Urgent: Pair of Sandals for Gilboa Prison!


[Image from unknown source][Image from unknown source]
[Translated from the Arabic by Sherene Seikaly. The original text can be found here.]
— Did they give you a copy of the photo I faxed?
— No!
— What about the photo I attached to the letter? Didn’t it arrive?
— No, I haven’t received a thing.
We continue talking. Question marks wander through our minds, as we look to the hands of the clock. They fall upon us and steal our time. Without any warning they announce the end of our forty-five minutes. We say goodbye to one another. Then the telephone cuts off, and stops carrying his voice through the glass. I force myself to leave the room to relieve some of the difficulty in the fact we must part. We promise to meet again in two weeks.
Forty-five minutes pass. Immediately the countdown to the next meeting begins, with all that it means, with all the longing it brings. Our lives now revolve around the rhythm of our meetings—every two weeks. Now we talk about what came before Sunday and what comes after.
Two weeks go by. The first seems long and dull. But by the time the first week passes and we get to the Sunday in between, time starts to fly. Then the other Sunday comes around.
I begin our conversation by asking:
— Did they give you a copy of the photo that I faxed?
— No!
— What about the photo I attached to my letter a week ago? Didn’t you get it?
— I got the letter, but no photo. I also got letter number 60.
— But I sent the photo with letter number 59! And I also sent letter 61 in the mail, it’s supposed to get to you soon. Strange!
 It is very strange. Even though it’s five times the price of regular mail, I sent it by registered mail to make sure it would arrive intact.
We both very surprised. But soon we are so busy with more important matters. Our love, our longing. Solidarity campaigns. All those small, day-to-day details that have become so important, especially since his only connection to them is through the letters we send him and what little we tell him. With genuine yearning and eagerness, he becomes engrossed in the details. He catches each word and gesture so that later, when he is alone in his cell, he can go over them again. We do the same thing when we get home.
Before the meeting ends and the hands of the clock seizes the rest of our minutes, I remember to say:
— Don’t forget to ask them about the letter. Tell them, ‘My wife sent the letter with the photo of the sandal by registered mail. And she also faxed the photo like the director of the department suggested. He told her, “If you want, send a copy of it by fax. You’ve got the number, you’re always sending faxes.”’
That day, I wasn’t sure what the department director’s words actually meant. Was he making fun of me? Or did he know that I don’t give up on anything, that would just let it go if they didn’t respond to me? From time to time, I have sent letters to the prison warden and the prisoners’ deputy wardens on various issues related to my husband, who is incarcerated in their prison. But I have taught myself not to pay too much attention to what they did and what they said.
Each time, the meeting ends and I force myself and my daughters to leave the visiting room. I do this to lighten the burden of our separation, for these moments when prison makes him vanish are the hardest on us allHe disappears before our eyes for two more weeks. We meet him for 45 minutes that evaporate as if they never happened. These are the hardest moments for all the prisoners. From behind the glass barrier that separates them from us, they all try to steal moments that don’t go over the allotted minutes. From behind the glass that separates those stuck on the inside of the prison from their families on the outside.
We obsessively think about him for the next two weeks. We’re constantly wondering how he is and what he is going through. What is he feeling? What is he thinking about? How is he? And only when his bi-weekly letter arrives do we get some of the details of his life in their prison. I read the letter once, twice, three times and I read it again until we meet or until the next letter arrives.
A few days after our last meeting, a letter from him arrives. From it, I understand that he is at last determined to discover the fate of the sandal. They apparently told him this:
— It’s true that that a photo arrived by fax from your wife. It was black and blurry, we tore it up and tossed it out.
— What about the photo attached to the letter?
— It never got here!
— But my wife sent it in the mail!
— We didn’t see it.
— But she says she sent it by registered mail. And I got the next letter she sent.
— We never saw it.
Suddenly, after two hours go by, the photo of the sandal arrives. “Incredible!,” he says. I say the same thing to myself.
After a month and a half of waiting, he can ask for a sandal whose photo I’d sent. Summer is blistering. It doesn’t arrive, it attacks. And in the Gilboa prison, in the Jordan Valley, the heat reaches temperatures beyond what you can imagine. The sweat pours out from the bodies of political prisoners there. Leaning against the walls is out of the question, since only spreads the heat.
There’s a story behind the sandal, just as the blood test he asked for has a story. There’s also a story to the postcard our daughter Hind sent him from Spain which, even after she returned, never arrived. And a story to how the bi-weekly family visits are arranged.
In their prison every simple issue—every straightforward issue that should occupy no one’s attention at all—unfolds in lurid detail and stretches out for days and weeks. Each simple matter becomes a story, a cause that might develop over days and weeks. That’s because the bureaucracy of their prison becomes the fulcrum through which they interact with the prisoners and their families. They keep us busy with details. In their prison, normally insignificant details become important and urgent. We spend so much time wearing out our nerves while chasing bureaucratic topics through the prisons….This is what it requires of us—that we are distracted from doing more essential work, from our political demands. Despite our awareness of this fact, we relent against the bureaucratic system, for that system directly impacts the daily lives of prisoners.
The story of the sandal? Here’s the short version. My husband asked me in his last letter I got to bring him a catalogue of sandals from one of Haifa’s stores to our next meeting. The prison store did not have his size—it was large. They told him that he had to ask me for the catalogue so that the approved supplier prison could order it. This is all because we, as families, are prohibited from bringing sandals or shoes to political prisoners. They have to buy such things themselves through the commissary, using the monthly money transfers that each family makes into the prisoner’s own account, which the prison runs. And from which the prison, of course, deducts commissions that benefit itself and the mail agency through which money transfers are conducted.
To get the catalogue, I went to the particular store where Ameer liked to buy his sandals. The storeowner did not have a catalogue of the shoes on display. After thinking about it, I got the idea to photograph the sandal with my mobile phone. And that’s what I did. I photographed the sandal from the toe and from the instep, and went home.
It took me hours to download the right software to connect my mobile with my computer. Finally, after I was about to give up, I succeeded in downloading the images onto the computer. The next step was to transfer them onto a disk, then to Hatem’s Photo Store for printing. Then to the post office to wait in line and mail it to my husband. To make sure that it got to him quickly I faxed a copy of the photo, and attached a copy of it to the letter I had written him. I went to Elias’ stationery and faxed it from there. A feeling of success flooded over me. I had conquered oppression, and it lifted me up. I had no idea of what happened to the photo, or whether Ameer had managed to buy the sandal until that first day when I met him and asked him:
 — Did they give you a copy of the photo I faxed?
— No!
— What about the photo I attached to the letter? Didn’t it arrive?
— No, I haven’t received a thing.

Janan Abdu: 

Janan Abdu is an activist and a Palestinian researcher living in Haifa. She has contributed to establishing and directing various civil and feminist frameworks. Her articles have appeared in theJournal of Palestine Studies; the quarterly of the Women’s Studies Center at Birzeit University; al-Ra’ida (AUB); The Other Front (Alternative Information Center); Jadal (Mada al-Carmel). Her publications include Palestinian Women and Feminist Organizations in 1948 Areas (Mada al-Carmel, 2008).
Since the Israeli security forces arrested her husband, the political leader and activist Ameer Makhoul, on 6 May 2010, Abdu has been closely involved in forming the Public Committee to defend his case. She is active in raising awareness on prisoners of freedom and mobilizing local and international solidarity with political prisoners in Israeli jails as well as shedding light on Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

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