My second thought was that he had been arrested.
And so he was.
They came at two in the morning, with their rifle butts and their jeeps and their concussion grenades and they banged the door and shattered windows and cut off electricity and made everyone stand outside. And then they snatched him away. Just as they snatch people day-in-day-out in the West Bank and in Gaza.
They come night or day, trashing the house or not, snatching them and vanishing without anyone knowing where. Or on what charges. If any. No one informs their families, not even when these are children and their families have no idea whether they are alive or dead. Or tortured and to what extent.t-align: justify; direction: ltr; unicode-bidi: embed"> Sometimes they are lucky and have Israeli friends. And so they find out where the children are. Since Muayed has a friend such as Amal, a famous performing artist and musician, his family discovered he was being held at Ofer detention facility, and engaged the services of Attorney Naila Atiya.
The servants of the state couldn't care less that Muayed had been acquitted just as they wouldn't have cared had he been convicted. The system does not look for guilty men as if that were its purpose (and although guilt is relative, what looks like guilt through one prism appears a just, moral act through another). It would have conducted proper legal procedure based on facts and investigation and evidence.
Muayed is Palestinian. That is his extent, his essence. This is his appellation and of it he is guilty.
Tammi and I first met Muayed about two years ago at Checkpoint Qalandiya. He was then an 18-year old boy at the start of his construction engineering studies at the university in Hebron. That was what his father did and he wanted his son to follow him, although in fact Muayed really wanted to study medicine. To help people, he said. He is from Beit Rima, and used to pass Qalandiya on his way to the university.
I don't remember exactly how we became friends.
I then found out what a tender, profound and sensitive boy he was, how very wise. How he had taught himself Hebrew at a very early age, on his own, just by watching Israel educational TV where a song of his was even performed once, that he had composed and written and performed in Amal Murkus' show. That was how he met her. He bears the sorrows of this world on his shoulders, writes songs of peace and letters of peace in three languages, and these are no clichés.
I recall a conversation with him after he had been in Hebron just a short while, away from home for the first time in his life. It was his first year at school, away from family and childhood friends. He had not gone out on weekends for quite a while because of the checkpoints and the closures and the Occupation's usual abusive restrictions. We spoke on the phone and he told me he was terribly sad. I thought to myself, of course – how he could he not be, an eighteen-year old boy who is not allowed to go anywhere, and whom people can hurt as much as they want wherever he goes, only by force of their being Israelis, without ever being brought to trial, or even seen or reprimanded. Quite the contrary. And I asked him why, not really asking, thinking I knew the answer. And he said, because it is winter and gray, and I am lonely.
And I almost hugged him for that – for sounding, for a short moment, just so normal and poetic and youthful. And I also thought how limited I was to assume that if someone lived under occupation, the extent of his life is that of the Occupation, a thought which in itself is already an exclusion of sorts, a flattening out. And a moment before I tried to find out what he felt exactly and why, and what that loneliness was and whether it was connected to something existential like many of his feelings or something more specific, I was glad. I admit. Perhaps it was wrong of me. But I was glad that he managed to be there in an island all his own, personal and particular and independent and free. That, in fact, his individual fate is a private event and not a mere function of his official, public, symbolic condition, a boy under Occupation, be it as harsh and dominant as it may in the life of the individual. It gave me a strange sense of hope.
Still, more and more the Occupation began to infiltrate every corner of his being. Again and again he would say to me, "Why? Why do people do this to one another?" and he cried, and cried some more, and wrote beautiful poems and letters, many of them in Hebrew, because he is like that, talented. And so I would be able to read them.
Not long before school was out, I recall a moment when he was still in Hebron, sharing his residence with roommates, and they had offended him. Never mind why,
it is personal and I don't want to make it public. But he was terribly hurt and left their home that night and went out in the dark, and there was a moon, he told me the next day, and he sat under a tree and felt he had not a soul in the world. And there were lights on in the mosque so he went in. People there were kind to him and friendly, or seemed to be, and even helped him find another dwelling, and he read some of the Koran and told me some beautiful things written there about peace, about God.
And some more time passed.
He hardly talked any more about things like grayness and solitude. He spoke a lot about checkpoints. And about why people talk and behave and kill the way they do.
That he couldn't understand. And I totally agreed with him because, like him, I really cannot understand how it could be that people kill someone just for having a slightly different skin color or belonging to a different ethnic group. How they prevent a person from entering or exiting somewhere even when there is no grounds for any suspicion, and what in the world could possibly justify this. So we talked, and he was swamped with exams and personal and existential anguish, and the seasons changed and exams ended, and he wrote more and more poems and I suggested he keep a diary, perhaps that would offer some solace. And nearly two years had gone by,
I think. I read and heard countless poems he wrote, he taught me songs I hadn't known, we chatted several times via Messenger, and he looked up our website Mahsanmilim and sent me a link to a site made by another Beit Rima resident, about their community. And then it was summer vacation again and he left Hebron to spend it in Beit Rima.
