Eight months ago, during a night raid in January 2013, 29-year-old Hassan Karajah was arrested by Israeli occupation forces.
Karajah, a youth coordinator for the Stop the Wall campaign, has been accused of actively supporting Palestinian prisoners and participating in a student group affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Human rights advocates insist his arrest and imprisonment is just another example of Israeli intimidation of Palestinians who speak out and work for organizations that highlight abuses by the occupation.
Friends and fellow activists add that such intimidation is, of course, not reserved for those who work formally in nongovernmental organizations, but extends to countless individuals, not least of whom are charismatic and active Palestinian youth who inspire courage in those around them. It would seem Hassan Karajah falls in to both categories.
Sending strength from behind bars
Despite health concerns and lack of access to his family, Karajah seems to be taking on the role of so many prisoners who write open letters. From behind bars and with freedom snatched away, it is Hassan who is sending his friends, family and community reassurance, encouragement and positivity.
But those who know Karajah are not surprised. Yassmine Hamayel, a friend of Hassan’s, describes his “creativity and optimism” as so present in his energy that he makes one feel “as if Palestine was not lost.”
Whether through reading and quoting the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, hiking in beautiful valleys under threat of confiscation for settlements, or being vocal about prisoners’ rights, Hamayel explains that Hassan gave his friends hope to continue resisting in any way available, that “everything will be ok, as long as we do something for Palestine.”
Others describe him as someone who is fiercely principled, dedicated to those he works with, yet inviting of new people and ideas.
A brief meeting
I don’t know Hassan well at all really, and met him only briefly before my departure from Ramallah. He was officially announcing his engagement to some friends I had stopped by to see, and so we had a cup of coffee with him and whatever sweets we could find nearby as a small token of congratulations.
Hassan and I both walked out to leave around the same time, and so he offered to give me a ride home. It didn’t take long for him to inquire how I had come to the decision to move to Palestine to teach, and before we could even get to that, suddenly our entire conversation shifted.
He was overjoyed at my fallahi Gazan dialect and even more so that I was speaking in it when teaching young kids in Ramallah.
Unfortunately our conversation was cut short, as I spotted a friend I needed to see walking in the market, thanked him for the ride, and hopped out early.
He said when I returned from my trip, we’d set up a plan for him to do a guest lecture on the apartheid wall to my class, a good topic for their spring paper, I thought to myself. I heard of his arrest while in Amman, grading Fall semester finals, a week or two after Israel denied me re-entry to the occupied West Bank.
By all accounts, it is apparent that Karajah has an eye (and ear) for detail, for seeing every part of what we choose to do and how we choose to do it as a potentially positive link to how to contribute to the Palestinian struggle.
Though his joyful engagement that we congratulated him on that day has been indefinitely extended, though his lecture to a high school class canceled, though his very freedom to embrace life threatened, he – like so many Palestinian prisoners – is the one that tells us to have hope and move forward, reminding himself and his community that each draws strength from the other.
Hassan Karajah’s letter
To my friends across the world, to everyone who has pledged solidarity with me, to everyone who cares about the prisoners’ cause, to all who believe in justice for Palestine: I send you peace and love, entwined with the steadfastness of the prisoners and scented with freedom. For you, I say:
“When seeds of wheat are sown in the earth, some are trampled to death, some are eaten by birds, and some remain under the soil to have raindrops fall on them. And with the first radiance of the sun, rays rise, promising us the continuation of life …”
To all, know that I miss you and I’m eager to see everyone. However, I am prevented from doing so by the Zionist occupation, which has imprisoned not just me but all of my people for 65 years. Nonetheless my dears, if all of this has been done for Palestine’s freedom, the land and its people, then I am ready to bear its weight, and I am certain you have carried it also and are ready to continue this way.
As I write you, I have gathered your souls around me to address you with my spirit in order to not exclude any of you. If I neglect to mention you by name, it is for a simple reason: the shortage of stationery in prison, the lack of pen and paper. This scarcity is intentional, a form of siege warfare used by Israeli Prison Services against Palestinian prisoners, used as a method to deprive us of education. And I’m sure you know this is only a drop in the ocean of Israel’s practices to suppress and break our steadfastness, a goal they have not yet and never will achieve.
To each of you, I have written private messages in notebooks—notebooks which were confiscated by the Israeli Prison Service before the letters could ever reach your hands. Therefore, I am sending you my greetings everyday through the rays of sunshine. Please embrace them.
If you want to know about me, I assure you I am fine and healthy, thank God. I am fine despite the denial of adequate medical treatment—part of the systematic medical negligence inflicted on all prisoners without exception. My spirit flies above the wind, and that is in large part due to your standing with me, as always.
I have not forgotten any of you, friends everywhere. It is true that I cannot meet you now, but you faces have not disappeared from my mind. Your principles cannot be separated from mine, and your convictions remain united with mine—what you believe in is what I believe in. These prison walls have not and cannot change that. They have not and cannot stop me from loving you more. I still meet with you in ‘The Land of Sad Oranges’, and ‘Um Saad’ is still our mother. I am sure you still hear the “knocking on the walls of the tank.” We will not stop knocking back until all the refugees return to their homes and to their grandfathers’ houses. We will not stop knocking the walls of the tanks until every friend is able to visit us in Palestine—all of Palestine, its land, its waters, its air, and the whole national territory.
This dark period will not last long. We must keep faith. Faith begets hope, and hope begets work, and work is the road to freedom. Freedom is priceless, it is the prize. This work must be done collectively, however small the impact, because the small steps meet to become an army. One noble morning, we will become a noble army, the army of the idea, the army which believes in its people, like my own belief in my people—it is limitless.
We leave our cells and the prison walls only through the world of literature. We read books to the point of becoming part of the characters that tell their stories and novels. We make them one of the doors that takes us out of the darkness of the prison. The occupation finds all kinds of ways and procedures to prevent and complicate reaching out to prisoners.
When I heard the news that many of my thoughts and dreams have become a reality—because you have achieved them on my behalf—I became certain that I am not in fact imprisoned. I see my continuation in each of you. I see my freedom in your eyes. I have heard my voice in your cries. They imprisoned our bodies, but they cannot and will never be able to imprison our ideas.
Here in prison, we derive our energy to persist from you, when you persist. Many of us are only recently detained, and our hearts are filled with joy when we meet prisoners who we have heard stories about for decades, whose pictures we have held high countless times, prisoners who stirred our own passion since the days of our childhood and who fortify our hearts as we move from our cells to the occupation’s courtrooms.
I assure you: we are far from being brought to our end. We are stronger than they are able to weaken us. We are deeper than they are able to cut us. We are boundless. Let me say finally, I will see you soon. I will emerge as you have always known me and better yet, and I will meet you at the behest of a single word: freedom.
Hassan Karajah, Beersheba Prison, Occupied Palestine