By Tasneem Hasan
Ten years ago… That was the last time I visited my father in Negev desert jail when I finally had one-visit permission after many trials that were rejected under the pretext of being “rejected for security reasons”. That pretext had haunted me as soon as I turned 16 and got an ID.
Today, we’re back to jail visits and their long journies, but we are visiting you this time! You, the young girl who used to accompany us in the countless jail visits, we are visiting you today after getting a permission stamped with the phrase “despite security ban”.
We reached the bus that would take us to the checkpoint. My mom, Shahed, and me. It is still the same place that I’ve last seen on my last visit. We got on the bus and started chatting with other families of female and children prisoners. Everyone knew that it was our first time to visit you as they have already met in previous visits.
We reached Ni’lin checkpoint, or perhaps we should say the small jail, my dear sister! We had our visit tickets from the Red Cross. We entered and waited in long lines. All the doors were suddenly closed and we found ourselves in a small yard with wires over our heads and a soldier, pointing his rifle at us. “Women go to the right and men go to the left”, a female soldier shouted with a disturbing accent.
A thorough search of our bags, identity and cell phone checks, and permissions checks once again. Any airport will have fewer and less complicated procedures that this checkpoint!
The bus started leaving the checkpoint. It drove us to places that we knew and others that we did not. Long silence while the eyes were wandering around. We reached the top of Mount Carmel, where the Damon jail is located, and where you are jailed, Shatha.
In the worn-out yard, the families waited. Some of them were organizing stuff that they brought while others were greeting each other. They told us that we will be divided into two groups: the first, which will go first, is for families of imprisoned children, while the next will be for the families of female prisoners. After they registered our names, My mon, Shahed and I walked outside, trying to see a glimpse of the sea. Shahed picked up some red windflowers. We wished that we could bring it to you but it was impossible, having those too mean jailers.
The long waiting hours were too heavy, dear Shatha. Silence haunted us most of the time. Perhaps we were fantasizing the moment when we see you and the first thing that we would say, or perhaps it was only one thing that occupied our minds: how could our beautiful Shatha be in such a vile place!
The gate was opened. A jailer shouted for people to get in. The families started lining up in front of two windows: one for those, who brought food with them, while the other for those, who brought books, pictures, or clothes. Another search line then after it we will reach the visit place.
A rectangular room split by soundproof glass and divided to include 15 prisoners. Each of us sat and waited…
The room had windows that were overlooking a long corridor. The families told us that we will see the prisoners when they come. We stood, dear Shatha, waiting for you near the window. Before seeing anything, we heard sounds of handcuffs and doors. Locks and doors were opened then we heard handcuffs clanging while the prisoners were moving in pairs.
When the sound finally was very close you appeared, dear Shatha! You were smiling, as always. We started calling your name and you tried to respond waving to us although of the handcuffs. You had that very same smile, which we knew. As soon as the jailer removed your cuffs, you ran to us. Forgive us as we couldn’t hold back our tears. They were our tears of longing to you, Shatha.
Our 45 minutes started…
45 minutes were all that we had to see you. They allow prisoners to talk to their families in 45 minutes.
– How are you Shatha?
* How are you?
– Are you ok?
* Are you ok?
And many other questions that you were answering with a question, dear Shatha, as if we were the ones in jail, not you.
We had no idea how those minutes passed by in a flash. Neither our talk was finished nor our questions were over. However, I will always remember your long glances to our mom’s face while she was talking to you. I will always remember your eyes and how they were shining while you were listening to our news, the way how you were examining the details of our faces while we were examining yours.
I will always remember how you laughed, how you were moving your hands, how you talked, how you moved, and how you described your life in jail. I will also remember how we touched hands through the glass and sent kisses in the air as if we were kids.
I will always remember how they closed the door while you were waving behind the glass.
Time doesn’t matter anymore now, sis!
It was a heavy visit, dear Shatha! We left you in the old cold jail and went back home praying for God to have you among us very soon and to leave the days of separation behind, so that this visit becomes a memory, just like all the heavy visits that we’ve been through.
Until God relieves our distress, we leave you in his care, dear Shatha. God is the most merciful to our hearts and yours, sis..