The Prisoners’ Diaries

I was afraid to read this book. Afraid of the horror and pain I might find in its pages. Which was why the book sat idly on my coffee table for a few months before I finally picked it up and started reading.

Did you know that administrative detention in the bizarre legal system of “the only democracy in the Middle East” allows Israel to hold Palestinian political activists indefinitely and without charge or trial? A person can be held for years, even decades, under administrative detention.

Did you know that over 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank have spent time in Israeli detention or prisons and no Palestinian families have not been touched by the scourge of mass imprisonment as a mechanism of suppression? Since the beginning of Israeli occupation, over 800,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel, which is about 20% of the total Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

The Prisoners’ Diaries” is a collection of stories written by Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. 16… 18… 22… 24… 29… 32… 33 years. That was how long they were imprisoned for the crime of wanting to free their homeland from occupation. Hassan Salama was held in solitary confinement for 13 years.

All of them speak of the pain of separation from their loved ones. Yet, those are the very people who gave them strength to face the cruelty of their jailors. Parents missed their children’s childhood. Fathers missed giving away their daughters at their weddings. When Kahera Asl’adi was imprisoned, two of her children were sent to an orphanage and she didn’t know the fate of the other two.

When Palestinians arrive at the prisons, they face interrogation and torture, which may last months. The Israelis do not discriminate between male and female when it comes to torturing their prisoners. For female prisoners, there is also the threat of rape.

During one of the interrogation sessions that Sana’a Shihada had to endure, the jailors brought a mobile phone and called her mother. They threatened to demolish her home and made her listen to the sound of bulldozers surrounding her home and the shouting of her parents as they tried to stop the demolition.

A cat found its way into Wafa Albis’s prison cell and became her companion. The cat gave birth to kittens and they became Wafa’s source of joy. When the jailors found the cats and knew they made her happy, they killed the cats and threw them into the garbage.

Denial of medical attention is common, if not standard practice. When a prisoner is allowed to see a doctor, the “treatment” is used as another tool to humiliate the prisoner.

As I read the final pages of this book, I felt deep respect and awe for the Palestinians. I envy them, because I’m not sure I have the courage and strength to endure what they endure.

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