The story of the watermelon and the forty prisoners

For every forty prisoners, there was one middle-sized watermelon distributed in Gilboa prison this summer.

Mushir Abdelrahman MaanImages

This piece was written from Gilboa prison following Israeli Prime Minister’s speech at the Israeli Presidential Conference on 23 June, 2011. During his speech, Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will impose a series of measures to harden conditions for Palestinian political prisoners, declaring that “the party is over.”

On Friday, 24 June at 12:46 pm, the prison administration brought us, the prisoners, a watermelon. It was our first watermelon of 2011. According to the prison regulations, each prisoner gets 180 grams of fruit each day. It’s one of our basic rights. However, a few days ago, when it seemed that fruits were unavailable, each of us was provided with an onion as an alternative, or compensation.

On that day, all of us had a share in the watermelon “party.” Each prison section, containing 120 prisoners, received the total number of three watermelons. The prisoners are divided into separate and isolated sections according to where they come from: while those who come from Jerusalem, ‘48 Palestine and the Golan Heights compile the first section; those of the West Bank are in the second; and our compatriots from the Gaza Strip are in the third. And not only that, in the prisons in the south of the country the prisoners are divided also according to the the political faction they belong to, and for the last four years they have been prevented from receiving any guests.

For every forty prisoners, there was one middle-sized watermelon. As always, we have a special staff composed of prisoners that is in charge of distributing the food. This time, its task was especially difficult: each watermelon had to be cut into forty equal pieces! At the end, each prisoner received a watermelon piece in the shape of an isosceles triangle, whose equal sides are red and the base green. The latter — that is, the rind — was calculated into our 180 grams of fruit a day.

Thief of freedom

Our watermelon experience brought to my mind the popular story of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The analogy is not a purely a numerical one: in the story, forty thieves were locked in a cave — the mouth of which was sealed by magic — while hiding from justice; in our life, however, there is only one thief, who lives in the open. Our thief continues to rob freedom, a nation and a people by locking us behind closed bars. But, when we look at the horizon, we see the thief’s world slowly closing up on him.

The crimes of our thief can be exposed by confrontation. We are not disillusioned, but our so-called “parties” inside the prison bars do have a taste, because we prepare them ourselves. Also, we are not orphans, for outside the prison walls our people are struggling for liberation. Until when? Only we, as prisoners and as a people, can answer this question.

Ameer Makhoul is a Palestinian civil society leader and political prisoner at Gilboa Prison.

Translated by Shadi Rouhana