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Released prisoner speaks

On Monday 3rd December a 25 year old man from An Nabilyas near Qalqilya was released from Naqab prison – one of the 429 prisoners released by Israel as a so-called “goodwill” gesture for the Annapolis peace talks. Mousa had served 6 years of his 12 year sentence. Whilst happy to be free, Mousa’s story highlights the torture techniques implemented by the Israeli forces, and the brutal conditions Palestinian prisoners endure in Israeli prisons.

Arrested in Azzoun, Mousa was initially taken to Petakh Tikva for interrogation – which lasted 78 days. He reports that for the first two days he was interrogated without pause, and was continually beaten. Mousa recounts that up to sixteen Shabbaq members would beat him at a time – kicking and punching him. He was denied sleep, with Israeli forces beating him if he fell asleep. He was regularly suspended from the ceiling by his bound wrists – with just the tips of his toes touching the ground, “like ballet”. For the next eight days he was still beaten continuously, but was occasionally allowed sleep in solitary confinement (known as “zinzana”) for around 30 minutes at a time. After the first ten days the beatings decreased, but he was kept suspended from the ceiling for approximately 14 hours each day whilst being interrogated.

Throughout his interrogation period, threats were made that his whole family would be jailed, with specific threats involving the abuse of his mother and sisters. Attempts were constantly made to force confession for crimes he did not commit, such as specific murder cases. Mousa’s only response would be “I didn’t do it”, which earned him more beatings.

Visits to the bathroom were determined by the mood of the interrogators – sometimes he would be allowed to use bathroom facilities, other times denied for long periods. The only drinking water available to him was in the bathroom, which seemed to him unsafe as it was murky and foul-smelling. Unlike some other prisoners who have reported being starved during their interrogation period, Mousa was fed twice each day, but with only two small pieces of bread, a spoon of yoghurt and half a tomato – barely enough to keep him alive.

After 78 days of interrogation, Mousa was moved to six different prisons during his six years of incarceration. He was finally taken to Naqab (Ketziot) prison where most of the prisoners chosen for the Annapolis release were held. Prisoners were told that they would be released on 21 st November, but this date came and went without release. In fact there were four false promises of release before finally prisoners were freed last Monday. During this time prisoners were kept in inhumane conditions, with insufficient food and blankets. Mousa reports that he was 72kgs when he was sent to Ketziot, but was only 60kgs when released.

Upon release, none of Mousa’s possessions were returned to him – not even his identification card. Prison officials claim that these have been lost, rendering Mousa stranded until he can procure a new identification – a process that can take approximately one month, or longer. Until then Mousa’s situation is extremely precarious, as he can be arrested and returned to jail if he ventures out onto the street without identification.

Mousa claims to be one of only 150 prisoners released who had a significant period of their sentence remaining. The rest, he claims, had only one to two months left, or had even finished their sentences and were kept an extra week or two to be included in the release, a criticism echoed by Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in a complaint made to visiting Israeli Knessett members. Mousa was also extremely critical of the fact that 1818 Palestinians have been arrested since July, and that currently more than 100 men and boys from Azzoun are imprisoned by Israeli forces, stressing that his release was nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Whilst extremely happy to be with his family (his cousin noted: “He has not smiled like this for six years”), Mousa is shocked at the Palestine he has encountered upon his release. For though his parents had told him about the apartheid wall, he was stunned to discover it was so close to his village and just how much Palestinian land it had taken. “I have come from the inside prison to the outside prison.”