A short while before Muayed was arrested, war in Lebanon broke out and we spoke on the phone and cried, both of us, stunned, asking the same questions, having seen the same photos of massacred people and houses devastated with people still inside them, and people trying to flee in their cars and being constantly sprayed with bullets. And, like me, he asked why, why, why won't they exchange prisoners? What could be simpler? He said that everyone has a mother, after all these are children, all of them. Children, he said, more generous than myself, calling the soldiers children. I am just not willing to do that. Soldiers are soldiers, I say. He said this, and cried, and wrote another peace song and phoned in and sent it to Israel's educational television channel, and because it was summer vacation he looked for something to do and ways to be of help, and created a summer camp for children at Beit Rima and taught them English, and also looked for ways to collect food and distribute it to people who were really hungry. He told me how amazed he was with what he met, how guilty he felt for having enough to eat when others didn't, and through Amal he tried to raise money for the hungry. She succeeded in raising some, but then Israel people said it was for terror and that funds couldn't be transferred to them.
On Wednesday, September 6, 2006, he was supposed to stand trial. So we went to Ofer Military Base, Tami and I. One never knows in advance whether a court session will actually take place.
I mean, it's probably known but the families are not informed. They arrive in the morning, as early as possible. And wait. Usually in vain. Always for hours on end.
Perhaps there will be trial, not too likely though.
Only two members of each prisoner's immediate family are allowed. Muayed had his father there and his sister Hulud. We are not Palestinians, so our presence is not 'rationed', by the way. We can come and go as we please. Why us, and not the father and mother and sister and everyone else? In the meantime we entered the trials of others. There were the judge and court recorder, and prosecutor and assistant prosecutor, several soldiers, a translator, a defense attorney, and the prisoners brought in groups of four, chained to each other at the feet.
Muayed enters, chained to another young man, I see him furtively looking around, checking out who is there. He sits down, looking around again, his eyes large and bright. He has seen them. His sister and father.
Amal quoted his lawyer as saying he is very fat. And it is true. He really is fat.
I was amazed at what caught their attention.
Muayed, so we learn in court, is accused of belonging to an Islamic organization at the university. And that he was in the religion committed and in the culture committee. The religion committee, according to the evidence, is in charge of keeping the mosque clean. The culture committee, or as the judge dismissively called it, the 'decorations' committee, sometimes posts Koran phrases on the walls, and organizes discussions. Belonging to this organization, we learn, no matter what one does there, entails sitting in prison for at least thirteen months. And it was said that he was seen cleaning the mosque.
He says he does not belong to this organization, because he doesn't belong to it.
He also says that when he sees filth he normally picks it up. The lawyer had questioned the witness who made these claims, and he said he had indeed said this, but was not telling the truth. And he explained. And said he doesn't really know this. Everything sounds highly reasonable. Although in such trials, sold in advance, this does not really make a difference.
The next court session was set for September 27th, to hear the next witness. He waved us goodbye and was gone. And that was that. He was there and then he wasn't. It was terribly strange. We came to the court often afterwards, perhaps nine times. We would arrive to sit in on his case, which was not always heard, and during those days at court we saw terrible things. We learned that in a military court, if you are Palestinian you are held guilty unless proven otherwise. We learned that everything is fiction.
A show. We learned that Palestinian lives are there for the taking. That arrest has nothing to do with guilt or suspected guilt, and that this entire system, especially the General Security Services ever-present behind the scenes, their jaws wide open, as well as many of the defense attorneys, all serve the Occupation rather than the truth of what actually happens, or exercising justice, even remotely.
This is an Occupation-supporting mechanism, not a court of justice. The fate of most of the people tried there is pre-determined, regardless of what they did or did not do.
Or why they did it. For it is not really investigated.
On December 14th, after four and a half months in jail, he was released. Acquitted. Released for all the wrong reasons, inherent to persecution and racism and the Occupation. Not because he is less guilty than others, but because unlike others, he is visible. Because 'worthy' people saw him. Were with him. Noticed him. People of the 'right' race.
A soldier who is always at the court told us that for the past three years, among the many thousands of detainees arriving at Ofer he recalls perhaps only twenty or thirty who were ever acquitted. Acquitted? Doesn't make sense, they all said. The soldiers raised eyebrows while ticking away with their SMS, or while trying to keep parents from talking with their children whom they only get to see here. Acquitted! jumped the prosecutor, on this – his first appearance at this trial. No, I object! But you haven't read the file, said Naila. So what? I object. Not acquitted. Impossible. Not acquitted.
"You know," Muayed said to me a few days ago, "after Amal called and said she would be in Jerusalem on Tuesday, and I cannot come to meet her, I wondered why
I couldn't come. What was I guilty of? Only of being Palestinian. That is my guilt.
I could find no other answer."
"It was Tuesday, dawn, August 1st 2006. I was asleep next to my brother, my parents in the next room. I woke up from sounds of a concussion grenade, breaking glass in the house. Mother came into our room and told us to be quiet.
Father went out. The soldiers are here. And then father told us all to get out.
It was dark. They cut off the electric current, and we were in our pajamas, barefoot. I felt shards of glass in my feet.
We all went out and stood there, in the bitter cold, myself and my father and mother and four brothers and two sisters: Mahdi (16), Ahmad (11), Taqi (12), and Shireen and Hulud and Jum'a. We didn't know what was going on.
I had a very strange feeling.
