Trending Topics:

The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian voices from the Israeli gulag

on 27 Comments

The Prisoners’ Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag is a compilation of first hand experiences of 22 Palestinian prisoners released from prison by Israel as part of the prisoner exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit. The prisoners were interviewed by journalists and their accounts, their diaries, were compiled into a book by Norma Hashim. These autobiographical texts offer a rare opportunity to comprehend the inhumane indignities endured by tens of thousands of Palestinians prisoners throughout the decades of this long painful conflict.

The book was a collaborative effort, a labor of love. The introduction was written by Ramzy BaroudJoe Catron and Mark Gibson edited the texts and they were then translated into English by Yousef M. Aljamal and Raed Qadoura at the Centre for Political and Development Studies (CPDS) in Gaza. The book is set to be released on April 17th.

Richard Falk has written a powerful review Reading Palestinian Prison Diaries that deserves to be read in full. He makes a powerful point that history will one day vindicate the ‘crimes’ of Palestinians “as part of a final chapter in the struggle against European colonial rule,” which I believe to be true. I have not read the book, but it is available on pdf  right now for the shocking price of $1.99 , if you have a Paypal account.

Stay tuned, we’ll be bringing you more news of The Prisoner’s Diaries in the coming weeks ahead.

Richard Falk:

What I found most valuable about this publication was its success in turning the abstraction of Palestinian prisoners into a series of human stories most of which exhibit agonized feelings of regret resulting from prolonged estrangement from those they most love in the world. Particularly moving were the sorrows expressed by men missing their mothers and daughters. These are the written words of prisoners who have been convicted of various major crimes by Israeli military courts, some of whom face cruel confinement for the remainder of their life on earth, and who have been further punished by being deprived of ever seeing those they love not at all, or on rare occasions, for brief tantalizing visits under dehumanizing conditions, through fogged up separation walls.


It is a tragic aspect of the occupation that after 45 years of occupation there is not a Palestinian family that is left untouched by the Israeli criminalization of all forms of resistance, including those that are nonviolent and symbolic.


We need a wider ethical, legal, and political perspective to grasp properly this phenomenon of Palestinian prisoners. The unlawful occupation policies of Israel are unpunished even when lethal and flagrantly in violation of international humanitarian law, and are rarely even officially criticized in international arenas. In contrast lawful forms of resistance by the Palestinian people are harshly punished, and the resulting victimization of those brave enough to resist is overlooked almost everywhere.  If we side with those who resist, as was done during World War II when those Europeans mounted militant forms of resistance against German occupation and criminal practices, we glorify their deeds and struggle. Yet if the occupier enjoys our primary solidarity we tend to criminalize resistance without any show of empathy. To some extent, this book cuts through this ideological myopia, and lets us experience the torment of these prisoners as human beings rather than as Palestinian ‘soldiers’ in the ongoing struggle against Israel.


Above all, these texts in almost every page confirm that particularly prized Palestinian collective public/private virtue of sumud or steadfastness……what comes across from these diary pages are deep commitments rooted in love of family and homeland as strengthened by religious faith and practice and sustained by prison camaraderie or in embittered reaction to the dehumanizing atmosphere of enduring prison life year upon year.


What is needed, beyond all doubt, is a code of conduct, if not an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, that fills in this gap associated with resistance. Resisters should be treated with the same dignity under international humanitarian law as is associated with Prisoners of War. Their acts, even if violent, are in keeping with prevailing societal and civilizational values, and perpetrators, even when confined for reasonable security reasons, should be treated with appropriate dignity. Unlike sociopathic common murderers, rapists, and the like (and even they should also be treated in accord with international standards), the acts of Palestinian prisoners are viewed as heroic by their own society and political culture, as well as many people throughout the world. They deserve international recognition and protection. Their ‘crimes’ will eventually be vindicated by history as part of a final chapter in the struggle against European colonial rule. I believe it to be a moral obligation of all of us who care about human rights and freedom to read this book, and share it with others. The Palestinians, whose rights and dignity have been long trampled upon, especially deserve our deepest empathy, as well as our solidarity in their struggle. Reading the words of these prisoners vividly discloses the nature of such a struggle in the form of witnessing by those Palestinians who have put their lives at risk for the sake of recovering their stolen homeland.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

Other posts by .

Posted In:

27 Responses

  1. Mike_Konrad
    April 7, 2013, 12:53 am

    If we side with those who resist, as was done during World War II when those Europeans mounted militant forms of resistance against German occupation and criminal practices, we glorify their deeds and struggle. Yet if the occupier enjoys our primary solidarity we tend to criminalize resistance without any show of empathy.

    I can understand your point; but when push comes to shove, one side or the other has to prevail.

