. They break into houses inhabited by women without knocking on the doors. They mix the flour with oil during their aggressive inspections deliberately and without any necessity.”
The systematic oppression which Palestinians live under Israeli occupation while in their unsafe homes and neighborhood chased my father to prison. “After his arrest in Jabalia Camp on January 1, 1972,” Langer states, “they dragged him to the Gaza police center while beating him with batons all the way. They showered him with extremely cold water in winter. Meanwhile, soldiers continued to attack him with batons everywhere to the extent that he lost his sense of hearing. Langer quotes my dad’s experience of this method of torture:
“This continued for 10 days… Then they threatened that unless I talked I would be banished to Amman, where I would be killed.”
Like all other Palestinians, my father was automatically trailed at an Israeli military court, where judges and prosecutors are Israeli soldiers in uniform, and the Palestinians are always guilty for challenging the authority of the military occupation regime. According to an Israeli human-rights group B’tselem, Israeli military courts “are firmly entrenched on the Israeli side of the power imbalance, and serve as one of the central systems maintaining its control over the Palestinian people.” In other words, they are an integral part of the Israeli apartheid structures.
Besides his Palestinian identity which would have automatically proved him guilty, his
socialist values further complicated matters. “Especially bitter is the fate of anyone suspected of holding communist values,” Langer observed. On 30 November 1972, the persecutor called the court to take part in the “serious war against terror,” in a plea upon the court to impose the harshest punishment against my father and his comrades who were charged for belonging to the Marxist-leaning Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. According to Langer, the persecutor claimed to be gentle in “not asking for death sentences.” Before announcing the multiple life sentences, the judge allowed my father and his comrades to say last words, but warned, “I don’t want to hear political speeches.” His comrade said there is no point since they did not recognise Israeli jurisdiction. Riot erupted as a result, and the defendants weren’t allowed to speak. But in the middle of all that, my father shouted his belief in “the triumphant power of the revolution.”
Despite his sentence that promised death in jail, my father believed an end to his living nightmare would come with the triumphant power of revolution!
Prisoners’ Exchange of 21 May 1985
The story of the exchange deal all started when Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command (PFLP-GC) captured three Israeli soldiers (Yosef Grof, Nissim Salem, Hezi Shai) in revenge for thousands of Palestinian prisoners kidnapped by Israel without any apparent reason. After a long process of negotiations, both sides struck a deal that Israel would release 1,250 prisoners in return for the three Israelis that Jibril held captive. My father was included in the deal, and fortunately, he was set free at the age of 33. Among the released prisoners were the Japanese freedom fighter Kozo Okamoto who had been sentenced to life imprisonment, and Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in 1983.
My father told me the story of 1985 prisoners exchange with tears struggling to fall. “I cannot forget the moment when the leader of the prison started calling off the names to be released,” he said while staring at a painting hung in his room that my father drew during his imprisonment of flowers blooming with the names of his family among barbed wires.
Among the prisoners was Omar al-Qassim, a leading member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Al-Qassim was asked to read the list of the names loudly. He was initially excited, hoping his freedom would be restored. Every time he said a name, a scream of happiness convulsed the walls of prison. Suddenly, his facial expression started to change, with reluctance to speak after he noticed that his name wasn’t included. My father thinks that this was a form of psychological torture by the Israeli prison manager. But Al-Qassim left him no chance for fun, and withdrew himself with dignity. Sadly, he died in an Israeli cell after 22 years of captive resistance, pride and glory.
My father described this emotionally-charged moment as bittersweet. The happiness of freed prisoners was incomplete for leaving the other prisoners in that dirty place where the sun never shines. “We were like a big family sharing everything together. We collectively handled the same pain and united to fight for one cause,” my father told me. “Although I am free now, my soul will always be with my comrades who remain in there.”
History repeats itself. On 18 October 2011, we experienced a similar historical event with a swap deal involving the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was arrested by the resistance in Gaza while he was on top of his war machine (an Israeli tank). Just like what happened with Shalit, the capture of three Israelis caused uproar in the Israeli public opinion and international media at that time, but the thousands of Palestinian prisoners behind Israeli bars were not noticed, except by the resistance groups that have always pressured Israel to meet some demands regarding the Palestinian prisoners.
The international media reaction to such events also invite anger in their emphasis on the arrested Israeli soldiers by the “terrorist” Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are left behind in Israeli jails with basic rights to medical care, family and lawyer visits and fair trial are denied, and the rest of Palestinian populations endure other forms of imprisonment under Israeli structures of siege and occupation. But mainstream media chooses to look away.
My father has always said that “prisoners are the living martyrs.” He also described Israeli jails as “graves for the living.” Let’s unite and use all the means available to help thousands of Palestinian political prisoner have fewer years of suffering, especially at times the Coronavirus poses an additional danger to their lives. We share this collective responsibility. Their freedom will be a triumph for humanity.