Outside there were lots of jeeps, ten or twelve. There was really loud banging on the door, I don't know why. They woke up all the neighbors, the whole neighborhood was up.
Then they said everyone should get their IDs. The officer spoke Arabic, the soldiers Hebrew. We went in and brought our IDs, and they checked each one. When it was my turn, they said 'We want you.' My mother burst out crying.
I couldn't do a thing.
The officer said I did something bad, and he was taking me away. I wondered what I had done, I didn't do a thing.
They told me to put my pants on, quickly. Three soldiers came in with me, pointing their guns and torches at me, the rest of the soldiers stayed outside, my mother came as well, to get me some clothes from my parents' bedroom. She handed me some clothes to put on, my shoes were next to my bed so I put them on. The weapons and torches were kept pointed at us the whole time. I was too embarrassed to get undressed so I put on my street clothes over my pajamas.
I took my wallet, too, and money, and my university card. The family was already inside the house. I came out and was alone.
They tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded me. A car stood further away, and I was told to walk faster and they pushed me. They spoke Hebrew but I could understand. I was being pushed from behind, I don't know by how many.
In those moments I couldn't think about anything. I told myself I was dreaming. I was in shock.
They told me to get in the car. It was large, the kind they use to pick up detainees. They pushed and hurried me up. I was alone in the car with all the soldiers. They tied my eyes with some white piece of cloth. I could see my feet below, and where I was stepping. We took off and I had no idea what was going on. The car drove on and I was waiting to see what would happen.
I was taken to some place called Halamish, I think. Some twenty-odd houses. I was helped out of the car. A soldier took me by the hand and I walked. We reached a room, sort of a small trailer. They took me to see a doctor, I think.
I stood there, blindfolded, and he asked me in some Arabic and in Hebrew whether I had any illness. I felt it wasn't really practical. Just for the paperwork. When they write down things but aren't really interested. I told him I once fractured my right leg. And about some other injuries. And that was that.
I was taken outside. Waited for half an hour on a bench. And a soldier kept watch. He didn't speak to me. We drove once more, I didn't know where. But I think it was a place that is only for soldiers. Not far.
Again I waited, and a soldier stood watch real close. Told me to sit tight and not look sideways. I was blindfolded and he was telling me not to look anywhere.
I was seated outside there for about two hours. On concrete. A bench. I'm not sure. I heard them talking. They were near. They were saying very unpleasant things.
They said, "What shall we do with this dog? Why did we all have to go all that way just for him?" Things I don't want to remember. I felt they were abusing me, to frighten me. On purpose.
Then they tied my feet too, not just my hands. And we drove to Binyamin.
I didn't know where we were going. I was only told that later by my friends.
They put me on the floor of the jeep. Two soldiers sat in front, two in back, and I on the floor in the middle. In the jeep no one talked. I was tied, and covered, and once in a while they lit a torch to look at me. I wondered why they were doing this. Perhaps they thought I'd run away. Perhaps they were frightened.
My feet were tied really tight, I could no longer feel or move them.
I told them I don't feel my feet anymore.
They said, 'Wait, we'll get there."
They cuffed my feet with these plastic clips. It's tighter and stronger than steel shackles. It hurts.
Then we arrived. I was told to get off but couldn't move my feet. I no longer felt them. I couldn't get down. No matter what they did. They unshackled my feet and left the jeep. Waited outside. Half an hour later I felt my feet again. Then they took me down. Or I got out by myself. I don't remember.
I was outside the prison, but didn't know it then. They brought me into a room with a woman-soldier. She took everything I had on me. A hundred shekels.
My student card. Everything I had in my wallet. We talked. She gave me a copy of the form she filled. I heard her telling them they were not bringing in some criminal or terrorist, just a poor guy. Why? They did not answer her. Then they put me inside the zinzana, the hold. A cell one meter by two. Concrete.
I wondered what they intended to do with me. Where they would take me.
I didn't know what to expect.
Then they photographed me and put me in Binyamin. Binyamin is the place where people are kept until they are convicted. It's also called transit. There are three tents. Two on one side, one on the other side. A fence separates them. They asked me if I was Hamas or Fatah. I said I was not interested in these things.
I am with whoever I pray with. So they put me where they thought people are all Hamas. But it's not true. There's everything there.
I went in, and there were many people praying. I washed my face and joined immediately. After the prayer they said I was in Binyamin and that 'we're all with you, don't be afraid.' They asked how and why I got there. And went to sleep.
I had a bunk. Given to me. And a mattress and a blanket. Some prisoners slept on the floor, for there was not enough room, but on mattresses. And with blankets. I couldn't sleep. I was in shock. I thought it would be over, quickly. And every second felt like a year. Why am I here? And what's going to happen to me? Why was I brought here? I was counting seconds.
In the morning food was brought in, I didn't touch it. I didn't notice it. That whole first day there I was in a state of shock, I think. Trying to ask why I was here, and was told to wait. They don't know yet. That's how I got to know the shaweesh.
We have this rule in prison, that one of the detainees, an Arab, stands guard all night. Sometimes two. Then they sleep in the morning. That's what we did. The soldiers couldn't care less. So we would choose someone good who was strong enough to argue.
