Prisoner to Prisoner


August 19, 1997

Imad Sabi, a 35-year-old Palestinian, has been detained in Israeli prisons for 20 months, one of more than 350 Palestinians being held in "administrative detention" by Israe without being charged. He is suspected of political activity in the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The open letter excerpted here refers to the case of Yuval Lotem, an Israeli army reserve officer who was recently jailed for a month when he refused to guard a prison holding Palestinian jailed without trial. The letter, written in Arabic, was published in Hebrew earlier this month in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.


A small item in the Al-Quds newspaper of July 1997: "An Israeli soldier who refused to serve at Megiddo Prison was sentenced to jail." And in the item, only a few lines long, it says that he was an officer, withthe rank of lieutenant, who said, "I prefer to be in jail as a prisoner and not as the jailer of political detainees imprisone without trial."

Who are you, officer? I want to write to you, but first I have to know who you are. I have to know the reasons that moved you to act as you did. I have to know how you arrived at this principled decision of conscience; how you chose such a unique rebellion, unexpected. What's your name? Where do you live? What do you do? How old are you? Do you have children? Do you like the sea? Wha books do you read? And what are you doing now in the cell where you are held? Do you have enough cigarettes? Is theresomeone who identifies with you over there? Do you ask yourself, "Was it worth paying the price?"

Can you see the moon and stars from the cell window? Have your ears grown accustomed to the jangle of the heavy keys, to the creak of the locks, to the clang of the metal doors? What did they say to you in the trial, and what did you answer them? Do you see in your sleep fields of wheat and kernels moving in the wind? Do you see expanses of sunflowers, and are your eyes filled with yellow, green and black hues, and the sun tans you, and you smile in your sleep, and the walls of the cell tumble and fall, and an unknown person waves his hand to you from afar? Would the job of jailer have broken you down? Only a week, two, three weeks at the most, and you would have completed your reserve duty and returned to civilian life. You could have kept silent, curbed your anger, kept your feelings to yourself. You could have been a polite jailer, treating the detainee graciously, tactfully, in a humane way. What could have happened had you done that? So who are you? How do the wardens treat you? Does your wife visit you, or maybe your girlfriend, mother or children? Do you write letters? To whom? How do you begin a letter to a woman you love? Do you think about me? About the meaning of my freedom for you? What is the meaning of freedom in your eyes? Isn't "state security" important to you? And what if I'm a real terrorist? What would you say then? Don't you have regrets? Didn't you have doubts when they told you: "They're dangerous; they belong to Hamas, to Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front? Don't you trust our security services? Do you really believe that we are ready to throw innocent people in jail?" Why do I feel as if I know you? Have we written to each other in the past? I have a friend who writes against the administrative detentions. Is he also your friend? Anonymous lieutenant, whatever your name is, sleep well; sleep the peaceful slumber of someone whose conscience is clear. I'll yet know your name, and then I'll write you a long letter, a letter of a prisoner to a prisoner. I'll begin my letter with, "Hello dear . . . ," and end with, "Yours sincerely, Imad."

Mr. Sabi's letter was translated from Hebrew by Joel Greenberg of the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times.