The decline inside

Posted on 02 August 2010

Since I got home I’ve been finding it very hard to sleep. Not from the heat, which is like a furnace at the moment and with very little breeze, but from a newly resident cockerel in the neighbourhood. After four nights I promised I’d wring it’s scrawny neck, but a distinct queasiness about expiring a chicken by my own hand led to its reprieve. I had no idea how temporary this would be.

This morning D got up and casually asked if that was a chicken sitting among the pack of wild dogs which had invaded next door’s back yard. It was, and not just any chicken: my nemesis looked like it had met its match. Two huge dogs and two smaller ones were stretched out in the shade, which is still around 30 degrees. The chicken lay in a very still heap in the middle of them. It was hard to tell if it was alive or dead, or somewhere in between. The dogs moved from time to time, then were finally chased out by the boys who live there. Last thing I saw was the eldest boy slitting the chicken’s throat, a halal ending at least.

Last week, a friend’s brother was released from prison. As with many Palestinians, charges are not brought, evidence is not produced, legal process is not followed. Everyone is just glad he has finally been released.

During the first intifada, prison provided many thousands of Palestinians with their education, and a damned good one it was, too. The organisation and structure of prison was incredible. All factions worked together in solidarity: after all, they are all Palestinians fighting for the same cause. Prisoners were, and still are, held by political affiliation. Every single prisoner was allocated a responsibility. Those with an academic background would very carefully reproduce entire books; others would be responsible for running political discussions; someone would ensure the tent or cells (depending on the prison) were kept clean; and so on. There was, of course, a group of senior prisoners within the political parties who would make decisions and mediate when necessary.

Prison life, although unimaginably harsh (a friend often recounts the days they were given frozen schnitzel to eat; and J laughs about how he’d protect his coffee, keeping it for days as they never knew when they may get coffee again), provided prisoners with a certain security and comradeship. They helped each other, they supported each other and they would work together to force change. There is a long history of prison strikes which often led to improvements in the conditions. Sadly, that wonderful community spirit has been decimated.

The PFLP still insist that their people read books and engage in political debate. Hamas prisoners also read and debate, but usually Koranic texts. Fateh prisoners generally do nothing except wait for their day of release. One thing is for sure, if you do not keep busy in prison, you can go out of your mind. One of the most divisive tactics Israel is using now is to force prisoners to buy much of what they need themselves. Imagine, being put in prison then having to pay for your own upkeep! So this has created a class system inside the jails where those who have access to money have a better existence inside than those from poorer backgrounds.

In the old days, all the prisoners would have gone on hunger strike to demand their rights. They’d have worked together for the greater good. They’d never have paid the oppressor for food and access to other goods and facilities. Today, that cohesion, trust and respect between prisoners has been destroyed and sadly will never be regained.

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