He would wake people up at 3 a.m. for prayers. Watch over anyone who was sick. Wake people up for the headcount. Alert us when soldiers were around.
His turn came before mine. Then he was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years in prison and transferred to Ramle prison.
He made inquiries on my behalf. I wanted to get in touch with my parents, but it didn't work. Nothing was said. Nothing explained.
I was afraid there would be no end to this. That I was going to stay here for a long time. I had no idea what was happening. And why me. I thought that if I had known, it would give me some hope that I'd finally go home.
Then I went on a hunger strike. I wouldn't rest. I said this is the end. So let it be the end. And I did not eat. For three days. Because I wanted to know what was going on with me. Some friends were already sitting in jail a second time. And I can't go on like this. So I went on a hunger strike, to do something with how I felt. And I had no one to talk to. Even if I did, I felt I just had to do something.
I prayed and did some other things. But I just didn't eat. And then one guy asked why I wasn't eating. And I told him. And he said, 'I wish we were all like you. What can we do. We must eat.'
At the end of the third day they talked me out of it. They helped me. I remember I wanted to eat something, and did, and then threw it all up. I also met many people. From Jericho, Nablus, Ramallah.
So friends also gave me some toothpaste, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, underpants.
So I could change.
The army gave us nothing. Only friends did.
Just once, in Ayalon prison, Ramle, after I had already spent about four months in jail, I was given some toothpaste and a little bit of shampoo bottle and a brush. It was barely enough for five days. Nothing. Not a real supply.
Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. There was enough food… We'd eat on the floor. It's concrete. The soldiers bring the food but we prepare it. Arrange everything. Clean up. We have our regulations. I mean there are army regulations, and then our own rules.
There's the headcount procedure. Wakeup is at 5 a.m., morning count at 5:30 a.m. The shaweesh wakes the men up. Then there is a headcount at 1:30-2 p.m., and in the evening between 6 and 9 p.m. At headcount we'd all stand outside at the prison yard and they'd count us. There were about eighty of us. Forty-two in our tent, and forty in the other. So everyone would get out. Stand in lines of ten.
We had to take off any head covering, caps, sometimes call out names, sometimes not.
And we'd be counted. Two soldiers do the counting, and an officer.
Was there anyone ever missing? Yes, they'd gone to the bathroom. Not serious.
Sometimes there were searches. Not every time. Suddenly. They'd come in, send us over to the other side of the tents. Search everything. Sometimes body searches. With instruments. When we'd get back, we'd find everything messed up. The beddings all thrown on the floor, mattresses strewn… Sometimes they took stuff. We were not allowed to have mirrors. They said glass might be used to injure soldiers.
And they'd take out all sorts of things. Take them. Especially after visits by the Prison Services.
Everyone was waiting. No one knew anything. Kids. Some sixteen-year olds. Not criminals. Play some, read some. Chess, backgammon. After morning prayers, waiting for noon prayers. Waiting.
There's a fence around all the tents. And the soldiers are outside. Two patrolling around. And some in the watchtower. And then there's whatever goes on inside one's heart.
On the fourth day I was taken to the GSS. They came, called out a few names, shackled our hands and feet and took us away. We waited all day. It was outside the trailer. The sun was beating down hard.
We sat there from eight in the morning until six in the evening. All chained to each other's feet. We'd go in one by one. Stayed until the last of us went in.
We were hungry. Asked for breakfast. They didn't give us any food.
Some people came to the GSS questioning from outside the prison. They too were shackled and blindfolded. We were told not to speak to them and not give them anything. Even going to the bathroom they were kept shackled.
There I found another friend, a soldier. He watched over us. A guy called Gordon, who had come from Ethiopia.
I was the only Hebrew-speaker among us. I walked over to him. I asked him, 'What's your name, where are you from?' He asked me why I was here. I said I don't know. It was four days after my arrest. And he said, 'When you've been here for eight days, if there's nothing found against you, you get out.'
My second meeting with him was at the court, in the third month. He entered the courtroom and listened, and said to me: 'Is this what they're trying you for? This?' He was amazed.
A soldier, your friend? Yes. There are soldiers who regarded us as animals, and it hurt me. And there were some who no longer did. People are both good and bad. Everyone, no matter what they are. The good and the bad are there inside in various measures. Some have more good in them. In different ways. And he is like me, he's young, he has dreams. And he doesn't want to be here.
Yes, a friend.
Finally I went in. Around 3:30 p.m. And I was told that I belong to Al Qutla Al Islamiya, and that a guy called Hamza Abu Sneina said so-and-so about me.
I denied everything, said I did not belong to Al Qutl Al islamiya, and if I pray that doesn't mean I belong to it.
The investigator wore regular clothes. He let me sit, but not everyone. Some people who were with me were kicked. All over. I wasn't. So he talked, and finally he said some really bad things. He said, 'You Arabs, we're going to come and kill you all, even the little ones.' Maybe he talked like that to make me say something. I couldn't do a thing.
It all took about half an hour. Then he told me to sign. I said I wouldn't sign. He asked, 'Did they tell you, teach you?' I said, 'First of all, I'm not guilty of what you're accusing me, and second, I don't know what you wrote down here, I can't read Hebrew that well. In my place you wouldn't sign either, would you?' He said, 'That’s right.'
