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Translated by Sarah H Abdel Halim
“I will not follow their orders, and I am ready for their punishment.”
This is what Kamal said to me as we were walking in the excercise yard of Ramallah Prison, a ritual known amongst prisoners as “Al-Fawrah”. Derived from the Arabic “fawaran” (boiling), the term was common in prison and had come to form part of the prisoners’ lexicon. The yard, in which prisoners were entitled to spend a daily release of no more than an hour, was small. As a result, many prisoners used to spend their time walking back and forth, like water that had reached its boiling point.
My friend Kamal is two years older than me. We both live in Dheisheh Refugee Camp, which was founded near Bethlehem to receive those who were displaced from their lands in the Jerusalem countryside, Palestinian hills and coastal towns and villages as a result of the 1948 war. Kamal became a resistance fighter at a relatively young age, joining one of the biggest Palestinian factions. He believed that armed resistance was the only means to end Israeli occupation, whereas I was a student activist, participating in popular resistance activities, like demonstrations, throwing stones at the occupation soldiers, distributing leaflets and writing anti-occupation slogans on walls.
Kamal had always mocked the resistance path that I believed in, and to which I was driven by my early passion for reading; the passion that led me to become fascinated by the symbols that influenced generations of Arab leftists.
Kamal belongs to the vast majority of our camp who go with slogans such as “Battal Yinfa’ Gheir al-Madfah” (Nothing Works but the Cannon). In reality, we had no cannons or rifles, but this did not stop competitive verbal exchanges between the boys and young men who found themselves in the midst of a harsh colonial occupation that they had to confront in every possible way.
In Dheisheh Camp, the jewel of the sacred triangle of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron, anti-occupation uprisings erupted early, making the camp well known to Israeli and foreign journalists as well as solidarity groups. By experience, we had become aware of how best to behave around foreign journalists and solidarity activists, who we welcomed to our humble homes and the narrow alleys of the camp that they would return to after each punitive measure the camp sustained – often as a result of stones being thrown at settlers’ cars passing by on the Jerusalem-Hebron road. In addition to repeated break-ins, destruction of houses and beatings of families, the long curfew was one of the punitive measures imposed most frequently by the occupation authorities. Once a Knesset member of an unknown party fiercely objected to this measure on account of the fact that would result in an increase in the Dheisheh population since sex would be the only release for their energy.
Our experience taught us how to deal with foreigners; we decided not to tell them the full truth about the violence of the occupation because we realized they did not believe us. Admittedly, many of the boys and young men of the camp exaggerate when they recount the aggression they are subjected to under the occupation, however it is also true that even narrating an accurate, unexaggerated account of events has been enough to shock our foreign friends or journalists. Thus, the likes of me, Kamal and others had to restrain ourselves, understating the occupation’s aggression against the people and children, in order for them to believe us.
In the spring of 1981, after one of the student uprisings in the occupied territories, I found myself held as a prisoner in Ramallah Prison, which had been built by the British, and later inherited by the Jordanians and the Israelis. Despite the harsh conditions of my arrest, I was nevertheless happy to meet my friend Kamal, who had arrived before me in the same prison, in Cell number 8, where the prisoners were alotted to the different Palestinian factions.
For a prisoner, the transfer from interrogation cell to prison cell is a joyful event difficult to describe fully in words. However, like all joyful things, this was soured – at least for someone like me – because I knew I had to be submitted to what I would describe as a ‘habitual ritual’, in which, after the welcoming period for the prisoner who has arrived from the torture cells – a period that involves presenting him with clean underwear, and maybe giving him a bath – the prisoner has to sit down with the organizing committee, which represents the various political factions existing in the prison, and is asked to declare which faction he will belong while serving his sentence. At the time, these factions did not include any parties of political Islam, like Hamas, which had not yet been founded.
Personally, I had always preferred to remain independent. This was unacceptable, however, in the internal life of prisoners, who, since the June 1967 occupation, developed through trial and error a list of organisational rules. To me, one of the worst of these was keeping prisoners in a constant state of factional polarization and fanaticism. I had always had the good fortune of not belonging to one of the big Palestinian factions, instead being a member of the Left, which had itself significant disagreements between its factions.
As the reader can guess, after I passed this unpopular “faction” ritual, I started spending long periods of time with Kamal, both in my free time as well as in between the educational sessions the factions organized for their members and during other activities. Together, Kamal and I reminisced about the past, and our disagreements over the way to liberate Palestine. He asked about Samah, his beloved, who was from the village of Artas, near the camp. When he was overcome with passion, Kamal used to go up the mountain overlooking Artas – whose name means “closed paradise” – and scream out his beloved’s name, which often got him into trouble with her family.
