Lucky prisoners of the Gaza strip

01 апреля, 2011 Categories: English by Комментарии к записи Lucky prisoners of the Gaza strip отключены

The 20th Century chronographer Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a paradoxical remark in his book “The Gulag Archipelago”: “Be blessed, prison! You’ve made a man of me!” It’s hard to understand this wisdom living in a safe world. It’s easier to understand it in Russia and, strange as it is, in Palestine.

To want to kill the prison governor

The majority of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are political. They say that two of three Palestinians have been to Israeli prisons. No other nation knows such statistics.

Ashraf Hussein is 40. He has spent nine of those years in prison. He was arrested when 16 in Gaza for throwing stones during the first intifada. He was tortured, they hung him up by his legs, beat him. He became delirious. He spent two years in a one-man cell.

He knows the names of his torturers: “The prison’s governor was Fares Fares; the second one was Mr. Beni – that’s what he called himself. I am sure that’s his real name. I filed a suit against them in Negev in 1991. I then was imprisoned there. Fares brought 20 soldiers into court and they witnessed that I had wanted to kill him. That’s how I was moved to criminals and drug dealers.”

Ashraf Hussein tells his story without hurry and in great detail. I had heard such a measured narration only from Russian political prisoners.

In prison he met Abd al-Aziz Rantissi – one of the later murdered Hamas leaders. But he followed another movement – the Popular Front of George Habash. He smiles: “I was a communist. And I keep being one. Communists do not change colours.”

“In prison I learnt Hebrew – I know it better than many Jews. I had enough time, unlike new immigrants,” says Ashraf Hussein. “I learnt English, read Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Gorky, Lenin, and Marx. You [Russians] made a mistake – it was too early to put Lenin and Marx on the shelf. They will come in handy in the future.”

He is currently working at the Ministry for Prisoner Affairs: “7,500 Palestinians are currently held in Israel’s prisons, including 39 women and 340 children. Over 1,600 of the prisoners are ill. They are not being given any medicine. Many of the prisoners spend years without any medicine except for headache pills. This even applies to those who have cancer. People are placed in solitary confinement where they go mad. One of the female prisoners had given birth to a baby and the guards threw the baby on the floor as she was watching. People can be sentenced to seven or ten lifetime terms. 406 people have died while being tortured in a prison. Old men die in prison without being allowed to see their family for the last time. It is virtually impossible for prisoners to see their parents or children – most Palestinians can’t get to Israel from their home cities – this applies not only to Gaza but also to the West Bank, which, Israel claims, is not blockaded. There is not blockade, true, only about 500 police checkpoints that Palestinians can’t get through even if they are trying to go to a village that’s next to their own.”

Jail and art

Joseph Bahader is a painter. The main theme of his paintings is the jail. Bahader also makes small models of Israeli jailhouses.

They are all the same — he tells me – barracks with numbers drawn on the ground in the middle of the yard. Every prisoner is issued a personal number as well. At roll calls, every prisoner has to stand on the corresponding number otherwise he or she will be punished.

Joseph is 50 years old. He spent one year in jail, taken in for his paintings. He is now collecting data from former prisoners on how the prisons are built and how they function, also about how prisoners are treated. Joseph has started a collection of paintings by former and current inmates. These bead-adorned panels were made by female inmates, the daughters and wives of prisoners.

“They don’t let them take pictures of their cells. They do not allow anyone to see them. They can lock you up for decades without any grounds. They torture people and the tortures are not investigated. Thousands of Palestinians have been through this. They can’t hide things like that. We are creating the evidence: we write books and paint pictures to describe what’s happening there. I believe that sooner or later everyone will see what’s really happening in this country,” Bahader says. He has some things that are considered invaluable in Gaza: oil colors, brushes, solvent and glue. All this was brought to him via secret tunnels.

I ask him about how he became an artist. Joseph tells me: “I don’t have any artists in my family. I started painting when I was a child so they sent me to art school. None of my children became painters. I have students, however. Look at how many self-taught talents there is in Gaza. Kids drawing graffiti on the walls. We all started out like that.”

What’s the link between our son and Shalit?

Nazir Bedahui is 62. Israeli police arrested his 22-year old son Musa in 2001. Musa was shot in his legs during arrest and sentenced to 25 years in jail. He has so far served 9. His family has not been allowed a single rendezvous with Musa. Parcels and letters are banned.