He stopped and I had my fingerprints taken and it was over. And he told me to go back to Ofer Camp. And that we'd see in court. I told him I believed that if I hadn't done anything, I'd be going home. 'We'll see in court', he said.
But after he said that, I felt I had gotten in even deeper. I went out and we waited until everyone had had their turn.
They brought us back at around 5 or 6:30 p.m. We had supper and went to sleep. It was still the beginning for me, and I thought it was all a mistake, that in two or three days I'd be going home. But afterwards it really hit me. Hard to explain exactly.
About three or four days after the GSS interrogation, where they told me what they were accusing me of, I was taken to court for the first time. On the previous evening I was told I'd be going to court the next day. At 7 o'clock.
Breakfast is brought at 8:30 a.m. So there's no food yet when people are taken to court.
About four or five guys from Binyamin were taken to court with me. Coming out of the tent, we were shackled, hands and feet. Does it hurt? Your feet hurt when you walk, your hands hurt all the time.
Then we were tied to each other, in pairs. And put into a minibus. The door was closed and they went away. It was at seven in the morning. We sat there, shut in like that until 9 o'clock. Then we were taken to the hold. By 9 one had to be at court. Sometimes we'd be taken to the hold earlier.
It's very difficult to be in the hold. It's a tiny cell, dark, with a door and a small window. And a shnees (everyone calls it shnees). A little opening in the door, about 8 cm. by 8 cm., through which food and water are brought. Something hangs on it, locking it from the outside.
As long as soldiers watched over us, they'd take the shackles off while we were in the hold, and put them on again only when they left. When the Prison Services were in charge, we were shackled all the time. There's some light in the middle.
But it's dim. And we waited for a very long time. We'd get there before 9 a.m., and stay there until 4, 5 or 5:30 in the afternoon, until everyone had been in court.
The hold is 2 meters by 2 meters, sometimes there are eighteen people inside. Standing, sitting on the floor. It was very crowded. Concrete benches. A concrete cell. And extremelyi cold in winter. And I couldn’t breathe very well.
I remember during Ramadan, I had a court session. We sat in the hold. They'd brought us back to Binyamin late. We had fasted all day. And it was late. Past
6 o'clock. And we had not eaten anything. And no light was turned on for us. Maybe on purpose.
On court days we'd eat once before noon. Get water. Go to the bathroom once or twice. Sometimes the soldiers would refuse us. And so we would not go to the bathroom at all.
Sometimes a soldier stood guard, but we didn't see him. Only sometimes they peep through the shnees.
It's hard. One counts every second that goes by.
Sometimes I was there with people I don't know, at others with people I knew.
With people I didn't know it was really strange. Especially as it was so crowded. Once I didn't know anyone. I tried. It was hard. And I could hardly breathe.
Anyway, my first time in court, I was put in the hold, waited until noon. Then I was brought into the courtroom and found Naila Atiya, my attorney, saw her for the first time. And there were my sister Hulud and my father. We waited and then they said there was no charge sheet against me. In the meantime, others were tried. But after about half an hour, we did get an indictment. She was afraid that no indictment would mean a secret file. And that would lead to administrative detention. I knew what that is, I was told about it in prison. I didn't know before.
She told the judge she needed to read and prepare the case, and asked for a two-week postponement. The prosecution asked for an open case, which means one hundred and ten days in which the file is not opened. For investigation purposes.
Naila refused and demanded fifteen days. Said this was a minor case, with no evidence. So the Judge accepted this. And gave her the postponement she asked for.
So how did you feel? Terrible. I had had faith, for I hadn't done anything. So I knew I would have to be allowed to go home. That my arrest was a mistake.
That it was impossible to be arrested just like that, without having done anything. I couldn't believe what was happening to me. And after Naila said 'postponement' and that I was staying in prison, I still couldn't believe it.
Not really. And started counting the days.
The time I spent at Binyamin felt like a whole year. I was like a felled tree. Or a fruit that fallen to the ground. That's how I was. I didn't know what was going on with me. What went on in the world. There was no radio, no newspapers, and there were twelve and seventeen year-olds, even seventy and eighty year-olds. The really young, I think, are transferred to Tel Mond prison which is for boys under the age of eighteen. But there were a few. Later there was Mahdi, seventeen years old, who was preparing for his matriculation exams. From
Bitunia. He was sentenced to thirteen months. About three months ahead of me. I taught him math and physics. He talked with me. Maybe it made him feel good. Me too.
I was in Binyamin for twelve days until I was taken to 'the blocks'. Binyamin is the detention facility for people who have not been tried yet. In the 'blocks' there are both kinds. It's a little better. At Binyamin there's no fire, no television, no electricity.
Just a mattress and blanket. And there were mosquitoes at night. Thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands, making sleep impossible. And little yellow lights. Not real lighting. And cold. Very cold.
There were two latrines and two showers but no hot water. We spoke up, we complained. They said they'd fix it, but didn't.
At the 'block' which was also a tent, there was hot water, electricity, television, hot stone plates for baking. And lighting. But the wooden bunks were full of fleas. And many people had sores. They complained. We were told it was nothing. Me too. They gave us some ointment once, but it didn't help.
Nathan, the so-called medic, would keep coming to us in the 'block', asking what the matter was, if anyone was ill, but didn't do a thing. At times they'd take whoever was ill for treatment, at others not. Sometimes a doctor would be brought, usually not.
There was one fellow who had some nerve problem in his hand. He came after me. Had undergone hand surgery in Jordan. He came here and was taken to prison. He said he had a nerve condition and needed massage treatment and such but he was not given anything in jail. And his body kept getting more and more paralyzed. That hurt me.
There was a person who had a bullet wound in his back. He had been treated in the hospital but that was discontinued in jail. He couldn't sleep on it, and he wasn't helped, not taken to hospital. He suffered everyday, everyday, and was only given iodine. And the shaweesh asked for him to be taken to hospital. And they kept saying they would but didn't.
There was a guy there by the name of Mu'al Gazawi, who was dying. He was ill, a long time. He was in very serious condition. He was an administrative detainee and was given another six months of detention and was really ill.
Perhaps he recovered, I don't know. Maybe he died. And there were many cases.
You know, I met a person on a wheelchair at the Ramle court. He told me his story, that he was beaten up. They did something really bad to him, and he lost his leg movement. He could no longer walk. He was in court, sentenced to thirteen months in prison. They said he was in the Al Aqsa Brigades, and beat him like that in his interrogation, so now he could no longer stand and walk on his legs. He is held in Ramle. They don't care about us.
At the the 'blocks' we were about nine hundred and ninety. In the tent we were twenty-two. It was a large tent.
I had one set of clothes and pajamas, which I had on when I was brought in. They'd give us soap powder. So one guy would stay dressed, and the other wash his clothes. I was already in the 'blocks' when the Prison Services replaced the soldiers. and then some of us got coats.
They came to our 'block', giving them out. I didn't take one. There weren't any left by the time my turn came. I got pants and a shirt. They said there were no more coats and they'll check. But they brought nothing more.
It's hard, but people manage. We have these rules. Not the army's. I told you.
Like being woken up for morning prayers at 3 a.m. Back to sleep at 4:30 a.m.
and then getting up at 8:30.
Eat breakfast. Then people get tidied up, work in the kitchen. Bake bread. Some tidy up the yard around the tent. If I was a good baker, I'd work in the small kitchen. Whoever was good with books and reading he'd go to the library. So practically everyone did something. Cook, clean up, guard at night. I was in the library. I'd sort out the science books on one shelf, poetry on another, keep track of the lists, note down who took out which book. There were some books supplied by the Red Cross, others brought to us by visitors.
In the 'blocks' there was a shaweesh just as in Binyamin, but not just one or two.
They'd be changed every day.
We had visits. Once every fifteen-twenty days. When soldiers were in charge visitors could bring us anything. Twenty kilos of food. And clothes. Except for cell phones. And whatever was forbidden. Since the Prison Services took over, we could receive nothing but olives and some thyme.
I had one visit.
Because at every visit date I had a court session. My parents came at
the Eid Al Fitr holiday. A one-hour visit.
Did they steal?
Sometimes they stole. We would make nice things, handicrafts, like I made for you. Sometimes they'd take them, but rarely.
Not all of us were moved from Binyamin to the 'blocks'. Just a few. One, two. Some were sent to the Negev prison. I was saying goodbye to people every single day. It was difficult. I parted with hundreds of friends. First in Binyamin, and then everyone would change and go either to Ofer, I mean to the 'blocks', or to the Negev, or released. Not many. And so every day I was losing family. Got to know them, got used to them, and then they'd leave. It hurt me very much. Or that I'd leave. At Ofer there were only myself and a few friends left. And there was nothing we could do. Because everyone was imprisoned.
Since I was there about five or six people have been released.
Some sat for two or three years. One had thirty-one months of administrative detention. No indictment. That's how it is. And there are children. I told you. There were people from everywhere, even from Gaza. Abu Shamali.
There were two detainees from Egypt that were done, but Egypt wouldn't let them in. They finished their prison term but were forced to stay in mail.
Everything I liked and got used to was gone. Every single person I eventually grew to like would be gone. I felt that other inmates also sensed that. When someone was taken away to another 'block' we would get closer to feel confident.
I even remember once crying at Binyamin when we took leave of friends.
Myself and several others lost friends. Not everyone.
I know two fellows who were taken to the 'blocks' and I saw them three more times. Then they were moved to Megiddo and Ashkelon prisons. And that was that. I didn't see them again. Perhaps I never will. Some got six months' administrative detention. Not yet tried. They would be moved just like that. You know what that is, no trial, no indictment, no set time. Just so.
First I really had trouble breathing. My breathing is not good. There is a lot of dust in the tents, and I had a hard time, and it was crowded. The hold was scary.
As we waited for the trial, in this 2 meters by 2 meters cell, with lots of others, smoking, when I asked the guard to take me to another room he said there was no room to keep me. I told him it wasn’t my fault. 'You're staying', he said, and I couldn't do a thing. Almost from the beginning I told this to the shaweesh and he put me on the sick list for the doctor every day.