Inside prison, the prisoners’ life is a condensed version of the reality of outside society. As such, it lacked democracy, and prisoners were bound by rules decided upon by the prisoners’ movement. For example, no prisoner was allowed to change membership from one faction to another. When I entered prison, I panicked at the existence of a state of alert about this amongst prisoners. Kamal told me that after a 17 year old – my age at the time – changed his membership from one faction, to another which his brother, who was in a different prison, belonged to. So prisoners slept with their shoes on, in anticipation of any emergency about this rule.
The “moral” regulations put in place by prisoners were repellent to an unsophisticated young man like myself, who perceived the universe and people through rose-tinted glasses. The rules included prisoners being banned from wearing T-shirts, from holding hands as they walked during “Al-Fawrah”, and from placing their hands on each other’s shoulders. I could never really understand such rules, which prisoners strove to comply with to avoid any comeback. However, the thought that violating them, even unintentionally, would place you as a prisoner in a certain category – at least as far as the “guardians of morality” in jail were concerned – made me and others follow them rigorously.
My previous arrests, before coming to Ramallah Prison, were confined to interrogation and the accompanying torture to extract confessions. Since I had nothing to confess to and since, in the leftist faction I belonged to, any prisoner who confessed would be expelled, I would be released, once again, into the inadequate freedom under the occupation, without having confessed or signed any statements.
Despite his own factional fanaticism, and his criticism of my choices, which in his view would not liberate an inch of Palestine, Kamal was still impressed by some of the virtues he perceived in my party, which included regarding confessing under interrogation as a taboo not to be broken. This and other things were topics of endless discussions between me and Kamal, who knew that I was not staying for long but would soon be released, whereas he had long years in prison ahead of him. For this reason he thought we should seize all opportunities for intensifying our discussions and staying together for the longest time possible. However, things could not go on as we wanted them to.
The guide (the main official) of the biggest faction in prison, of which Kamal was a member, was Atef, he was one of the freedom fighters known for their steadfastness and openness to different ideas. However, things changed when a new leader of this faction arrived in the prison, and took over from Atef. The faction was run by Yasser Arafat from Beirut, and was perceived as the backbone of the Palestinian resistance movement. It lacked an ideology per se, and as such, was a liberal faction, counting amongst its members leftists, rightists, Christians, Muslims and even some Jews.
The arrival of this new leader from another prison made many prisoners happy, since his reputation as a freedom fighter was well known, though the reputation was partly created by media hype about the guerilla operations he had taken part in.
Our first meeting with the new guide was about his freedom-fighting experience. It was a meeting “on a cell level”, as we would say in prison terms, which took place in our cell – Cell number 8.
In Ramallah Prison, the daily routine would start with breakfast in the exercise yard. We would be woken up early and, still drowsy from sleep, quickly go out to eat something that might, with great liberty, be described as breakfast. Its ingredients were difficult to figure out: it included a small piece of bread, an olive, a little cheese, some butter, and tea, which each prisoner had to scoop from a large pot using a worn-out plastic cup. This tea barely resembled real tea, apart from its dark colour, if black can indeed be considered a tea colour, and it did not taste like tea. It was commonly held amongst prisoners that the prison administration added camphor to it to reduce sexual desire. I have not been able to verify this claim.
Eating breakfast was not an easy task, especially for new prisoners. I learnt a way to make eating breakfast easier from Atef, the former guide. It involved placing everything offered on a small plate, pouring the so-called tea on top and mixing it all in, then eating it with a spoon while sitting in the exercise yard recalling a delicious breakfast I had once had. Learning this was not at all easy, and it took a relatively long time to get used to doing it.
After breakfast, we would be sent back to our cells. On many occasions, before we had finished the so-called breakfast, at eight thirty in the morning the prison administration would switch on Arabic language Israeli radio, and the powerful voice of the news presenter would gush out. We were wary of the news broadcast by a radio station directed at an Arab audience. After the news, a morning radio show, famous back in its day, would air for about two hours until ten thirty. Of course we did not own any radios. There was, instead, a loudspeaker in every cell, with the actual broadcast being controlled from the administration office. Listening to the radio was one of the gains of the many strikes held by prisoners, in which some had become martyrs.
