Ali, released after 23 years in Israeli jails: “I have to learn life”

Israel locks up Palestinian political prisoners with Israeli citizenship, including Ameer Makhoul, in Gilboa jail. On 18 October, two fellow prisoners of Ameer were released in the prisoner exchange deal. Ahmad Amera, who is 44 years old and was held in the same cell as Ameer, spent more than 23 years in Israeli jails. Ali Amaria was released at the age of 46 after spending half of his life in Israeli prisons. The two men could not say goodbye to Ameer because of his transfer to Megiddo prison during the hunger strike. Twenty-two-year-old Husam Khalil was released a few months earlier when his 2.5-year sentence ended. Recently the three men visited the Makhoul family to share memories. The photo was taken on that occasion.

Released fellow prisoners of Ameer Makhoul

I have been corresponding with Ali for some weeks – since being introduced to him by Ameer. In his letters, Ali sheds light on life in an Israeli prison. One letter inspired me to write about Netanyahu’s harsh policy towards political prisoners. After spending 23 years in prison, Ali was released in the exchange deal. 

Last week I spoke with him about his “new” life. Although he is disappointed that Israel did not release all the Palestinian prisoners with Israeli citizenship who spent over 20 years in prison, he enjoys his freedom. Assisted by his niece, he is learning how to use a computer. He takes driving lessons and loves the feeling, “All the time in prison I was the baggage, now I am the driver! I went to the seashore and I felt like a kid, playing in the water.” His face is beaming while he freely talks about his feelings. It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast to what he wrote from prison a few weeks earlier:

“It is really hard for me to express feelings, just like all the veteran prisoners. We deal with our feelings with the perception of the ‘others’, inside and outside the prison. For example, if I say that I am strong, I am afraid that the ‘others’ will explain it as exaggeration. If I say I a am tired, the ‘others’ will explain it as broken spirit. If I say I am happy, no one will believe me. So I prefer to keep my feelings to myself.”

While we talk his mobile phone rings. He shows it to me saying, “This is the modern technology. We had it in prison too. We smuggled it in and used it.”

After his release, Ali went home to live with his mother. Sadly, his father died four years ago while Ali was still in prison. “I like to help, sweep the floor, wash the dishes. But the women they don’t want me to do so. I told them, no, I am living with my mother, she is ill. I must take care of her. I like it very much. I am learning the life.”

Prison did not break him or his friends, says Ali. “The relationship with our community, with our family makes us stronger. Every two weeks they came to visit me. They make us who we really are. We should do something to stay stable. We have to feel alive. When we are on hunger strike, we feel alive because we are still fighting for our rights.”

Although Ali has been released from jail, he is not really free. The Israeli Internal Security Service - Shin Bet - ordered him not to leave the country for 17 years.



Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh