On Monday, June 30, 21 passengers going to challenge the blockade of Gaza on board the Spirit of Humanity were seized by the Israeli Navy and taken to Israel against their will. All their equipment was taken and some of were roughed up. All were thrown into prison to await Israel's decision on how and when they would be deported.
The majority of the group ended up in Ramle Prison. Those of us who are Free Gaza organizers had been hearing some news from them, statements, interviews and letters since they arrived. From the first night, the Free Gaza 21 have been busy trying to get news out of the prison about the illegality of Israel's actions in relation to themselves and the other inmates inside Ramle Prison who have no voice.
Inside Ramle prison
Report from E: I received a 2am phone call during one of the first sleepless nights from Ramle Prison to let me know that in one of the cells, four of the FG group had been busy writing a press release on an old phone one of their cellmates had loaned them. It had taken them hours to write the press release. but they were just ready to send it out, and ‘could I check my email to see if I had received it?'
Since that first night I have been hearing more increasingly about the plight of the other inmates of the prison; men and women who have not nearly as good an opportunity as our folk for media coverage of their stories and not nearly as good an opportunity as our folk of ever getting out of Ramle Prison.
To Fathi Jaouadi, Adie Mormesh, Ishmael Blagrove, and Captain Denis Healy, the situation of their fellow inmates is something they want to talk about and act upon. Fathi wanted to pass on news of what they have been doing inside Ramle prison; he wanted to let everyone who supports the Free Gaza Movement know that ‘Free Gaza Members are never lost for things to do when it comes to trying to expose Israel's appalling treatment of not just Palestinians, but all people who come to Palestine and get caught up in Israel's abuse of justice and the law.'
Fathi Jaouadi has been actively involved in Palestinian rights since he was 15 years old. Now in Ramle prison, he has already managed to organize a meeting with a UN representative and to raise the issue of the other inmates with him. He said that the UN official has agreed to follow up on some of the cases; Fathi has also been in contact with local NGO's to raise the issue of many of the inmate's situations. He told me he wants to focus on the fact that none of the inmates have any access to legal advice or help, most of the inmates have not been able to contact family to let them know of their situation and none of the inmates have committed anything that warrants them to be held indefinitely inside Ramle prison.
Fathi is in the process of collecting statements from all the inmates, and he is translating them from Arabic. He says the majority of the inmates in their cell are from Arab countries, and they have not had access to their embassy officials. He will follow up with the UN and other organizations once he is released, contact all the families and give statements and details to the relevant embassies.
Ishmael Blagrove is a well-known documentary filmmaker and has been speaking extensively about the Palestinian struggle for more than twenty years. In Ramle prison, he has been working tirelessly to get contact with refugee councils and organizations in Britain to present to them the case of the refugees inside. He says that many of the men from neighbouring Arab countries just want to go home, they don't want to stay in Israel and yet they are not being given the opportunity to speak. Ishmael says that many of the inmates are entitled to legal representation, but they do not know this, nor do they have any idea how to contact any refugee organization to advise them. Ishmael is in the process of establishing links between the refugee councils in Britain and the inmates of his cell in Ramle Prison.
Fathi and Ishmael have already established channels to publish these issues in Britain on their release.
When we called Ramle Prison today Fathi said that Adie had just finished his daily English lesson with the inmates. Adie is reportedly very happy with the progress of his students and said this morning they had successfully completed an intense session on Past Participles. Adie Mormesh has also been very active for the rights of Palestinians for many years. He spent two weeks in the West Bank with the Olive Coop (Zeitoun) and Action Palestine in 2007. He worked with and documented the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Campaign and participated in the World Social Forums for Palestine in Porto Alegre and Mumbai in 2003 and 2004. He has now become a teacher of English in Ramle prison.
Captain Denis Healey who has been the Free Gaza Movement's captain since October 2008 and bravely steered the DIGNITY to safety in December when she was attacked by the Israeli Navy at sea, has also been quite busy; he has been giving in-depth lectures to his fellow inmates about life at sea. Apparently there are many interested parties amongst the inmates; some hope that they may pursue a life on the sea when (and sadly if) they ever get out. They are full of questions as to the procedure of getting qualified to work on and sail boats in the Mediterranean, and Captain Denis is giving them a good run down on what they should do to follow such a dream.
This is how four of our passengers have been keeping busy during the past week, they wanted to let you all know; they also said they realize the news they are sending out is not new to any of us. We have all been working with these issues of injustice for years. But that doesn't mean that every new story about the violation of human rights, about the cruelty, brutality and flagrant misuse of justice by Israel should not be published.
Our friends are stuck in Ramle prison, because they tried to visit the war-stricken people of Gaza, and they are furious at what they are seeing. They know they have generated media interest around the world, and that sooner or later, they will leave Ramle Prison, but they also know that the other inmates of the prison have no such privilege, and without our interest in them, they could well be stuck inside Ramle prison for the rest of their lives, or exiled to some foreign country that is not their home, facing a life without family or loved ones to share it with. And so it is for the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners at present inside Israeli jails. Every one of them has a story that ought to be heard.
Statement #1 taken by Fathi Jaouadi.
From Ramle Prison, 3rd July 2009.
My name is M.
I am 26 years old.
I am a Palestinian born in Al Quds and I hold a birth certificate showing this. My family comes from a village called Sour Bahr.
We have two houses there owned by my grandfather who fled in '48 to Jordan and left the houses with my Aunt.
When I was 5 years old I went with my family to Jordan to bring back the papers that proved our ownership of these two houses. We stayed in Jordan for 2 years and then, when we had all the papers we came back to Sour Bahr.
I lived all my life in one of the houses and some of my family lived in the other. We always used to make our way between our two houses which were only minutes apart from each other.
However when the Wall was built, it split our two houses apart. It used to take minutes and then it took 4 ½ hours to go from house to house.
The house I lived in was in the West Bank, the other on the side of the Wall that is Al Quds.
When I was 16 I began the process to try and obtain Israeli ID so that I could continue to enter Al Quds and go to our house that was on the other side of the Wall.
Every day my mother would go to the Interior Ministry to try and obtain my ID. She contacted many lawyers about the case but although she worked on this for 8 years, there was no result. During this time I tried often to visit our house on the Al Quds side of the wall and every time I was caught by the Israeli forces and sent back to the West Bank.
When I was 24 years old I had a fight with a friend, I was caught by Israel during the fight and imprisoned for 1 ½ years.
I am a normal Palestinian trying to live a normal life. I am not involved in any political movement and I have no security issues with Israel. I am just trying to live my life, but when I had served my time in prison for fighting with a friend, Israel could not decide where to release me.
My birth certificate said Al Quds but I had no Israeli ID. When Israel started investigating, they discovered that when I was 5 years old I had gone with my family to Jordan for 2 years.
It was then that I was told by an Israeli judge that the Law states:
‘Any Palestinian who spends 2 years outside Israel has no right to return'
I have since seen Judge twice in the past two months. and he has told me that I will be returned to Jordan.
But Jordan has refused to accept me. So now I have been told I will just have to wait in prison.
I am very depressed now and hate my life. I am afraid of how long they will make me wait. It could be years. I am afraid I will be sent to Jordan. I have no one in Jordan. I was there when I was 5 years old! All my family are in Palestine. I know if they send me to Jordan I will never be allowed back into Palestine. I will never be allowed to see my family again. And I have done nothing.
I just want to be allowed to live a simple life with my family and the people I know and love, in my own land.