From ten thirty until lunchtime at midday, which also took place in the exercise yard, a prisoner could walk around, play chess, or read. For lunch, usually though not always, we were given a dry and hard piece of meat, whose nature was unknowable. Was it chicken, fish, or beef? For the prisoners, this was a mystery that remained difficult to resolve. After lunch, we would return to our cells, and later be released into the yard. After that we would return to the cells again, where factions organized educational sessions for their members to teach them about their literature. This normally lasted until dinnertime, which we had in our cells, sitting altogether in a big circle. Dinner was the happiest ritual in prison days because some prisoners were creative in preparing and presenting the food they received from the administration in order to make it savoury. This was achieved by inventing strange types of food that were mixed together. Breakfast and lunch were normally be prepared by criminal prisoners; security prisoners, like us, were not permitted to take part in those preparations.
At six thirty in the evening the radio broadcast was resumed. We would listen to a news summary, followed by Umm Kulthoum songs that lasted a whole hour. This was part of the daily program of the Arabic language Israeli radio. During that hour, some prisoners, including leftist intellectuals who have long considered Umm Kulthoum to be the symbol of bourgeois, anesthetizing singing, would retreat into themselves, and wander away from the queen of Arab music, to places they had left behind, and memories of being with their loved ones, not knowing whether they would ever meet them again.
During the Umm Kulthoum ritual, some of the (weaker) prisoners might start to weep, hiding themselves lest anyone should see the tears they were shedding over their loved ones or their memories of earlier times. In prison, there is nothing more than shedding tears as an embarrassing sign of weakness. Those “caught” in tears, often pleaded: “Please, do not tell them I cried!”
After the melancholy Umm Kulthoum songs, there was a free half hour until eight o’clock. Usually, there would be a program until ten, which was either a cell-wide discussion session, of a book or a historical political issue (to prevent any disputes that might arise from discussing current affairs), or there would be separate sessions for every faction.
The meeting with the new guide took place in a big discussion group. The prisoners waited enthusiastically for the discussion, and listened enthusiastically to the details of the operation in which we found, in the end, that our guide had not played a huge role. In fact, his task had been confined to accompanying a resistance group that had been sneaked out of Palestine, and to partially arranging their accommodation and food.
The guide described the details of the operation just as he had recounted them in his confessions to the interrogators. They were infused with pride and boasts about the long period he had spent in interrogation cells before he was brought down to the prison cells.
Only a few days passed before the guide decided to test his ability to control the members of his faction. He made a decision to ban reading leftist and Marxist books. The competition between his faction and leftist factions was one of the distinctive features of that period of both the national and the prisoner movements.
The decision came as a shock for someone like me since, outside prison, the occupation in those days had already waged a war on books. Under the military occupation the list of banned books, which included almost all books published in Arab counties, was not befitting an occupation that had always described itself as liberal. One of the small virtues of prison was that people like us could read in prison libraries, since these had been protected from the oppression of the occupation by the achievements of the political prisoners’ rights movements.
In 1984, Rabbi Levinger, a symbol of the settler movement, had camped in front of our refugee camp, demanding that the occupation authorities take deterrent measures to stop the children of the camp from throwing stones at settlers’ cars. A long curfew was imposed on the camp residents. One day, while I was shut up in my room, like everyone else in the camp, the Israeli writer Sami Michael came to my house with a photographer. He told me that he had been commissioned by a Hebrew newspaper to write about the suffering of the camp’s inhabitants.
Suddenly, he asked me: “A writer normally has at least one library, where is yours?”
I replied by telling him that I hid mine underground, because each invasion by the army not only led to the confiscation of books but also to beatings, and sometimes being taken to trial on the charge of possessing illegal material. I told him the story of Aboul Fahd, the big-as-an-ox specialist in oppression at the headquarters of the Israeli military governor in Bethlehem. Once, when I was in my house, Aboul Fahd broke in and confiscated the novel Urs Baghl (A Mule’s Wedding) by the Algerian author Tahar Wattar. He summoned me for interrogation, without knowing that the events of the novel took place in a brothel and had nothing at all to do with Palestine. I was stranded from morning till evening in front of his office, and at the end of each day Aboul Fahd would come out, quietly, and ask me: “Is it your book?”
I would say “Yes”, and he would then ask me to come back the next day. So continued my morning arrest.
Sami Michael laughed and said: “You hide books underground, while we hide dollars underground. I wonder who will have a future?”
