Badia Dwaik is Deputy Coordinator of Youth Against Settlements, a grassroots Palestinian organization that organizes demonstrations and educational events as part of a nonviolent struggle to resist the Israeli occupation of Hebron. Here he reflects on growing up in Hebron while his father was in an Israeli prison.
The recent release of Palestinian prisoners, freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit, spurs Dwaik to recall his time in an Israeli jail. He was imprisoned for three years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the First Intifada
My father was arrested before me. My father was arrested in 1988 and I was 14 or 15 years old around that time…My life was to work and study in the same day. So I used to go to the school, and when I finished my school I would have lunch at home and then go to work, until I finished work at 9 in the evening.
I was alone, and it was dark on the way home, and I was very scared. I would hurry back home very quickly, running, because it was scary and I was a child at the time, so I felt uncomfortable to walk around. Especially when I had to work in the old town in Hebron, it was not lit up like it is now, it was dark, and it made it even more scary when I had to get home.
My father was in jail for six months and then he was released, but when he was in jail I joined the First Intifada, as a reaction. Because I was angry, and I just wanted to express my feelings about what happened to my father. It was something personal.
When they came to my father’s home and arrested me, my mother asked ‘where are you taking him?’
They said they just needed me five minutes. Those five minutes took up three years of my life.
Life inside an Israeli prison
My first holding cell was a tiny room, 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters. They kept me there for two nights, but those two nights felt like a year. I could not sleep, to sleep I had to put my head on the floor and move my legs up to the ceiling. I had to go to the toilet, I would knock on the door and say ‘please, I have to go to the toilet!’ They pretended not to hear me, there were two soldiers outside, but they did not listen to me.
Eventually I went to the toilet in my cell, and then I had to sleep in it. I put my head next to it on the ground, and my feet up to the ceiling.
Al-Naqab jail is completely a desert. You cannot see anything green, you cannot see any trees, you cannot see any homes, only desert and soldiers around you and the barbed wires. You are surrounded on all sides by barbed wire. Behind the barbed wires there are long blocks, like the [separation] wall.
Also there are dogs, and also there are many soldiers in military watchtowers, and the army is also driving by in jeeps with 250 caliber bullet guns. And the food is very miserable, very bad food. When they put you there, you are isolated, without anything you need for your life. When you are a prisoner, sometimes you will be happy just to see a bird. If you see a bird this is some luck coming to you. Really, I wished to see a bird in the jail there…