Ali was only 8 when he found himself tied down and buttoned to a knifelike fence, vulnerable to sticks smashing every corner of his tiny body. He was stolen from his playground, blindfolded and carried, like a sandbag, to Al-Khyam jail; a scary spot where fresh air and sunlight were always forbidden from coming close. His only blame were his name and looks that had confessed his nationality. Ali is an Arab Lebanese whose father was thought to have been a freedom-fighter affiliated to Hizb-Allah.
The knifelike fence Ali had been tied to had witnessed souls farewelling human bodies before; that fence had always challenged fate and had, with unflagging resolve, overpowered it. Yet, this time, Ali stood tall, in all his green years, and baffled the ferociousness of that fence and pulled through. He must have survived to tell the story of his childhood that had been dispossessed of sunlight and fresh air. He lived to tell the tale of the difficult questions he had been asked, and those he had been tortured to answer; questions too sophisticated for Ali to have grasped, and words too “foreign” for Ali to have understood. Yet, little choice did Ali have.
The more he tried to hold back his tears and act like a man, the more remorseless the beast got. When exhaustion used to take hold of his little frame, cold water was always handy to remind him that sleep and rest were both unwished for in his tiny matching cell. Once his body jolted awake to cold water, hot water was generously poured only to remind him that cold water was not a reward for having been a good boy. A good boy’s reward in Al-Khyam was an uninterrupted episode of high voltage electric shocks, high enough to numb Ali’s wispy endurance and strength.
Unfortunately, Ali never learned Hebrew in school, otherwise he would have answered well? Perhaps if he had learned a few words, he might have saved his mother’s veil from having been snatched off her head and her body stripped down and anguished? Little did Ali know.
No Hebrew could have widened the crack from which he could hear his mother’s cries for mercy. No Hebrew could have saved Ali from the isolated confinement that was only several feet away from sunlight and fresh air. No Hebrew could have saved Ali from losing his left leg to complete numbness and disability.
Ali lived to tell the story of outcries of agony. He survived to describe the many walls on which names of Al-Khyam Martyrs had been painted with blood. The blood of sinlessness and soul freedom. Souls that had announced their victory by giving up their mutilated bodies to the beast who had fed on their pain and suffering. Spirits who refused to be humiliated and broken further, and so retired to their Creator for protection and serenity.
“Martyrs are alive in Heaven,” or so Al-Khyam walls read. Ali still remembers the wall scribbles well for he used to join his older friends in scribbling whenever the beast went to unruffled sleep.
The wall scribbles of Lebanon resemble the wall scribbles of Palestine. Ali’s features resemble those of Muhammad Al-Durra, the little boy who gave up to the same beast, and who found in God the shelter and peace.
While Al-Khyam scribbles read “Martyrs are alive in Heaven,” the wall in front of which Muhammad was murdered read “what was taken by force would return only by force.” Both scribbles bear the same unease and suffering. While one scribble promises the Godly honour after torture and torment, the other reads a quote of wisdom that empowers any anguished body with potency and any bruised soul with survival. Both scribbles tell about the same beast; the beast that forestalls sunlight and fresh air away from humanity. The beast that still steals children from their playgrounds, and happiness from their eyes. The beast that still feeds on excruciating human resistance and relief.
Ali must have survived to remind humanity of Muhammad Al-Durra. He must have lived to tell the story of an Arab whose screams of torture had given the beast a reason to live.
The story of an Arab still scribbling on the walls of a life too deaf to hear the screams of torture, and too inhumane to stop the scribbling.
(Al-Khyam prison is situated in Southern Lebanon, within the zone that had been occupied by Israel since 1982. Inhumane conditions and brutal tortures had been its trademark.
Officially, Al-Khyam was controlled by the “South Lebanese Army” (SLA), the Israeli mercenary militia under the command of “General” LaHd, who, in absentia, was sentenced to death in Lebanon as a traitor.
Israel had always denied its involvement in Al-Khyam and resisted to assume responsibility for the system of arrests without trial that the SLA had carried out, and for the severe torture it had used in interrogations – reports of which were provided by some former prisoners to international human rights groups.
Only last year, Israel acknowledged that it had trained Al-Khyam’s interrogators. According to former prisoners and victims of torture, interrogations used torture techniques far more barbarous than those used in Israel, which are inhumane and barbarous enough.
Amnesty International collected testimony from those formerly interrogated, which told of being hung from the ceiling by their feet, of brutal beatings and electric shocks applied to fingers and genitals, as well as lengthy periods of starvation and prevention of sleep.
Prisoners also included children under the age of 18. All prisoners had been held as hostages, and so had never been guaranteed legal status. With the Liberation of Southern Lebanon on May 24, 2000, the notorious prison opened up with end of Israeli occupation.
AP reported on 05/24/2000 that “villagers stormed the compound and opened the prison cells, kicking down doors and breaking locks.
The International Committee of the Red Cross had been planning to take custody of the inmates and was readying buses. But it was too late. All were out before preparations were completed.
The SLA militiamen had abandoned the prison, fleeing for their lives as their command disintegrated ahead of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon.
Militiamen left behind military fatigues, weapons, food and paperwork, some scattered across the floors. Villagers said they drove off in civilian vehicles, shooting into the air in anger as the cars sped away.”
Ali, whose surname I choose to keep anonymous, is a real survivor of Al-Khyam who had lived to tell his tale.)
*The Lebanese Sheba’a Farms are still occupied by Israel*