So, the day started with hope and Ali. Then I had the challenge and conundrum of Ahmed. As we pulled into Ramallah to visit the Palestinian Prisoners Club, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Walking in I felt like I was back in the 1970’s. The smell of smoke permeated everything. Think of the rooms in The Spy or cafe’s in old movies. It was hard to breathe. We moved into their conference room which wasn’t very smoky as Kadur, the director of the club, began to talk to us.
He apologized because he had to leave right away to do a radio interview. There were two “Jordanian Palestinians” who had been arrested with ‘Administrative Detention’ and were about to be released. Administrative Detention is when you can be arrested and no reason given. I guess it has been a big news story. So he left us to do his radio interview. As I looked around the room, there were pictures of Yasser Arafat on the wall. There were mosquitoes flying around the room. It didn’t give off a good vibe or set good expectations.
When he returned, Kadur broke down the number of Palestinian’s in Israeli prison, telling us that there were 5,000 currently incarcerated and ‘only’ 570 were serving life sentences. He continued to go on about the injustice but it simply wasn’t resonating. And then it got worse.
He began to talk about the money given to the families of those who are in prison for killing Jews and for those who are suicide bombers. He was angry that anybody would tell the PA how to spend their budget. And how it was wrong to cut this funding because ‘just like in the US, when the father is in prison they need money to live.’
Ah – welfare we thought. Regular social services. That may make sense. So we asked if they got this money from the same pool that all the poor access. And he told us no. There is a special funding pool for each category. And every category gets a different amount. ‘Martyrs and Prisoners’ he said, need a special category. As I looked around the room I saw people with a look of disbelief.
He then continued framing everything as a result of the occupation. The reason they have crime is the occupation. The reason for every bad thing is the occupation. I realized that I was sitting in a room with the stereotypical Palestinian who hates Jews, wants all the land, believes in ‘from the river to the sea’, wants to see Jews killed and is not a partner for peace. He even openly said, “As an enemy of Israel, I like when Israel does things that I can use.”
His final comment was a failed attempt to make himself look better. “Israel will continue to be our neighbor for at least ……… 100 years.’ The pause was palpable. It seemed like he was searching for a number that seemed to be a long time and that he could actually get out of his mouth. He then said, “those that kill Israelis are freedom fighters. I respect them. I live with them.”
As we left the center, I began talking with a few participants about what we just experienced. The hope from Ali was gone at this point. All that remained was the ‘Jewish fear’ that Ali spoke about and a lot of anger. How can you even begin with somebody like this?