At the time, it was rumoured that many Israelis hid their dollars away from banks to avoid laws that governed the exchange of hard currency.
Some members of the faction, including Kamal, mocked the decision to ban leftist and Marxist books, but as they were in prison, they were fully aware of the consequences that would follow any rebellion against it.
Commenting on the decision, Kamal said to me: “It means I will not be able to enjoy the compensations of prison, so from now on you will have to summarise for me everything you read!”
The guide began to monitor library borrowings, to make sure that none were related to Marxism. There were also, of course, members of the faction itself eager to report any breaches of the decision.
Israeli prisons are not equal in terms of the library facilities they offer. For instance, in interrogation detention facilities, like Al-Maskubiah Prison in Jerusalem, there is no library and no books. In this regard, central prisons that have prisoners with long sentences are a lot better than the rest. This is largely due to the strikes carried out by prisoners to improve their prison conditions. For someone with a life sentence, reading is of eminent importance and cannot be matched by any other activity.
Regarding Kamal, the problem was not solely a matter of not reading certain books; it developed into the leadership of his faction ordering him not to walk with me, because the guide thought this would reduce my leftist influence on him. Kamal told me he would not follow those orders and that he was prepared to serve any punishment
I found myself in a quandary. Maybe if I had been in his place, and of his reckless age, I would have contemplated rebelling against it as he did. Nonetheless, I tried to convince him to abide by the rules. Kamal attempted to manoeuvre, and he would come up with excuses when he was caught talking with me or reading a prohibited book he had smuggled under the bed. Many prisoners of our age were not interested in what Kamal read; a cigarette was sufficient to silence a potential grass, who would ask us to say the following, if Kamal was found out: “Just don’t tell them I knew and lied to them about it!”
Cigarettes were prison money. Every day, each prisoner was given four unfiltered cigarettes of the worst Israeli brand, which had a strong, repellent smell. Prisoners called them “Al-Khantreesh”. In interrogation cells, the number of cigarettes given to prisoners was less. In Al-Maskubiah, for example, a prisoner was entitled to only two cigarettes per day, and if distribution took place during the shift of Arkadi, the Russian policeman, things were even worse because he used to steal part of the prisoners’ ration. I don’t know why he did it. Perhaps he actually liked that particular brand of cigarette!
What concerned me and Kamal more than what we called “intellectual oppression” was the presence in the cells of hidden collaborators – who in the prison lexicon were called birds. In prison, a collaborator is said to have become a bird when prisoners tell each other that someone had “flown”: that is, the bird had flown away to the birds’ cell.
Usually, before a prisoner became a bird and “flew away”, he lived in the prison cell like any other prisoner, although he had probably already agreed to work as a collaborator for the Israeli Intelligence Services (Shabak). The agreement would not have meant fixing his release from prison, but a bird may have been promised other benefits, which, in any case, were modest.
When a bird felt he might be exposed before the other prisoners in the cell, he would prepare himself to flee. During the counting routine, known as “completion” in prison language, when prisoners stood in a big circle as the officer and his assistants counted them, with other officers watching, the bird would wait for his number to be called and then seize the chance to run and hand himself over to the officer.
The runaway bird might already have been interrogated by a special committee of his cell’s faction. Those who are interrogated were often said to have been “cornered”, that is, they were placed in a corner of the cell covered by a blanket, or were surrounded by other prisoners who simply stood there to let him know he had been found out. The bird would then hand himself over to the administration, for them to transfer him to the birds’ cell.
In prison it was commonly believed that not every prisoner who handed himself over to the administration was a bird, and that some just wanted to escape from the harrowing torture they were subjected to, which was always justifiable, given that prisoners endured harsh conditions and that there was no space for leniency with birds and their like.
For someone like me, the phenomenon of the birds was a huge shock, because like the rest of my generation, I had a romanticised view of the struggle and the prisoners. I was further exposed to this phenomenon in the summer of 1981 in Jenin Prison. There was a section with a row of five cells, one for the detainees, in which I was placed, and four others for the birds. That alone was a reason for resentment and disgust, and for posing questions about this phenomenon.
In prison corridors, I saw many prisoners who I knew were birds as, unlike us, they were free to leave their cells at times other than exercise time. They smoked filter cigarettes, and in larger quantities than the “Khantreesh” brand given to other prisoners.
