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Interview with an ex-political prisoner

Palestinian Prisoners

31 May 2009

Hi. My name is Mansour Hammad. I live in Gaza. All my life I have lived in Gaza. But, I am originally from Na’alaya, in Majdal. I am a refugee in Gaza, and my grandparents came to Gaza when the Nakba, the Catastropher, occurred.

In 1986 when I was 16 years old, I was arrested by the Shen Bet at midnight, in my home in Gaza.

They came into my house, very quietly, I was asleep, but my mother answered the door. She was terrified with all those guns she saw.
They woke me up and placed a gun in front of my head.

I was wearing my pajamas, and was bare foot.

I was handcuffed, and made to walk around 500 metres away from the house, until I came to the outskirt of the Jabalya Refugee Camp.

There they had arrested other boys and men from the camp. They began to beat us up.

I was numbed by the pain, the next thing I knew… my shirt was saturated with blood.

They took us, then, to the Saraya, in Gaza city. They detained us, and began the interrogation procedures.

They demanded I remove every piece of clothing on my body… “zay ma jabtak ammak”, stark naked like the moment of birth.

They made me wear a navy blue overall, which was bloody, sweaty, stinky, and torn. Someone must have been wearing it for a while… I put it on. Then they shaved all my hair off. This is the place that political prisoners call the Maslakh… the slaughtering house. It still drives terror into the soul of many ex-political prisoners.

They beat me up again, and remained for a weak with minimal dirty food and water, and no sleep allowed.

One week later, they took me to Majdal Prison.I cannot ever forget the Israeli soldier who had iron plated his teeth. He was the worse… he did things to me that I have difficulty recounting. Let me just say… that many young men leave their prisons… infertile…

They constantly pressured me into collaborating with them against my people. They would bring in all sorts of pressures. They told me I would be spending around 8~9 years in the prison.

I was transfered from Majdal to Saraya, then to ‘Askalan and to Naf’ha prisons. Then, I was placed in the Naqab prison. I was accused of belonging to the PFLP, and being a “threat to the state of Israel”.

In the Naf’ha prison, I organized an 18 day food strike with the other political prisoners. The living conditions in prison were inhumane… at some point they would let Israeli convicts in other prisons cook for us… do you know what that means? It means they spit in the food, they would stir the soup with a broom… the pans that they cooked for us with, were extremely dirty… it was more than disgusting
We demanded that they bring to us better food.

During the strike, they would bring us chicken, rice and fruit to break us. They brought in the best of food, to break us. Alhough we were tempted, we did not break in, and we maintained an 18-day food strike.

Imprisonment in the 60s, was different that the 70s, was different from the 80s, and 90s, and now…

In the 60s, for instance, they used to pluck your nails out… no one knew about it, since concerned human rights organizations were non-existent to help and spread the word about our conditions.

Other forms of torture were present, that are still ongoing till this date.

There were periods whereby they played Radio Israel for us, the Arabic section, where they played Fairuz daily… and we listened with nostalgia…

Prisons makes you… different. Especially for me, I was sixteen and came out of their prisons at 26. I learned Hebrew, and some English of which I forgot most of it now. The political prisoners make better living conditions for themselves there, they strive, strike… to pressure. It is a continuous war between the prisoner and the guards.

We would play games on them… not for fun… but, out of desperation… sometimes, a man would hang himself in the his cell… just as an act of desperation.. He’d pick the time to be that of the guard shift and the checking of rooms… Once the next guard came in to check, he’d go wild thinking a case of suicide happened… they would open the cell and get our comrade out to be medically checked upon… it was desperation… sometimes a demand would be to get in a comb… it is silly… but, immensely symbolic.

Was it daring or crazy? I say a little bit of both… does a soldier think of what he is getting into at war? No, if he did, he wouldn’t get in… he’d be too afraid just thinking of what would happen… that is the crazy part of it… that you don’t think about the coming events. The daring part of it, is that you would be in, and not get out. You stay in, and fight till your last breath.

Narrated by Mansour Hammad

Written, translated and organized by Natalie Abou Shakra

Jabalya, Palestine