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Interview sheds light on Israeli prison-colonial complex

29 August 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

Conversations are strange over here. When you are told a horrible story by somebody, or you hear yet another example of the brutality Palestinians experience as part of their daily lives, you find yourself eerily laughing along with them. It’s as if the spectrum of human emotions has buckled under strain and flipped back on itself, making up become downward and left turn into right. Perhaps this was just a coping mechanism.

Such was the atmosphere when we interviewed Bardran Jabbal , a geography and sociology lecturer at Hebron Polytechnic University. We went to interview him following the arrest of four people on his street, along with roughly 120 others from Hebron that same night of Saturday 20th of August in one of the biggest mass arrests the area has seen in years.

We ended up chatting with him for two hours, along with one of his sons, and the topic trailed far away from the arrests into interesting territories–or what was left of them.

We were keen to know about what kind of treatment the recent detainees could expect, and he seemed to be the perfect person to speak to, considering he has spent 20 years in Israeli prisons over the course of his life as have each of his sons., under the British mandate laws that allow people to be arrested without any evidence or charge for up to six months, a sentence which can be renewed at any time.

When one of his sons was 11, he was walking down the road with his pet bird between his hands. Israeli soldiers ran after him, causing him to let the bird out of his grip. They imprisoned him for two weeks for “throwing stones.”

Each of his sons have spent sentences (ranging from 3 months to seven years) for either being members of a Palestinian political party or nothing at all . These prisoners are held separately from the likes of rapists and drug dealers who are held in “civil prisons,” all political prisoners are detained in “security prisons.”

Badran himself has spent 20 years in Israeli security prisons over the course of his life, in separate sentences between 1967 and 2007. Three of his children were born while he was in prison. He never saw one of his sons until he was five years old, who refused to believe for sometime that he was his actual father, and tried to attack him to get him out of the house considering the only father he knew was a picture on the wall.

Discussing what conditions the prisoners could expect to face, he told us that human rights organizations pressuring since the 80s, the torture has shifted more to psychological methods.

One example he provided was when they produced a fake document from the International Red Cross Society saying that his wife had died and that his five children were now living on their own. They wanted him to sign it to “hand custody over to their grandparents.” Second-guessing them, he told them that his wife had died willingly as he had met another woman three months previously, and she had sacrificed herself to make way for their relationship.

Later when he was being driven to court in a police vehicle, he saw his wife walking down the street through a tiny window in the armed car.

However a shift to psychological torture in no means should suggest that the prisoners are treated well, he warned. Where in the West we are arrested by means of a warrant, the army here uses sound bombs, teargas and live ammo in the houses they raid, whether they soldiers are met with resistance or not. Once arrested, their eyes are blindfolded and their hands are cuffed to their legs, and they can expect to stay in this position in the transit van for up to four days without food or water before even reaching prison.

Badran estimates that he spent roughly 100 days in the course of his 20 years as an inmate in this position staring at a wall for days on end without food or water. In prison, inmates are expected to pay for their own food at Israeli market prices, and if they don’t ,they don’t get enough to survive. Another way that inmates are tested physiologically is by being held in “fake prisons” full of Israeli informants. This is particularly difficult considering the sense of solidarity Badran tells us that the inmates have with one another in order to survive.

On top of jail sentences, Badran told us that he feels that arrests are run like a business. If somebody is released without charge (which is more often than not the case) they still have to pay a fine at the officer’s discretion. All of his sons have paid up to 15,000 shekels along with their prison sentences. Soldiers routinely loot the houses of the people they are about to arrest or simply destroy them.

One of his friends managed to get his stolen goods back from a soldier, as he managed to take a picture of him in the act. This is a rare case however, considering the soldiers wear face masks, and obviously don’t give away their identities willingly.

Badran was even sceptical about the amount that of influence that the Israeli government has over the IDF. He says that settlement plans, ruled out as illegal by the High courts, are often carried out in spite of this. Another example he gave, was when the High Court ordered his release from prison. He was released and re-arrested on the doorstep for another year.

Palestinians also need to get permission from military officers to plant their crops.

We asked him about the attack on an Israeli coach last Thursday in Eilat , and asked him what the connection this had to the arrests made in Hebron. He was aware that there was no connection, and the shootings were just an excuse to arrest anybody they could.

We proposed the idea that it may have been Israel themselves who carried out the shootings, considering nobody, including Hamas had claimed responsibility for them. He said he wouldn’t put it past them, and used the example of Ben Gurion bombing a ship full of Jews in the 40’s in the Mediterranean, to gain sympathy for the state of Israel.

“Generally when a resistance group carries out such attacks, they are keen to claim responsibility. They have served as an excuse to bomb Gaza from the air without mercy ever since,” he said.

He also drew a connection between the recent protests from within Israel against their governments economic policies, which seemed apt considering many marches in the likes of Tel Aviv  were called off in light of the attacks.

The conversation ended with Badran comparing the sentences of Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for resisting the apartheid system under which he and his people lived. He compared it to the Palestinian political prisoners (including two of his brothers) who have spent 34 years in jail.

Over 400 political prisoners have spent over 25 years in prison without release.