Al Jazeera World

Lost Time: Palestinian prisoners in Israel

The poignant stories of Palestinian prisoners in Israel and the effects of imprisonment on them and their families.

Filmmaker: Mustafa Al-Nabih

There are an estimated 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Since 1967, around 750,000 Palestinians have been in custody. Lost Time hears the deeply personal stories of some of the prisoners and their families, exploring the social, emotional, financial, physical, and psychological effects of long-term imprisonment.

Diaa and Mohamed Al-Agha were imprisoned in 1992 and 2003, respectively, and their mother, Najat, feels that she lost precious years with her boys. When Mohamed was released, Diaa went on hunger strike. “I hope God grants me life to see them like any mother would see her children. I’ve missed 46 Eids and 23 Mother’s Days. It is unfortunate that I don’t get to celebrate,” laments Najat, who’s husband was also detained in 1973.

A prisoner is like a caged bird. Once released, it tries to fly, only to fall again.

by Mustafa Musulmani, Palestinian prisoner

As trauma and stress affect Palestinian prisoners, they also affect members of their families.

Mohamed Hashash’s mother wasn’t allowed to visit him for 15 years. When she did, she suffered three strokes and is now confined to a single room the size of her son’s prison cell.

Prisoner Mohammed Al-Basyouni smuggled his sperm out of jail when his wife, Ahlam, decided she wanted to have in-vitro fertilisation. Now she has twins – but they don’t know their father, are not allowed to visit him and are considered illegitimate under Israeli law.

While her immediate community was against the idea, Ahlam says her daughters, Nadia and Maysaa, “fill my life with joy”. Before them, she had experienced bouts of depression and feelings of emptiness, but “I don’t count these days as part of my life. For me, time has stopped. But, at the end of the day, using a simple idea, I managed to cut that time short, by giving birth,” says Ahlam.

READ MORE: ‘Smuggled’ child meets father in Israeli jail

Reem Anbar only knows her father, Rami, through photographs. He was detained in 2002 for “armed action against Israeli forces” and is serving an 18-year sentence. A tearful Reem admits her weakest moments come “when my classmate’s father shows up to school”.

Lost Time: Palestinian prisoners sperm smuggling

“I feel sad,” she says. “I try to hold myself together. When people are around, you’re happy. You shouldn’t project your sadness on them. You try to remain composed and share their happiness.”

Her mother, Fidaa, had to wait six years before being granted permission to visit her husband. Recalling that day, she says: “I began to search for him, as he was searching for me. We didn’t recognise each other. The visit became very difficult and I was crying the whole time. I couldn’t listen to what he was saying.”

Even after their release, many prisoners struggle to shake off the effects of serving time in jail.

Mustafa Musulmani describes life outside of prison as just as painful as it was behind bars. “A prisoner is like a caged bird. Once released, it tries to fly, only to fall again. By sending us to the Gaza Strip, the occupation wants to shatter our will and determination, and kill our fighting spirit and our resistance, and feelings of belonging to our country,” he says.

“But we tell the occupation and anyone who can hear, ‘Our dream will never fade’. It lives in us, our dream to go back to our country one day and be with our parents and the people who’ll pray for our souls if we die.”

He was released in 2011, but exiled to Gaza instead of returning to his family and birthplace in Tubas, a Palestinian city in the northeastern West Bank. Unable to visit family because of Israeli travel restrictions, an emotional Mustafa explains: “Living alone is like being in prison, or even worse.”

He hasn’t seen two of his three daughters for over 17 years and finds it most difficult during the holidays. “Sometimes, I find myself sitting and tears start rolling down my face, especially during Ramadan and holidays. Everyone celebrates with their families, cousins, siblings and parents – but I’m alone. I stay at home alone.”

Hasan Salame has been in jail since 1996. Ghefran Zamel has never met him – but the two got engaged in 2010 after they exchanged photographs. Seven years on, they still intend to marry when Hasan is eventually released. Ghefran describes their engagement as an act of defiance against the Israeli occupation.

“This is our message to the occupation: If you sentence us to death, we’ll face death with life. It was a message of hope for all the prisoners, not just Hasan,” she says.