17 April 2011

Narratives Behind Locked Doors (4)

Trying to See Her Brother - The Struggle of the Family of a Prisoner from the West Bank

Akram Abd al-Azeez Mansour was arrested on 2 August 1979, at the age of 16. He has been in prison for over 30 years, which makes him the longest-held prisoner in the West Bank governorate of Qalqiliya. His sister Amal tells PCHR, "he was sentenced to life for participating in the Palestinian national struggle. That is not a crime someone should have to spend his whole life in prison for."

"At the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, they began to limit the visits. Then they said his name had been lost from the computer system and he had lost his citizenship. How could he have lost his citizenship if he is in prison and they have his identity card? Because of this, I was unable to visit him for three years. We received no news during that time." Akram's mother initially visited him, but she and his father, as well as one sister, have died; Akram was unable to attend their funerals. He has been moved from one prison to another multiple times, but the last three years he has spent in Naqab prison, in the Negev desert. "I am the only one who visits him in Naqab prison, but recently two of our sisters also got permission to see him." The last time Amal was scheduled to see her brother was during Ramadan: "Although I can visit him every month, I couldn't go then because it is so hard. I was fasting and the trip is so long and the desert is so hot. I get so tired even before I see him."

For Amal, the visits are physically and emotionally strenuous, and at times humiliating. "Every time we want to visit Akram, we leave the house early in the morning and take a Red Cross bus to al-Teereh terminal. Sometimes there are workers in front of us at the checkpoint, making our wait even longer. One time when I was going with my sister – who has undergone heart surgery – the computers were not working properly and the doors did not open. We were trapped in a small room for three hours, it was very hot. The crowdedness and the heat were very dangerous for my sister because she has a serious heart condition."

"During the inspections inside the terminal, they sometimes take our water from us and throw it away although we need it for our long trip across the desert. Last time, my sister was taken into a special armored room for a search. She was ordered to take off her pants but she refused. She was only going to visit her brother! She was also afraid that there might be cameras. She was really afraid. She felt like someone who was entering a brothel, although she was just visiting her brother. It was the first time she faced such a situation. She was shocked."

"At the prison, we get searched again, and we wait for a long time for our names to be called. Once they left us sitting in the hall for hours – they claimed they had forgotten about us. We really suffer a lot during these visits. When I finally see Akram, there is thick glass in between us and a telephone. We speak through the telephone. Some of what he says I hear, but most of it I can't understand. But I get shy about constantly asking him to repeat what he is saying because I am afraid he will be angry or sad. It is a large hall with the prisoners sitting on one side, and we across from them on the other side of the glass. Maybe there is a problem with the telephones."

Akram's sentence was altered to 35 years, but a quick release is vital, says his family: "Akram is very sick. He has ear problems, a stomach illness, he cannot see on his left eye, and he has been suffering from severe headaches for years. We hope his released soon, so he can get the necessary medications once he is out of prison. His illness is serious and we are afraid. In prison, they only give him Paracetamol." While the prison doctor said that Akram would need to get X-rays done to further investigate his condition, the prison administration continues to delay such medical examinations: "Every month they promise to get an X-ray done, but then they say they need to bring in a specialist and re-schedule the appointment for the following month." In general, Amal says, the prison conditions are inhumane: "He is a human being and he is imprisoned in a desert. They do not eat or drink appropriately for human beings. The tents the prisoners live in are overcrowded, and often Akram cannot sleep because the others in the tent stay up at night."

Four of Akram's ten sisters are married and live in Jordan. They visit the West Bank, but leave without being able to see their brother in prison. "They have even forgotten what he looks like. This is the saddest thing for us, that they come to visit, but they cannot see him." After the family contacted Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President requested that Israel release 49-year old Akram soon, but nothing has happened so far. The family now hopes that a prisoner exchange with Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip, will free Akram. "He wants to be free and see his relatives. He says if he could be free and live with them for just one day, he wouldn't mind if he died the next day! I wonder, isn't it his right as a human being to live free like other people in this world? To live and get married and have children? We have become emotionally exhausted from waiting for so long, both Akram and us, his family. He has been patient for a long time."

Source: Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), 17 April 2011

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