We talk to the shaweesh and he gives the list to the army. They first received me after three months' time. I went to the doctor. Before me was someone whose arm was broken. When he got back with his arm in a cast, one of the guards said to the medic to plastered it, 'You shouldn't have done that, you're not a doctor.'
He said this in front of us. The other guy told him, 'Shut up, you don't know what you're talking about. They understand Hebrew.' You see? Unauthorized, and he did it. I was worried about that.
The whole time I was in jail I didn't feel I really slept. Or rather, I slept but constantly worried. You never know what tomorrow brings.
Time is money. We tried to get whatever we could out of this time with which there was nothing to do: study everything, get to know people, learn about life.
I even learned how to cook there. And how to talk to people. All sorts of things.
There are so many people. Teachers and doctors. These are not ignorant people. Not criminals. All of them studied at the university. Not regular people who don't understand anything.
You know, it's like I don't feel my life. As though I'm not there. I do things that I don't do. I think its me imagining that I'm not in my life. Sort of unreal. As though my body there eats and I don't taste anything. I don't feel that I'm in my body, as though it's a body without a soul.
A feeling as though a person has no worth. Nothing, this whole life is worth nothing. Looking at a person whose life is worthless.
It's hard for me, looking like this.
There was something there that was especially hard for me. That hurt me deeply. There was this man from Jenin. His wife could not come to visit him, she had no permit. He was under administrative detention for six months. Then it was re-implemented for another four and a half months.
Administrative. Meaning there was a court session and no indictment. No file. A lawyer can do nothing. And he had one visit by his children, the first visit after six months. His children could visit, they were only ten and twelve years old.
The visiting spot is this open place surrounded by a fence. Inside there is a fence between the visitors and the detainees. A fence that separates parents and detainees. It's a metal net on top and closed underneath.
The kids are small, they couldn't see so they jumped, they were jumping up in order to see him. And he told me he wept. He could not look in their eyes. So they would not see him crying.
Once we had a little party and all of us were gay and sang, and the soldiers outside the fence told us to shut up and stop making noise, I felt they were upset that we were having fun. Unhappy because we were enjoying ourselves. Still we had fun.
I was taken to Ramle sometime in the last two weeks. There was a problem between the Hamas and Fatah people. They quarreled and all of them were moved to Ramle at night, even those who were not involved. I had to leave everything there - clothes, notebook. Everything. Had on me just the clothes
I was wearing that day.
First we were taken to Ayalon prison. I remember the first day, we were twelve in one room, ten bunks, no mattresses, no blankets. Some men slept on the floor, I was one of them.
We said we wanted beds, they said they had none left. 'We'll bring some tomorrow morning.' No blankets either.
I didn't sleep all night. Others, too, had no mattresses or blankets. Only bunks. The next day, at noon, they brought a mattress and a blanket. The men who came there with me went to different rooms, not with me. Just one from Ofer was with me in the room. We were eleven. Again it was hard to part with friends.
I spent two and a half weeks in Ramle. First at Ayalon and later at Nitzan prison. In Nitzan we had television, our own rules, books. Not like at Ofer. There's walking time. But the doors are made of iron, closed electronically, and it's hard. Eleven people in a room. In Ayalon we were twelve. Ayalon is the transit station in Ramle. Nitzan is better. There's a cantine. At Ayalon there's nothing. No tea, no sugar, no salt. Just what they bring. We were hungry. I was there for a week and a half. And one week at Nitzan. Approximately.
At Ofer we were all together, not in rooms. Better that way. In Ramle we were in rooms. That made me sad. But the good thing about Ramle was that we could all eat and drink together. I would buy some bisquits for everybody, for example. Everyone shares everythings. There's no private property. At Ofer there was nothing.
There was something really painful for me. When we were taken from Ramle to go to court, there was an elderly guy shackled to me, and he told the soldiers it hurt. They used to really tie us up tight. Really really tight. And they said, 'So what if it hurts? Think you're at some resort? At home?' We got out and there was this dog. It was the police dog barking all the time, rearing to jump at us. This sight reminded me of the blacks, the slaves. That really hurt.
The second time I was in court, two weeks after the first session, I was already staying at the 'blocks'. It was 8:30 a.m. and I was led to the hold. Until noon. Then I entered the courtroom… The witnesses hadn't arrived. And you did, and Hulud and my father. And then the judge put off the proceedings for another twenty days.
I was stunned, what can I say. When Naila said there would be another postponement, it was a real disappointment.
It got harder every time.
Then after twenty days she didn't come. Another postponement, again she didn't come. And then they postponed the session another twenty-eight days.
It was like that wasn't really me there. Like a dream. And not a dream.