    They ultimately both claim the same piece of ground. Both sides say they want peace, but look at their maps which erase the existence of the other.

    The peace both sides have in mind is the disappearance of the other side.

    From the river to the sea is as much a motto of the Jews as the Palestinians.

    Militant Jews want all the area (and Jordan as well) while a large section of the Arabs wants all of pre-partition Palestine.

    This is not negotiable. Neither side will voluntarily commit suicide to make the other side’s existence possible.

    In such situations, cruelty is commonplace … ALAS!

    I am sure their writing is heartbreaking.

    Alas, it will make no difference in the end.

    • April 7, 2013, 5:54 pm

      Perhaps, you can show us the Palestinian map that has “erased” ISreal. That is, the map that shows the land that has been stolen by ISreal from the Palestinians and they have re-taken. I think everyone knows which side has the disappearance of the other in mind. I think that little map of Palestine will give you and idea of which one. That the Palestinians want all of the -re-partition Palestine is understandable since all of if was their land to begin with.

      I am sure their writing is heartbreaking.

      Alas, it will make no difference in the end.

      Surely, you must have some other place to be today.

    • justicewillprevail
      April 9, 2013, 6:53 am

      A conveniently false equivalence, based on some hoary myths, gives you a get-out clause which allows you to airily dismiss the very real experiences of people suffering appallingly for the sake of zionist ideology, and you can pretend to be even-handed. Shame on you for such superficial, patronising empty rhetoric.

  2. OlegR
    April 7, 2013, 6:37 am

    Gulag , really ?
    What a piece of work you are…

    • Cliff
      April 7, 2013, 5:43 pm

      Poor, sensitive Oleg.

    • April 7, 2013, 5:49 pm

      If you had been a guest of the ISreali prison system, even you would agree.

    • Daniel Rich
      Daniel Rich
      April 7, 2013, 8:39 pm

      @ OlegR,

      Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitel’no-Trudovykh are places where you point at to indoctrinate prospective future inmates, as vivid, worldly black holes, where you can be locked up indefinitely, without due process [Gitmo is another one of those abhorred ‘democratized,’ rendition-free places]. The good thing about Israeli ones? No visible forced labor.

      • W.Jones
        April 8, 2013, 2:40 am


        A key word here is “Ispravitel’no”- “corrective.” The Gulag was part of a system of suppressing dissent, while maintaining the overall population.

        Theoretically a colonial State could subsume and “correct” the ideas and treat the natives with conversion like in other typical colonial projects like the Spaniards’ conquest of the Americas. But when the State is not interested in doing this or treating the natives on an equal cultural footing, there is a noticeable difference from the pattern of a GULAG or other colonial states. Am I wrong? So in the end, Oleg is right about a difference?

        Another aspect of the GULAG was exile. People got sent to Siberia to put them out of the way. Is this similar to the position of one of the world’s largest refugee populations when it lives on the periphery of its homeland? In that case, there is not an interest of maintaining this key part of the land’s overall population.

    • ToivoS
      April 8, 2013, 2:02 am

      Yep Oleg the comparison to the Soviet Gulags is appropriate. I have always hated the comparing Israelis to the Nazis. So far the Israelis have not deserved that comparison. But their current practice of imprisoning masses of Palestinians without trials is very similar to what the Soviets did to dissidents of communist rule especially post WWII.

      I presume you are one of those Russian emigres so you know what we are talking about.

  3. ivri
    April 7, 2013, 10:15 am

    It seems that all past heroic vocabulary will be hijacked in the fight against Israel in distorted ways (and thus in particular desecrating them): Gulags (does Israel have a network of slave camps in a remote horrible region?); Resistance by Hezbollah (is Lebanon under occupation?); The occupied land (the West-Bank belonged to Jordan which after the war relinquished its claim on it), and so on and on. Won`t work because the contrasts are too obvious

    • Stephen Shenfield
      Stephen Shenfield
      April 7, 2013, 5:08 pm

      Perhaps even including occupied territories Israel isn’t big enough for anywhere to be really “remote” but it does have a region with “horrible” desert terrain and concentration camps for Palestinian prisoners. It’s called the Negev.

    • April 7, 2013, 5:44 pm

      Aaah, talk about hijacking language to further a political goal of neo-colonialism, Apartheid and genocide. Gotta love the Hasbaraniks.

      1. Gulags: per Merriam Webster’s dictionary is the penal system of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics consisting of a network of labor camps; also : labor camp. Not sure where you got your definition from. The Hasbara Academy of Hostile Semantics, perhaps?