I spotted a tall Syrian prisoner, who I was told was serving a long sentence, walking up and down the corridor. He was relishing his cigarette, without paying attention to anyone. I wondered why he’d become a spy, and ended up living in the cells of shame (another term used to describe bird cells). He remained, in the end, a prisoner like the rest of us; the small “benefits” enjoyed by birds were not very tempting.
One other mission of the bird cells was intended to complete the work of Shabak; a prisoner who withstood interrogation and severe torture without confessing would normally be transferred from the interrogation cells to bird cells. There, he would be celebrated, given a bath after weeks of psychological and physical exhaustion, and supplied with clean underwear. After a few hours of relaxation and of being surrounded by fellow comrades in the struggle, the prisoner would be approached by the chief bird, and asked to give an account of his resistance activities to go to the leadership of his faction. In many cases, the trick worked. It may be that the resistance fighter was too exhausted from the investigation and wanted to end his torture, which lead him, unsuspecting, to comply with the trick. Then he would be summoned once more to the interrogation cells where a Shabak officer would present him with his “confession” in his own handwriting.
There is an ex-prisoner, presently living in Ramla City, who claims that he was the mastermind behind the idea of bird cells. He also claims that he was driven to invent it because of persecution at the hands of his fellow prisoners. He decided to take revenge so he grassed on them, and supervised the creation of bird cells. This story is circulated amongst prisoners, but it may not be accurate.
During the process of writing this testimony, I was reading the memoirs of Issa Al-Bandak (1898–1984), in which he mentions that the phenomenon dates back to earlier times. It may have been the brainchild of men working in the Colonial Office of the British Empire. Al-Bandak recounts his prison experience, in Jerusalem’s AlMaskubiah Prison in July 1938, as a detainee in cell 36, which was full of spies. However, they were called wasps then, perhaps a better description than birds. Al-Bandak does not mention whether, back in those days, there was a library in Al Muskubiah. Today, Al-Maskubiah Prison is called “The Slaughterhouse”: it lacks the pleasure of books, and in that sense, can be considered even worse than military prisons such as Al-Far’ah Prison.
Months later, in the summer of 1982, I found myself amongst the first group of detainees to “inaugurate” a new Israeli military prison in the Jordan Valley. It was an old, abandoned military barracks, built by the British, inherited by the Jordanians and later the Israelis after them, who wanted to inaugurate the facility with detainees, held for no specific reason apart from the authority’s desire to open a new prison at the time of a rise in popular rebellions.
The prison administration was assigned to the Israeli Army and border guards; the latter were a specialized apparatus of repression that formed part of the Israeli Police Force and that had earned a bad reputation amongst Palestinians.
On the way to the new prison, soldiers would use their hands, legs and rifles to beat us prisoners as part of their process of subjugation. This was intended to make us adapt to the new conditions in the detention facility, which was not far from the Far’ah refugee camp.
As we, a group of students, sat on the floor of the military vehicle, we were beaten by members of the border guards. But an unexpected turn of events occurred: the vehicle lost its way and the division responsible for taking to us to the new prison could not find the correct route. All of a sudden, our treatment changed, and the leader of the division asked us politely whether we knew the way to Al-Far’ah. In reality, we were even more ignorant than he was.
The entry ceremony into Al-Far’ah military prison took place by rounding up all the newcomers in front of the prison entrance and beating them en masse, ruthlessly. After the beating session, each prisoner would be asked to repeat the following words on hearing his name: “Yes, Sir,” and to give his number. Throughout their imprisonment, whenever they were called or asked anything by soldiers, prisoners had to give their numbers instead of their names, preceded by the phrase: “Yes, Sir!”
I don’t know how the soldiers knew which prisoner refused to give the required reply “Yes, Sir”, in response to the repeated collective questions during the beating sessions. However, they dragged me to solitary confinement and the beating persisted sporadically. Every time a soldier opened my cell door, called my name and I did not reply with my numerical name and the phrase: “Yes, sir”, he would slap me hard several times. This persisted until the prison doctor, in military uniform, came. The doctor’s duties were mainly formal: he had to examine detainees before their admission to prison and sign papers. The medical examination consisted of a process whereby the doctor sat in his office and, from afar, asked a prisoner, who was surrounded by soldiers, whether he was suffering from anything.
The doctor came to me angry, grumbling and fed up. When he realized I was not uttering the words: “Yes, sir”, I could not even tell where his punches came from, with his stethoscope still checking my chest. He was not even prepared to listen to the words “Yes, sir” that eventually spilled out of the thin body of the 18-year-old man piled up on the floor. No friend would have to ask a colleague who had witnessed his moment of weakness: “Please don’t tell them I cried!”