And at the next session she arrived late, at the end. You remember. And the court attendant said they must close at 5 p.m. And my father and mother weren't there, they were not allowed in… I was terribly disappointed. I was supposed to have a visit that day and missed it. And then came this postponement and I was very depressed. At the fifth hearing, she questioned the first witnessed. Hamza Abu Sneina. She told me to keep my head hidden so he wouldn't recognize me and he spoke, and then they postponed the proceeding for another two weeks. For the second witness. At the sixth hearing , she didn't show up again. At the seventh I spent the whole day in the hold and was finally taken back to jail without entering the courtroom, I don't know why. When I said this to the soldier, he said 'Shut up, who do you think you are?' So I wasn't there and there was no trial. At the eighth hearing, she added the records of the interrogation of the witness who did not mention me in his testimony, and we finished with the second witness. Then they postpone things until reading the verdict, for eighteen days. Then she didn't come again, and we had to wait another week. Then again she didn't arrive. It was a visiting day so I went to the visit area but didn't find my parents. They were at court so they didn't make it to the visit. At hearing number eleven they forgot to bring me to court. That's what I was told. But Judge Amir Dahan decided, and on November 15th again there was a postponement, and the judge said that it would be finished the next time. And then he acquitted me. Judge Amir Dahan acaquitted me.
I was happy with my acquittal, but I don’t know, it felt weird not knowing whether to believe it or not. I tried to be patient. I got back to Ramle and my friends said that many people were acquitted and still not released. Someone told me he too was acquitted and then placed in administrative detention, and he's been an administrative detainee for three months after being acquitted. So days went by and I was glad, and worried, and asked the shaweesh (in Ramle he is the prisoners' spokesman) why I wasn't being released. And I no longer believed I would be. Then, the night they let me out, on December 14th, on that day I told the shaweesh to ask what was happening, and he told me that at six I would be released. I didn't believe it. Then he said, 'I'm telling you the truth. Go get your stuff.' I said, 'What are you saying?' He told me to get ready.
I had nothing. I had a bag with nothing in it. Just a few things from the cantine. I said goodbye to the guys in my room. They wouldn't let me say goodbye in many other rooms. They said, go no now. It was also hard to say goodbye.
Glad that I was going home, not glad to part with friends.
Then I went out to the office, they looked at my papers. Asked my name, identified me. I took the release note, went downstairs, they shackled my hands and feet, let me wait outside, then they put me in a car and we left.
They said they'd drop me off near Modi'in. They left me there. I said I have nothing on me, no money, no ID. What cloud I do? 'Do whatever you want.
We can't help you.'
And they unshackled me. And I walked. Didn't know my way around. Then I found a car near Beit Sira, waiting for workers. I told them I had been in prison and wanted to get back home, so the driver took me to Beit Rima.
It cost 150 shekel. My parents paid.
Muayed is free. I remember him telling me once about the drive from Ofer to Ramle, 'You know, in the car to Ramle we crossed checkpoints and roads, and I realized that if I were free I wouldn't be allowed to cross these checkpoints, and now that I'm detained I'm crossing.' He found it strange. In Ramle, he said, there was a hole in the wall or fence of the yard, and he looked out for a moment and saw Ramle, that Ramle that he is only allowed to see if he is in prison. If he were not a prisoner, he could not see it.
Much is still to be told about Muayed. About his delicacy, his profound mind, his spirit, his ideas about reality and where he stops and pays attention, and how. Muayed is a young person who is now maturing, a fledgling world of possibilities all aglitter. He is different and special by any standard and in any context, among his peers and kin and culture and society, standing there apart and alone, particular and enlightened.
But as for the fact that on a certain Tuesday night, the forces of Occupation and oppression came and frightened his brothers and arrested him and broke the windows of his home and brutally snatched him away, took him like some object or less and stuck him in prison for some absurd, prefabricated accusation without a chance to be seen in his own specificity, in his deeds and spirit and mind and identity, in this sense Muayed is just one of many. Not different, not special, not a being apart. For in the eyes of the conqueror Muayed has no individual identity. No proper name. Just a flattening, negating, racist, evil appellation. The name that is his national identity. Palestinian.
Muayed told me that when he was moved from Ayalon to Nitzan, shackled hand and foot, and apparently his data had not been forwarded from one jail to the next, he had to run back and forth, pushed hurriedly to and fro, shackled, all the while holding his one bag containing next to nothing, heavy and superfluous, he was profoundly offended because the soldier who walked next to him carrying nothing did not offer him any help whatsoever. Not even to carry his bag at least.
'Then I realized why he didn't offer me any help, his reason. And I was insulted. And that hurt.' This is what Muayed said.
I think that the fact that Muayed was so insulted by this soldier, so deeply hurt, is also his own victory over Occupation and racism, his own very unique freedom.
Muayed , unlike everyone who participates in the Occupation and therefore necessarily seeing him not as a human but as a human principle – he, the occupied, the trampled and flattened regards the unseeing one as a human, a person.
He does not see a symbol. Not an occupier per se. Not a soldier. He sees a man that has a name, that is differentiated, apart from his title, that is himself. A human being. One of many. And why, he wonders, agitated, why does that certain human being not help me seeing me barely walking. For me, Muayed's insult is also his radical demand for the soldier's humanity. It's a possibility.
He refuses to see a human principle, or be one. He does not see the soldier as the embodiment of a soldier-defined identity. He insists on seeing a differentiated individual that contains a possible specificity. A possible humanity. Not a mere principle but one that has a face.
Had he seen a principle, a mere soldier, he would not have been so stunned. For how could he be amazed. And he, after all he is just a Palestinian.
His insistence to see
himself separate and specific and see the soldier as separate and
specific as well, this is Muayed's absolute humanity and his triumph.
And his very own special kind of freedom.