      2. Is Lebanon under occupation? Not that you would notice but, yes, Lebanon is pretty much owned by the US even if overtly. When Isreal attacks, invades, bombs, shoots and violates its sovereignty (yeah, laugh at the irony), it is Hezbollah that defends the country against their serial and habitual terrorizer.

      3. The occupied land (the West Bank) belonged to PALESTINE. Or so is decreed in UN Resolution 181, the Partition of Palestine, which you may want to acquaint yourself with so you don’t sound so…hmmm…what’s another word for ignorant?

      See, denying another people’s existence is not Kosher. You certainly don’t like it when it’s done to you, therefore, you should refrain from doing it unto others. Having said that, your comment is anti-semitic because you deny the existence of the Palestinians and their rights to their land. And I am greatly offended by that!

    • Sumud
      April 8, 2013, 2:07 am

      Won`t work because the contrasts are too obvious

      People around the world are tuning into Palestine and Israel and making up their own minds:

      Israel’s popularity sinks even lower in 2012, new BBC global survey confirms

      • W.Jones
        April 8, 2013, 1:24 pm

        Sumud is a heroic word.

      • Sumud
        April 9, 2013, 2:06 am

        Sumud is a heroic word.

        Yes indeed W.Jones!!!

        I chose it as a handle because it’s a beautiful noble concept – and the people practicing it are heroes. Also, because I wanted everyone who reads it to ask “what is that?” and then go find out themselves.

      • W.Jones
        April 10, 2013, 1:44 am

        I assumed it was a person’s name, until I heard the word used to describe the people’s steadfastness.

    • W.Jones
      April 8, 2013, 2:53 am

      Is “homeland” a patriotic, heroic term? Because millions of Palestinian refugees use it to describe where they want to go back to.

      Here’s another heroic term: “I exist”. That’s powerful for millions of people whose conquerors say they don’t.

      • miriam6
        April 8, 2013, 1:50 pm

        That is a rather ironic comment coming from you, W.Jones.
        On another thread you claimed there are only 1.5 million Mizrahim in Israel.
        In fact, there are 3.5 million Mizrahim in Israel.

        ” I Exist ” would be the perfect and powerful rejoinder by Israeli Mizrahim to your ignorant assertion that they are a tiny minority in Israel.

      • W.Jones
        April 12, 2013, 4:34 am

        Hello, Miriam.

        Your name is pretty.

        I read on Wikipedia:

        Mizrahi Jews
        Total population
        1,750,000 (estimate)
        Regions with significant populations
        Middle East
        Israel 1,397,000

        The ProCon Website reports:

        In the late 1960s the 1.5 million Oriental Jews formed about one-ninth of the world’s Jewry.

        If the above information is incorrect, can you provide a better source?

        Are Sephardis and Mizrahis the same thing?
        If not, how many are there of each group?

  4. Citizen
    April 7, 2013, 10:37 am

    Thanks Annie.
    Anybody know if the IDF soldier all these men were traded for is going to write about his captivity?

    Also, Israel’s war on tiny native kids going to school continues unabated:

    The story of David and Goliath has not a shred of material evidence, but these little Palestinians kids, many below the age of 12, some in the 1st or 2nd grade, did throw pebbles or stones at the Israeli checkpoint. No, they really weren’t big enough to throw “boulders.” And they had no sling shot, just the pebbles or stones in the path on the way to grade school. I suggest you write your congress critters to get another $6 billion or so to Israel so it can handle these feisty little pricks and Obama can sleep at night, knowing his daughters are dreaming sweet dreams each night, same as the Jewish kids in Israel.

    • Ecru
      April 8, 2013, 7:37 am

      And something the defenders of Israeli brutality always fail to mention when the subject of stone throwing children comes up is the effective range of a stone vs that of a modern assault rifle. It’s always “our brave soldier was in existential threat from a thrown pebble” when a child is shot by a member of the IDF goon-squad from 100’s of yards away. WELL beyond any effective stone throwing range from even an adult let alone a kid.

  5. yourstruly
    April 7, 2013, 12:40 pm

    so long overdue, intifada iii, where art thou?

    • OlegR
      April 7, 2013, 3:25 pm

      How about you come here and star it chegevara de la shmate ?

    • ivri
      April 7, 2013, 4:04 pm

      And then iv, v, vi,.. who counts?

    • W.Jones
      April 8, 2013, 2:54 am

      YT, apparently number “iii” has been going on officially since 2005 or so.

      Besides, to exist is to resist.

  6. April 7, 2013, 5:35 pm

    Out of those 22 prisoners, I can’t help but wonder how many have been re-arrested and are lingering in the ISreali gulags again.

  7. just
    April 8, 2013, 8:41 am

    Thank you Annie and Mondoweiss.

    There is no excuse.

Leave a Reply