“His mother has only caught one glimpse of him over these nine years, as he was being put into the prison van after his trial. We can’t come to see him and we can’t even pass him a parcel of medicine. I’ve never studied law but I now know the Geneva Convention by heart. International law recognizes my right to rebel against occupation.”

Nazir Bedahui is proud of the fact his son was part of the resistance. “They call our sons terrorists, but who is the real terrorist here? The state that violates our rights, the state that has killed one of my sons, leaving his three children without a father? The state that arrested my other son? They are demanding freedom for Gilad Shalit, who was a serviceman in the army. They want us to start demanding freedom for Shalit. They steal children from our homes. A woman who lived next to us died without having seen her own son. What’s the link between our son and Shalit? Can I be responsible for Shalit? I don’t even know where he is. Palestinian prisoners’ families have written a public letter expressing solidarity with Shalit’s parents. We think he should be freed. But where is the Jewish parents’ solidarity with us? I have written four letters to Israel, asking them to exchange Shalit for our sons. No reply. They call me a terrorist but what have I ever done to them? Nothing. I just sit here as their bombs fall next to me and I feel proud that my son was part of the resistance. Is that the reason I can’t even send him his own clothes?”

A lot of people – mostly women and children from Gaza – have shown me their mobile phones with myriad short messages and incoming calls from Israel. They call asking about Shalit. “The phone rings every day. It’s a mechanical voice and it keeps asking me the same thing – where is Shalit? It promises a reward for any information we might have. Now how would I know where he is? Why don’t they ask themselves where our sons and father are?” Umm Mouhammad, a teacher at a school for orphans tells me. Several men from her family have been put in jail. They all got huge sentences for throwing rocks at soldiers. “On one side we have stone-throwing kids who get ten years of imprisonment each. On the other side are tanks and military jets. The whole world is worried about Shalit. Maybe it’s time they concern themselves over the fates of imprisoned Palestinians?”

Nazir Bedahui runs into the next room to hide his tears from me. Some time later he emerges, carrying a pair of boots. “Look, I can’t even pass these to my son. They are scared of everything, even a pair of old man’s boots!”

The Bedahuis’ modest abode is decorated with dozens of their children’s pictures. Their dream now is to live to see Musa set free. Musa’s dream will now be to survive until the end of his 25-year imprisonment term. He will be 47 when he gets out.

Nazir Bedahui is leading me to a woman, who will never see her son again.

“What else do they want from me?”

Umm Fares Barud, 84. Her son, Fares, was arrested in Gaza in 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is 45 now. For ten years they have refused her a rendezvous. Anyway, she won’t be able to see her son, as she’s gone blind over these years. Her son is allowed to give her a call once every six months. They can talk for only ten seconds, and then they are disconnected.

“One of the officers told me that I was from HAMAS and that is why they would refuse me a rendezvous. I was a common well-to-do woman, and they made me one of HAMAS. They detained him in Tul Karem at the West Bank, when we were walking together along the street. They destroyed my house and took my land away. Shalit has everything, while our sons have nothing, and they do not allow us to hand anything over to them. Shalit was taken away from a tank, while our children are being taken away from their homes. Fares was accused of making bombs, but he had not done anything. He was my younger son. They pretend that they don’t understand what a younger son means for his mother. His father died when he was two, I brought him up all by myself, and he could be taking care of me. They took away everything I had – my son, my land, my house and my eyes. What else do they want from me? Do they want me to tie myself up with explosives?” Umm Fares Barud asks.

Twelve years ago Umm Fares Barud came up to her house near Ashkelon. She had been kicked out of there by soldiers when she was 22. A Jewish woman from Iraq was living there. She refused to give her water and did not let her in. “What have I done to Israel? I live alone, my son is in jail, my neighbors give me food via a window in a fence,” the elderly blind woman laments.

Before giving her consent to have her picture taken, she fixed her snow-white scarf and asked Nazir Bedahui to give her son’s portrait to her, along with a symbolically-stitched key from her parents’ home. “They took away everything from me, but they won’t be able to take away these things,” Umm Fares says.

Russia Today 02 August, 2010, 14:37

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