1967: A Birth in Prison

By Manal Ghanem
9 June 2007
The Guardian
My youngest child was born in a prison. I named him Nour (”Light”), to signal the hope that he brought to me. Nour was loved by all the prisoners as well - when the prison guards banned the Red Cross from delivering any toys to him, we sewed a teddy bear for him ourselves, using cloth ripped from our brown uniforms. He was a fragile child, suffering as I do from thalassaemia. Yet, for two years he grew up among us, giggling, crying, playing, and making life bearable for us all.
I was three months pregnant with Nour when the soldiers came to our house in Tulkarem refugee camp. There must have been 50 of them, all heavily armed. My three children were ordered out of the house. Ihab was nine and my daughter Nivine was six. While I was trying to shield and protect little Majid, they started beating me. He was only five at the time and had sickle-cell anaemia. After my arrest his disease flared dangerously and he spent 12 days in hospital. Of all my children, Majid especially needed me; he was deeply traumatised by our separation, displaying all the classic signs of withdrawal. This was compounded by the fact that I was unable to see him, visits being banned for Palestinian prisoners, even between women and their children. After enormous pressure from the International Committee of the Red Cross and human rights groups that campaigned on our behalf, the Israeli authorities allowed my children to visit me twice during my four years of captivity.
Although I was a civilian, I was convicted by a military tribunal for political acts I had not even committed. I was sent to Telmond prison, a military facility notorious for incarcerating Palestinian women and children. Telmond has no windows, and in its yard (which we could use three hours a day), the sun is entirely blocked by huge iron sheets placed on top of a roof of barbed wire. It was an especially bad environment for a pregnant woman: the iron bed, the food (beans and rice every day), the rats everywhere, the beatings, and especially the complete lack of medical attention.
While chained to a bed I gave birth to the youngest Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail. But Nour was more than a symbol or even a much loved son. He was my closest and dearest companion for two years until they snatched him away from me after placing us in solitary confinement for two weeks. For months afterwards he had separation anxiety and I was deeply, utterly, depressed. I don’t want to recall the details, they are still too painful.
Just like my children, I had experienced violent separation when I was a young girl. It was the time of the first intifada in the late 1980s, and the radio had announced a two-hour lifting of the military curfew that had been running for 40 days, and that had been confining us to our homes. When my brother Eyad, still in his teens, took the opportunity to rush out and buy us all some groceries, the soldiers shot him dead at point blank range. I had witnessed terrible things before - young neighbours dying, my cousins arrested, my brother Mashhoor severely wounded - but nothing compared to saying goodbye to Eyad, so abruptly, so unjustly. I have never got over it.
In the initial days of Oslo in the early 1990s, life was starting to look up. The late president Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) was back in Palestine and it seemed like the military occupation was going to be over. Soldiers were no longer inside the towns (although they were still stationed just outside them in all the surrounding areas). A handsome florist named Naji sent me red roses. I quite liked him, and we started going out. Four months later, we made our plans:
we wanted to get married. I trained as a beautician and was also becoming a keen embroiderer, I love making beautiful things. Naji’s pay was decent and we rented a little flat. Sadly, with the advent of the new millennium, things became difficult once more. The soldiers were back in town, several relatives were killed, and Naji lost his job. We were unable to pay our rent and were forced to move to a smaller place where even there we couldn’t afford electricity for months, and and shared our meals with neighbours. It was in the middle of those difficult circumstances that I was taken hostage by the Israeli army.
I’m 31, so I feel I am still young and I have a life ahead of me. I was released nearly two months ago. Things seem better - my husband has found a stable job with UNRWA and I’m spending a lot of time with my children. Nevertheless I’m overwhelmed, knowing that although I got out, 105 women, 359 children and more than 9,000 men are still behind bars. That is but one consequence of the naksah of 1967 and the subsequent occupation of the small corner we have left of Palestine. Every day I think to myself: can a woman feel truly free while her people are occupied?
  • This article is part of a series written in collaboration with Abdel Razzaq Takriti.