Prison Break


The palestinian Ma’an News Agency reports:

The Nafha prisoners’ society on Sunday condemned what it described as the Israeli prisons’ authorities neglect of healthcare in Israeli jails and maltreatment of Palestinian prisoners.

The society issued a statement decrying the terrible conditions for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and stating that the prisons are miserable and unbearable.

The society urged human rights organisations to intervene, and advised Palestinians to bridge gaps in order to confront the Israeli occupation in a united way.

Such as sticking to the same story (just as a suggestion).

Mohammed Kharaz wanted to get away. He longed to escape the stretches of boredom broken by intense eruptions of violence that are a teenager’s life in this strife-ridden city. So, for a break, he got himself thrown into an Israeli jail.

The idea wasn’t even his, the 17-year-old confesses. He first heard it from a kid who sat beside him in class: If you get yourself arrested by the Israeli army, they send you to a prison with digital television, interesting books and even a decent soccer pitch. In short, everything you don’t find in Nablus, a city cut off from the rest of the West Bank by a series of Israeli military checkpoints.

To Mohammed, it sounded like a dream vacation. So on Feb. 25, he tucked a kitchen knife under his shirt and headed toward the concrete barriers and metal turnstiles that block the road south to Ramallah. It played out just as his friend described. When he got to the front of the long, slow-moving line of Palestinians seeking to leave Nablus, an Israeli soldier told him to lift up his shirt. With a sniper’s rifle pointed at his chest, Mohammed pulled out the knife.

“Two soldiers jumped on top of me and started beating me up, but I didn’t care,” Mohammed recalled. “Getting arrested was like a fashion trend. It was the thing to do.”

It’s the latest peculiarity in a region already full of contradictions: Palestinian youths, who speak openly of their hatred for Israel, willingly putting themselves into Israeli custody because life in jail is seen as being better than life at home. Call it teen angst gone awry in a conflict zone.

“It’s a real phenomenon,” said Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the Israeli army. He said soldiers had seen dozens of cases like Mohammed’s, coming from both Nablus and nearby Jenin. “It’s sort of a backhanded compliment to the [Israeli army] and the prison service. It passes from word of mouth that the conditions are not so bad in Israeli jails.”

The first few nights after his arrest — he was held with five others in a tiny cell just outside the Hawara checkpoint where he had been arrested — were a gruelling disappointment for Mohammed. But 12 days later, he got the break he was hoping for: a transfer to Ofer prison, an Israeli jail for Palestinian prisoners just outside Ramallah.

Conditions in Ofer, the site of large-scale prisoners’ riots late last year, have come under attack from human-rights groups alleging the torture and mistreatment of detainees. But Mohammed, as his classmates had promised him, had a different experience.


“Ofer was like paradise. You could go to the toilet whenever you wanted, and we had a good time playing football and table tennis in the big courtyard. I started reading good books in there,” he said, his hair short and gelled, and a hint of future stubble ringing his thin face. With a shy glance at his father, he added, “And I could stay up as late as I wanted.”

Mohammed was pleased to get a seven-month sentence. He was crestfallen when his father, Qasim, paid a $250 bond to get him released early. “I was disappointed. My classmate who was sitting next to me went to jail two days before me and he’s still there,” he said jealously, suffering his father’s glare. “In prison, there’s digital television. You can watch everything. Out here, there’s nothing.”

While the stern Mr. Kharaz isn’t impressed with his son’s antics, he understands the motivation. “When a person becomes a young man, he starts looking for entertainment, and there are no good sports centres around here. All the sports fields in Nablus are all made of asphalt.”

Other youths who have gotten arrested at the Hawara checkpoint did so in hopes of helping their families out of increasingly dire financial situations. Until a cut in Western aid forced the Palestinian Authority into effective insolvency earlier this year, the government paid a monthly stipend of about $200 to Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Samira Tabbouq’s son Mahmoud just celebrated his 18th birthday inside Ofer. Mahmoud has gotten himself jailed twice in the past two years in hopes of getting money for his family, and his mother glows with pride describing her son’s crafty efforts to get the Israelis to arrest him.

Last year, Ms. Tabbouq said her son got arrested at Hawara checkpoint while carrying a smoke bomb he had made from sugar and coal. When the Israelis released him from jail 2½ weeks later, he began plotting to get sent back.

The teenaged Mahmoud became the sole breadwinner for the family of eight when his father, a construction worker, was injured in a workplace accident five years ago.

At first, Mahmoud struggled to find after-school work in this economically depressed town that has been largely isolated from the outside world since Israel built the checkpoints during the height of the recent Palestinian intifada.

“His father pressured him to bring home money, to be a man, to help us with our poverty,” Ms. Tabbouq said. “He would come home with nothing and his father would beat him.”

On Feb. 4 of this year, he headed toward Hawara with a knife under his shirt and, ever since, has been in jail awaiting trial. Even though the Palestinian Authority’s cash crunch means he’s not helping his family financially, his mother, who visits him regularly, says he’s as happy as he’s been for a long time, reading books and dreaming of getting married and moving to Syria.

“My son is in jail because he has a big brain and is very intelligent. He thought about it a long time and realized the only way out of his economic and mental crisis was in prison,” Ms. Tabbouq said.

Ironically, another reason Mahmoud wanted to go back to jail was to concentrate on his studies. His 17-year-old sister, Yusra, said that her brother, who was good in school, had spoken longingly of prison ever since he was released the first time.

“He couldn’t stand the guys from the refugee camps who were always carrying weapons. He felt like he was suffocating. He told me, ‘I can’t achieve in school with this chaotic environment around me.’ ” Her brother is now applying to take his high-school exams from behind bars, Yusra added.

Mr. Kharaz, Mohammed’s father, said that while he hoped his son wouldn’t try to get jailed again, it was possible as long as life in Nablus continued to worsen.

“If the situation continues the way it is, everybody will be doing it,” he said. “Young and old.”

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A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media