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The most precious forty-five minutes of your life: Diary of an Israeli prison visit

Israel/Palestine

You wake up very early, put on your best clothes and get ready for a long anticipated visit. Begins, with the early start of the journey, a recollection of events and a recalling of memories. For many, this will be their only opportunity to see loved ones held in Israeli prisons; others are denied those precious forty-five minute visits.

The journey to the forty-five minutes is similar to many other journeys Palestinians take to reach their workplace, schools and family members. It is a journey to screening- and double screening- rooms, to harassments and insults by young officers. The journey begins early in the morning, and in some cases it takes up to 15 hours until families finally return to their homes. For those fortunate enough to be allowed visits, this perhaps is the most valuable forty-five minutes of the month (and in many cases, the most valuable of one’s entire life).

Long humiliating hours pass before visitors reach the last stage of “inspection” separating them from loved ones. Anger at the humiliation faced is suddenly replaced  (albeit, for a while) with a surge of emotions when a young Israeli prison “officer” opens the blue door separating visitors from the visiting room. Everyone rushes to the visiting room searching for loved ones standing behind double-bulletproof glass. The sight of seeing your loved one has the ability to fill your heart and mind with power, inspiration and love. There are a couple of “free” minutes: the clock has not yet started to countdown. Gestures of love and feelings fly, and a sigh of relief is heaved by those fortunate enough to make it to the visiting room.

Smiling behind the bulletproof glass are our loved ones. Their faces are full of happiness and joy. Silently, your loved one taps the bulletproof glass and you do so in return. Everyone seems to be doing the same thing. The glass (and the occupation) stands in the way of any possible physical touch between the prisoner and the visitor.

An unspoken agreement about the holiness of the upcoming forty-five minutes is present amongst everyone in the small visiting room. The clock, strategically placed behind the visitor and in front of the prisoner, begins to painfully count down the forty-five minute visit time.

Forty-five minutes.

The prisoner and the visitor pick up the phones fixed on both sides of the bulletproof glass. Attempts to recall memories and stories seem to fail the moment you hear your loved one’s voice. You remind yourself to stay strong and remain focused. You must remember everything you wanted to say; after all, you only have forty-five minutes.

Conversations begin.

Time is both blessed and cursed when you stand on the side of Israel’s high quality bulletproof glass. First-degree relatives of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons have to go through several processes, and hurdles, to obtain permits allowing them to visit loved ones. In many cases, such as those of family members living in Gaza and those forbidden entry into Israel, having the most precious forty-five minutes is, in fact, impossible. As Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association notes, thousands of Palestinian prisoners serve their entire sentences without receiving regular family visits.

The prisoner and the visitor steal shy glances at the clock wishing that time could stop. But alas, it doesn’t. The clock continues to silently count down.

As stories flow, eyes carefully inspect changes appearing on loved ones. In prison visiting rooms, eyes can notice even the slightest details. They seem more focused. They have a greater ability to hold on to images. The conversation shifts to questions about health. The usual answer comes from the prisoners, “my health is great, don’t worry about me. How is yours?”

Topics of conversation keep changing. You talk about recent news, engagements, weddings, newborn family members, college grades, job opportunities, joy and anger. There is no silence during those precious forty-five minutes of love.

Each passing minute is full of love and hope. As the visit nears its end, families begin to talk quickly in the hope of not forgetting anything. They send words of love and longing in the remaining minutes of the visit. Families know that a minute or two, in which they can steal last glances at their loved ones, will remain following the “official” end of the visit.

The clock stops counting down. You can no longer hear your loved ones, neither can they. Goodbyes begin. You tap on the glass, wave your hand and stand in front of the glass refusing to leave. “Officers” begin to shout orders. You take one last long glance at your loved one and wave goodbye.

The Forty-five minutes of love are over. You have just lived one of the most precious forty-five minutes of your life.

A numb feeling similar to that of your first kiss follows. The love felt shortly carries you over the screening gates, the iron fences, the soldiers, and their guns. It caries you over Israel’s segregation wall, its systems of checkpoints, the Red Cross buses and ongoing state violence.

Palestinian political prisoners are a reminder of Israel’s racist policies and its ongoing attempts at erasing Palestinian memory and resistance. They are a face of the Palestinian peoples struggle for justice, equality and humanity.

To years of uninterrupted love and freedom.

Basil AbdulRazeq Farraj
About Basil AbdulRazeq Farraj

Basil Farraj is a Thomas J. Watson Fellow from Jerusalem who has recently graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana with a B.A. in Peace and Global Studies. Basil is the founder of "a Path to Peace"; a summer project connecting Palestinian with Northern Irish youth which will take place in June, 2014 in the city of Derry and Belfast.

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17 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    June 2, 2015, 10:06 am

    Thank you Basil Farraj.

  2. just
    just
    June 2, 2015, 10:23 am

    A very intimate and moving piece about the pain, injustice, and cruelty inflicted on Palestinians by the Apartheid/Occupation state.

