Hungry for freedom (Part 1)
THE PALESTINIAN DIARIESIBRAHIM SHALASH
Six years passed. I counted them day by day and hour by hour. I mentally recalled history books in an attempt to undermine the heaviness of the sentence that would steal 22 years of my life.
It is true that I considered these days a sacrifice to God, but freedom is priceless to people like me.
There, in the darkness of Shata jail, we hoped for liberation. We kept alive the thwarted wishes of our youth. We told stories of Hebron’s mountains, Ramallah’s highlands, Jericho’s sea, and Nablus’s growing prosperity.
Our limitless nostalgia transported us to Acre’s walls, Jerusalem’s minarets, and Haifa’s beaches. In chains, we sought every opportunity for freedom in speech and in writing.
One day I was disturbed by the jailer’s shouts. I paced back and forth in the cell, my feet digging into its dirt floor. I gazed into my brothers’ faces all around me, then escaped into a world filled with dreams of freedom. I wanted to smash the walls of the prison, bust its heavy iron door, and destroy its floor to escape the jailers’ hatred.
Destroy its floor? Yes, I could do it. For freedom is taken, not given. It was worth struggling for, even through layers of earth, dug with my own nails. Such thoughts filled my mind for many hours.
I considered the possibility of escape, drawing close to it boldly then drawing back in fear. Eventually, some brothers and I accepted the idea. We agreed to dig through the floor, looking for freedom.
After long, secret meetings, we decided to dig a tunnel beneath the prison grounds. We knew it would not be easy, and we might pay for it with our lives, but it renewed the commitment for which we had been captured.
Its seeds were still in us, and we watered them with our thoughts. We started digging into the floor with our nails and with iron cans. Within a few days, we had succeeded in removing two tiles.
We began the second phase by digging into the concrete without any tools, armed only with an ambition that could breach the walls of any prison. We contrived to keep our work secret. That was very difficult, since our room was next to others.
We made noises to deceive the jailer so that he would not realise what was going on. We worked in two teams, one group shouting loudly to cover the sounds of the other group’s digging.
After long days of painful progress through concrete, we were shocked to find another similar layer of concrete underneath.
We agreed not to let this stop us; we would destroy it with our dreams and hopes. We worked with a strange assortment of tools, like the iron blade of a fan, and finally we reached the sand.
Our next challenge was getting rid of the sand! We agreed to throw it down the old toilet next to our room. We planned like engineers. We needed to keep the project secret and finish it as fast as possible.
We finished digging down 2.5 metres then moved away from the tiny window toward the wall. We drew a map to know which direction we should dig.
After digging 7 metres toward the street, we built a wooden frame so that the tunnel would not fall on our heads, since trucks crossed the street every day.
The lack of air in the tunnel was one of our greatest challenges. We felt exhausted and often came close to collapsing from dizziness.
Only our dreams could have sustained this level of courage while we were imprisoned by the Zionists but at the same time seeking our freedom.
Our solution for the darkness was to light three lamps and keep digging and crawling, blessed by God’s care.
Once, during a routine check, the jailer almost discovered everything we had done, but we deceived him. “His sight was blind, and he returned empty-handed,” we said to each other.
Palestinian Ibrahim Shalash took part in a prison break from the Israeli jail with another Palestinian Abbas Shabana and each of them wrote one part of the story.
This is a chapter from The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, a compilation of 22 Palestinian prisoners' experiences in Israeli jails.