By Reem Shaikh
Reem is a 10th grade student at Al-Arqam Academy in Doha.
A couple of months ago, several Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier. While everyone seems to know every detail of Gilad's life and his freedom, few talk about the Palestinian prisoners, who by most accounts, suffered more terribly in Israeli prisons.
Some of the prisoners were sent to Doha as part of the deal. They were treated like heroes by the locals here. Two of the freed prisoners from Israel visited my school to tell us about their lives in prison and how they felt. The two men were cousins; one appeared to be in his late thirties and the other in his late forties. The two spent ten years in prison together.
They spoke in Arabic (Palestinian dialect) so the following account is an approximate translation of what we heard, with help from some of my friends:
In the beginning, they thanked our school for inviting them to speak and told us they were very happy to be talking to us.
The men described their prison rooms as small and approximately three by three meters. Sometimes eight people shared this tiny space. The food provided by the authorities was generally foul, sometimes with visible bugs, and harmful when eaten.
The two then gave us a glimpse of the torture they underwent. They told us that they did not want to disturb us psychologically, so they limited the details of the torture. They underwent two kinds of torture: physical and mental. They believed their mental torture was much worse than the physical torture.
For physical torture, they had different kinds of punishments. They would put bags or material on their faces so that they couldn't breathe, and a lot of prisoners died from that torture. They would hang them by their hands with chains, and then beat them. Beating was the most common torture. Also, they would put the men's heads under a faucet, and the water would continuously fall on their heads with so much pressure, that they felt like their heads would explode.
As mental torture, during prison trials/hearings, they would bring the prisoners' family members and relatives and beat the family members in order to make the prisoners admit to everything that they, the Israeli authorities, were charging them with.
The men said that they were barely ever allowed to have any visitors. On the rare occasion when a visitor was allowed, the visitors would have to go through a strip search as a form of humiliation for both prisoner and visitor and to discourage future visitation. That was done to one of the men's sister.
Other important points mentioned:
- There were approximately 27 women in the prison
- In order to get a TV/radio for news or entertainment, they decided to go on a hunger-strike, and a few people even died. When they were finally given a TV, it barely had any worthwhile stations
- The judge told the prisoners that each of them had a secret file, which no one was allowed to see, which had all the information about them and the proof for whatever they did. And then they were asked if they did do that or not, and regardless of their answer, they were sent to prison
- A student asked how the prisoners managed to remain patient during these hardships, and the men replied that they kept their faith in Allāh, and that kept them sane and alive
In conclusion, my class-mates and I were really touched by the stories of these freed Palestinian prisoners. Many of us were teary-eyed and the account was so vivid that we felt that we were in the prison with these men. We were impressed by the faith that these men had, despite the great odds of ever being freed.