    Thank you so much for this searing and beautifully written essay, Basil AbdulRazeq Farraj.

    • johneill
      johneill
      June 2, 2015, 11:48 am

      +1 just.
      this serves as a long-awaited companion piece to innumerable essays written about prison visits in america, where pain, injustice, and cruelty are part-and-parcel of the ‘criminal justice’ system.

  3. eljay
    eljay
    June 2, 2015, 10:26 am

    Life and times in the oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and religion-supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel, which has been flouting international law and committing (war) crimes for almost 70 years.

    Sure, Israel’s nowhere near as good as the best countries in the world but, hey, at least it’s not as bad as Saudi Arabia, Mali and African “hell-holes”!

  4. Bornajoo
    Bornajoo
    June 2, 2015, 5:41 pm

    Thank you for this excellent and moving article. The immense suffering of those imprisoned is matched only by the immense suffering caused to their loved ones. They have to try and continue to live their lives under occupation with one of their own incarcerated by the occupiers. And they have to go through hell just to spend 45 minutes with them behind bullet proof glass

    Welcome to the only democracy in the middle east

  5. eusebio
    eusebio
    June 3, 2015, 8:49 am

    Thank you article

  6. Down under girl
    Down under girl
    June 3, 2015, 9:01 am

    What bleeding hearts!! Get a life people.

    It’s a maximum security prison and the same the world over, unless you care to go to maybe China or Russia and there you WILL find out what a prison is and it’s not a holiday camp.

    These terrorists leave prison with University degrees. Try that elsewhere.

    • bintbiba
      bintbiba
      June 3, 2015, 9:49 am

      @Down Under Girl

      “These terrorists? What terrorists ?!!!

      Ye gods ….. !!! (Splutters of Outrage ) !!!

    • just
      just
      June 3, 2015, 10:10 am

      + 1, bintbiba

      Dug~ You might want to go read this about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights @

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Covenant_on_Civil_and_Political_Rights#Parties_to_the_covenant

      (btw, Israel signed it in 1966 and acceded to it in 1991. As usual, they flout the law!)

    • Rob Roy
      Rob Roy
      June 3, 2015, 11:56 am

      Down under girl: Your horrible little comment overlooks one thing: When an Arab is taken to Israeli court, he/she WILL LOSE 99% of the time. Period. The vast majority of Arab prisoners in Israeli prisons are INNOCENT. Period. One guy I know went one day to Israel, had never been there before, was accused of being in an auto theft gang, even though he could prove he’d never been out of the West Bank before, taken to trial, lost of course, and sentenced to two years in prison and came out broken. Yet the truly guilty Israeli people [murdering children (the “little snakes”), stealing land, tearing out 500 year orchards, torturing at will, stealing water and selling it back at outrageous prices, holding all people in Gaza open-air prisoners, regularly massacring thousands of them every couple years, holding up money BELONGING to Palestinians just for punishment for trying to defend themselves agains the fourth most powerful military in the world, bulldozing the same cities over and over and over again, maintaining total control over a group of people just because Jewish Israelis actually believe they have some god-given right to maintain superiority over Arabs when in fact, when Israel was created, only 5% of Jews lived there and 95% were Palestinians, allowing no safe return to Palestinians yet encouraging any Jew in the entire world to return!]…those Israelis never see the inside of a prison and go on and on with their aparthied state as if it’s just a fine thing to do. Good grief. YOU get a life.

      • Bornajoo
        Bornajoo
        June 3, 2015, 12:54 pm

        Am I allowed to cast a thousand votes?

        Ok. + 1000 Rob Roy! TRUTH!!

      • eljay
        eljay
        June 3, 2015, 1:35 pm

        || Bornajoo: … + 1000 Rob Roy! ||

        +1001. :-)

      • just
        just
        June 3, 2015, 1:49 pm

        Ditto that, Bornajoo!

        Well said Rob Roy!

      • bintbiba
        bintbiba
        June 3, 2015, 1:53 pm

        Am I allowed to add another grateful 1000 .? Thank you Rob Roy for your excellent comment.

        + 1000 !!!!!!! 1000 + 1000 = 2000 :))

    • Kris
      Kris
      June 3, 2015, 12:57 pm

      @Down under girl: “These terrorists leave prison with University degrees.”

      Actually, the education program that was supported by Israeli prisons was stopped in 2011 as part of sanctions against the Palestinian prisoners. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/palestinians-earn-degrees-while-in-israeli-jail/article5627989.ece

  7. Boo
    Boo
    June 3, 2015, 9:16 am

    The “extra one or two free minutes” at the beginning and end of these sessions is a classic and thoroughly despicable technique used by the oppressor to hide behind a thin veneer of false humanity. It’s intended to inculcate, in prisoners and loved ones, the odious sentiment “I love Big Brother”.

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