Kalim, local councillor, shows me the positions in which he and other inmates of the prison were forced to stand for days on end.
This building was built by the British during the Mandate control of Palestine, and was later used by the Israeli military as a prison. In the late 90’s, the Israeli military pulled out, and most of the buildings have since been renovated. The building is now a community centre for local groups, arts and theatre.
Some of the cells and torture chambers, such as this one, lie hidden behind locked doors. They have been left to fall into disrepair, but significantly not demolished. Graffiti on the wall mimics the ‘agony position’, a sort of half-crouch, which the prisoners – almost all of them incarcerated for political reasons – were forced to endure. Kalim spent seven years, from the mid eighties to the early nineties, mostly in this jail.
Twenty-four hours before, I was eating ice-cream in a water park. The smell of water is intoxicating in the Jordan valley – so many rivers have run dry because of climate change and Israeli water diversion, that to catch the moist scent of humid air always brings out smiles and gasps of pleasure. The owners of the park, five brothers, had given us the warm greetings we had become accustomed to in Palestine, and within minutes we were stuffing ourselves with shockingly sweet bubble-gum ice cream.
On the table we spread out a souvenir from Jerusalem: a map of Palestine and Israel, showing the Israeli ‘security wall’ that surrounds and divides much of the West Bank. Pink splotches represented Israeli settlements, and checkered pink showed the settlements of Gaza that were abandoned in 2006. Dotted, intangible lines marked the theoretical boundaries between Israel and Palestine, which now lie well neglected.
Somewhat dizzy from ice-cream, I sat admiring place-names. One of our group, with a air of sadness and of hope, indicated with a sweeping hand from East to West, from occupied Palestine to the coast of the Meditteranian, ‘One day. All this.’ His suggestion was that Palestinians might regain the land that was given away by the British to form the state of Israel. Kalim shook his head. ‘Not even that’, he said, ‘Let them keep their land.’ We fell silent. He was calm and spoke as though from a great depth. He said: ‘Just for us to be left alone.’
I thought I knew what strength was before I came to Palestine. Really. I thought that if you could take a blow and not flinch, you were strong; that if you could risk your life in order to save what you loved the most, you were strong. That strength is about fighting for what you believe in.
I have met strong people, and by example they have shown me I was wrong. They do not fight; they do not take up the knife or gun, they do not preach violence or hatred. They have endured immeasurable suffering.
They are strong because in spite of their experience, in spite of every low feeling telling them to tear apart their oppressors, they have kept their humanity. They are still kind. They are, I can say for sure, the most peaceful people I have ever met. I see now that any old fool can pick up a gun and fight. It takes real strength to preserve your humanity.
Image and text © Josh Jones 2008.