When dawn marches over the hills of Palestine and the sun begins to cast its light over lemon, olive and orange trees, dusty narratives of hard-working peasants escape their time and ride in the air through history to our lungs. A scent from the past caresses our hair; we stretch our limbs, slip our feet into cheap slippers, yawn, and rise up to make our dawn prayers.
My mother turns on the lights and takes away my pillow and blanket, realizing that tough procedures are the only arrangements that can hold me bound to her non-negotiable wake-up decree. I pout and a produce a frown, but my face loosens into a half-smile when I lean into my window and watch houses, no matter how shapeless, as they lighten up in a gradual manner. I feel relieved; mom is not the only one who likes to bother.
And I pray the way Palestinian poets do, asking God to bring us the next dawn along with freedom, and I repeat myself every day with every bothering motherly call. One day, I woke up to 477 freedoms.
Since the day I was born, I have never lived anywhere but in Gaza. And throughout my life here, I have never seen the people as ecstatically chaotic as they were on Tuesday. It looked like every house had a wedding to celebrate — like in every street a sahra (pre-wedding party for the shabab) was taking place. I, being a girl, couldn’t afford to dance down the roads or atop dilapidated vehicles. But I did join the dance at home in accordance with the shabab innovative dancing. Girls in Gaza have always argued that the way our shabab dance is way more joyful than ours. It is for this reason that we spare no effort to imitate their acrobatics when no elderly onlookers are present.
Visiting a released prisoner
One released prisoner, Hazem Alaydi, has a story of his own that was published earlier on The Electronic Intifada. Yesterday’s morning, I had the honor of paying him a visit.
The expression “what a small world” finds no more suitable place to be expressed at than the small, internationally unrecognized Gaza Strip.
I happened to be a Facebook friend of Fidaa Elaydi, the released prisoner’s niece in the US and the author of the EI article. On the day of the release, I stumbled upon her profile to find dozens of congratulations and a status stating that her uncle Hazem had been released. I also found out that he is a resident of the Deir al-Balah refugee camp along the coastline of the Strip.
Coincidently, a week ago, I and my friend reached a deal with her father to take us on Thursday to this particular refugee camp. I have always craved to write a story about life in refugee camps and Lara, my friend, is a photoholic. When I knew about the niece-uncle relationship of Fidaa and Hazem Alaydi, a surge of excitement swept my body and I found myself contacting Fidaa, telling her what I was up to and asking for her uncle’s address. Fidaa asked me to deliver him a note she had written and to bring him silk flowers.
The next day, I woke up at 8:15 in the morning, late enough to jump off my bed and dash to my wardrobe. I snatched ruffled trousers and a fine blouse, then picked up Fidaa’s note and tucked it in my pocket.
Lara and her father, Ammo Saud, were to pick me up at 9:00. I was struck by the fact that I hadn’t yet bought the flowers. In no time I called a taxi and asked him to take me to the florist. Unfortunately, the shop was closed; I resorted to a nearby supermarket and purchased a tray of sweets.
The moment I returned home, Ammo Saud and Lara arrived. I boarded the car and we drove to the camp. I was overcome by excitement and reverence. It did not feel normal being on my way to a released prisoner, someone who sacrificed enough to be condemned by Israel.
Fidaa gave me this description to her uncle’s house:
“It’s RIGHT off the beach and next to a Nadi [club] (I’ll ask a relative what the Nadi is called) and I’m sure there is plenty of graffiti on the wall to tell you exactly which house it is. (When I was in Gaza last year, it said “beit il aseer” [the house of the prisoner] but I’m sure that’s been replaced!”
The irony is that the house was neither RIGHT off the shore nor next to the club. We drove according to her description but found nothing to suggest a prisoner’s house. We eventually asked people around and they directed us to the right address.
But she was right about the graffiti, and she could not have been more accurate when she suggested that last year’s graffiti must have been replaced. The first thing I saw when we reached the house was a green welcome tent and a still-concrete wall that read something like this: Greetings to the released prisoner from the occupation’s jails, Hazem Elaydi.
Foolishly I shouted “this is it!” as if it was not too obvious to state.
The door was wide open and we stepped in; a young man approached, welcomed us, and we introduced ourselves and our purpose.
He disappeared in a circle of men then came back with Fidaa’s uncle.
Ammo Saud took him in his arms and they practiced the four-kiss welcome ritual. I handed him the tray and the note. He unfolded the small paper, brought it closer to his eyes, and read. I followed his face. His eyes narrowed and grew moist, his shoulders drooped, and silence encapsulated us all. A few minutes later, Hazem raised his head and allowed a smile that exposed a map of a prison on a man’s face. Israel had convicted Hazem Alayadi to four life sentences and seventy five years without a fair trial.
A recent article on Ynet introduced a comparison between the jail terms of Gilad Shalit and those of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The article claims that “In Israel, close relatives of Palestinian inmates are allowed to visit every two weeks. In addition, Palestinian detainees are allowed to hug children aged up to 8” and it goes further to suggest that “Palestinian inmates are entitled to regular medical treatments, including dental work and eye exams” and that: “Palestinian prisoners are given three full meals a day.”
Surprisingly, Alaydi was never allowed any these privileges. Instead Alaydi told us that he was neither allowed visits nor letters nor phone calls. The food that used to be served to him was “indigestible” and so he and his inmates had to pay to get meals from the canteen. A prisoner needed an approximate minimum of 1,000 NIS ($350) every month to survive. Solitary confinement was widespread and many of the released prisoners lost their minds as a result of serving years in solitary confinement with only one hour a day in the sun. Even outdoors both their hands and legs had to remain shackled all the time.
“The most difficult feelings were during the war on Gaza; we were mesmerized by the TV all the time, drowned in bitterness and pain. They deprived us of many things. When I was released I was offered figs. It was the first time I had figs since the day I was imprisoned [in 1991]; figs were forbidden. They do not deprive us of things because they pose a danger; they do so because they want us to experience deprivation,” said Alaydi.
“Solitary confinements are implemented because they want us to lose our mental balance. They want us lose our minds so that in case we’re released, we wouldn’t be capable of engaging ourselves in normal life,” he added.
The International Committee of the Red Cross declared many times that they had not been able to visit jails to make sure jail conditions meet ICRC standards. The Israeli publication Ynet is widely acknowledged to be radically anti-Arab and hypocritical.
Palestinians, no matter how thrilled, still wake up every dawn to make their poetic prayers. We still have more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners condemned to the harsh conditions of an apartheid state. Hazem Alayadi’s words are probably the best way to end this article:
“We left our comrades behind and they’re suffering. The day we received the news of the deal tears mixed with happiness. We were happy but also sad that our brothers with whom we lived over a decade will not be freed with us. The freedom of a people and the freedom of a land are inseparable. We are under occupation and our ultimate goal is to free the land and the human who sacrificed for this land.”