A few hours later, my friends were relieved when the cell door was opened and I was let in. I did not have to recount what had happened, because we were not in a situation that would have permitted us to exchange anything amidst the whimpers of pain coming out of our thin bodies. We knew that in the morning we would have to organize ourselves and decide on how we were going to confront our coming days in prison. We did not then know how long our stay in prison was going to be.
In Al-Far’ah Prison, everything was primitive. Toilets consisted of holes dug in the ground away from the cells; the counting (Al-Tamam) could happen any time; cells could be opened by soldiers any time of the day or night, and they would take out whomever they wanted, to give work to or to punish – and there was no “Al Fawrah”.
We had to take part in the foundation of this prison: we painted kitchen walls and participated in the completion of many tasks. We tried not to clash with the soldiers, and their leader Gadeer, who, if he wanted, was ruthless, and if he was in a good mood, was lenient.
When the Red Cross visited us two weeks later, our principle demand was for permission to have books. A while later, we also organised ourselves to try to improve our harsh prison conditions.
As often happens in happy surprises, Gadeer opened the door of the prison cell, called me, and in a pompous, joking manner, accompanied by a smile – perhaps to show us that he was not as bad as we thought he was – give me a stack of books, as if he were not that person who had directed the water hose into the cell, as a punishment for a crime we did not know of, leaving us unable to sleep on the flooded floor.
My comrades and I explored the books quickly, and we presumed that they must have passed some form of censorship that would only let in a handful of Islamic books, traditional novels, Colin Wilson mysteries and stories of paranormal powers, while it banned the entry of the Marxist and leftist books that we had demanded from the Red Cross.
In spite of this, being allowed books was an important achievement for us. We were able to sift through them, and find out what we thought we could read. Amongst the books we chose were Sayed Qutb’s works of literature and criticism.
When the time came for my release from Ramallah Prison, I warmly bid farewell to Kamal while glimpsing sadness in his eyes. I appreciated the effort he made to hold back any tear that could have dropped from his eyes onto his cheeks. Years later, I welcomed him in the refugee camp. He had studied at a local university, but faced obstacles; the toll of his incarceration was apparent, and it reflected on his relationships with other people, especially women. He went to Britain, tried working at a number of jobs, and married in order to get a residency permit or citizenship. One of our friends, who had served time in Ramallah Prison with us, and was now living in London, advised them to go on a trip to Palestine so that they could convince the British authorities of the seriousness of their relationship.
Throughout their stay in Palestine, it was apparent to Kamal’s friends and family that his British wife had exploited the beneficial agreement between them as much as she possibly could. She might have even slept with other men for money.
As I have already mentioned, we used to make an effort to restrain ourselves and tell journalists only half the truth about the ugly face of the occupation. Four years ago, when I wrote about my experience and the experiences of my fellow inmates in the terrifying Al-Maskubiah Prison, I avoided, to a large degree, talking about the torture methods that were used on us. This time, the reason was my friends and acquaintances, some of whom had been subjected to these methods, as I was afraid of people thinking that I was retroactively fabricating a history of personal heroism.
Between telling an unbelievable truth and avoiding any friendly accusations, truth in Palestine remains lacking.
The last time Kamal returned to Palestine, he told me he had converted to Christianity and had chosen Protestantism, which upset an Orthodox friend of mine who used to visit me, and who wanted Kamal to become an Orthodox Christian.
Ramallah Prison was transformed into the headquarters of the first president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat lived there until the siege, before he was moved to Paris and succumbed to his fatal illness. He returned as a corpse, to be buried in a grave that became a landmark in the old prison area.
We searched for a suitable church whose services Kamal could attend during his visits to Palestine, which grew longer each time. The Anglican-Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour was the most suitable, but its congregation did not welcome Kamal, most likely because they wished to respect the feelings of their Muslim co-nationals, and not appear as though they were encouraging Muslims to convert to Christianity. Outside prison, there are things that resemble it on the inside; there are things in my country that must be respected by all the different sides.
What now worries Kamal, who admits his failure in many aspects of his life, is that none of his relatives, even his mother, believe that he has actually become a Christian, despite his insistence on his new identity.
He told me that our generation’s problem lies in the fact that nobody believes us, not the foreign journalists, nor our friends and prison comrades, and not even the readers of novels.
Published in Banipal 50 - Prison Writing
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