This account, by an anonymous Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli prison (not necessarily Ktzi’ot Prison), was published in skindeepmag.com for their August, 2022, special issue on ”Palestine: Ways of Being,” curated by Zena Agha. We thank them for permission to republish it as part of The GOAT PoL.
When I was young, I dreamt of becoming a doctor. I was drawn to the profession because it gave hope and life to people in a world full of despair and death. I nurtured my dream for a decade, until life slapped me with bitter reality and told me that childhood dreams are not attainable. Indeed, the world we live in is harsh and difficult, a sharp contrast to a rose-tinted youth. It’s as if once we leave childhood, life tells us that there is no time in this place for dreams.
For me, growing up happened quickly; when I turned 16, I found myself behind bars. At first I thought I was living a nightmare, but it quickly became clear to me that this was my new reality. I remained in administrative detention for two and a half years without charge. Those years were not easy. But at the same time, my first experience in prison was a turning point that gave my life meaning.
As soon as I was released, I pursued a college education with a sense of urgency, not knowing what life had in store for me. I had already learned from my previous incarceration that there was no place for my dream to pursue medicine. I decided to change direction and study journalism, with the hope that I could share the cause of my people with the world. Not long after, however, I was re-arrested once more and charged with taking part in ‘student activities’.
My second arrest marked the beginning of my engagement with Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon and Paolo Friere, among many others. Through their writings, I came to the conclusion that the priority must be the liberation of the colonised mind. This inspired me to pursue the subjects of psychology and sociology. It was in these subjects that I finally found my place.
My academic pursuits were consistently disrupted by a series of detentions. After my second release, I was arrested again and held for two months at an interrogation centre. Here, I was subjected to torture before being released due to the lack of sufficient evidence against me. But the relief of my release was, again, short-lived. I was continually summoned by Israeli intelligence. I felt like a fugitive on the run; my time was always limited. It was as if prison was always chasing after me with handcuffs.
I was determined to finish my schooling quickly. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Birzeit University. I was then denied the right to study abroad for my Masters by the Israeli regime. I had no choice but to pursue my postgraduate education in Palestine at the same university. After my Masters, I was once again arrested and held in administrative detention for a year and a half. When I was released, I decided to pursue a PhD and was granted a spot to study abroad at a Swiss university. Alas, it was not to be. Just a few weeks before the start of my programme, I was arrested again. This time, I was sentenced to four years in prison, and as I write this piece, I have completed nearly three years of that sentence – a time in which I could have completed my PhD, if I was free.
In this life of mine, prison has become a constant feature. In occupied Palestine, the prison system is a subtle and systemic form of torture that focuses more on destroying the soul than the body. It was not only my physical freedom that was deprived, but also my cognitive freedoms. Imprisonment takes away your ability to dream, your memories, your relationships. Most of all, prison takes away your sense of self and your humanity. Both escape from you in front of your eyes, from your hands, totally against your will.
Prison seizes you from time, and time away from you, so you sit in a cyclical loop. It eliminates any notion of development, movement or transformation. You are enslaved to a circular time continuum that oscillates between present and past, blacking out the future entirely. Palestinian prisoner Walid Dakka, who has been imprisoned for 37 years, described it as living in a time that is not yours.
It makes me wonder if prisons are designed as an experiment in suffering an extreme form of existential pain: the separation of yourself from the world. It is a separation that makes you rethink everything, even your existence as a human being.
But my experience in prison has also taught me valuable lessons. It has reminded me that freedom cannot be achieved through words but rather actions that will always have a cost. It has shown me the cruelty of human kind. The emotional intensity of the experience is so overwhelming that it turns you into a highly sensitive being, one that is overwhelmed with happiness by simply passing by a tree, or seeing the sun set. In some ways, it takes you back to the simple joys of one’s childhood.
Captivity has also taught me to give myself to my people without limits. Their aspirations for freedom and justice are my own and so my dreams are the dreams of the many. Even though we suffer in prison, our secret weapon is that we do not know despair and we believe in the future. As Turkish-Polish poet Nazim Hikmet wrote, “The most beautiful days we haven’t seen yet.”
In Palestine, thousands of Palestinians are held as political prisoners in Israeli jails. Yet there are also six million Palestinians who have been living in the largest prison in history for over seven decades. This is a prison where the people suffer from ethnic cleansing, dispossession and apartheid. Six million more are displaced and exiled beyond the prison walls, waiting and dreaming of return. Whilst colonialism may have snatched away the childhoods of millions of Palestinians – including mine – it has not destroyed the hope that lives within us, nor our desire and deep yearning for freedom and justice. The liberation of Palestine may seem like an unimaginable task at times, but I am certain that my people will not tire until their freedom is achieved.
Many thanks to the anonymous facilitator for enabling contact with the author of this piece.
24 August, 2022