Ibtihaal Beetlu and memories of captivity - I
As if it was a dream, O my friend, days passed very slowly when I was in captivity. Now, I have returned to my home, family, room and that face which did not leave me even for one night. I wake up every night, thinking that this is not true and that the scene will end seconds later. Eemaan! Faatimah! I scream, repeating their names, but there is no response except the quietness of the room. It is like a dream. It is as if the prison is still within us. It is as if I did not leave it long days ago. I sit before them but I cannot speak although there are endless words within me. I did not believe that I have finally got rid of the nightmare of captivity. I ask Allah The Almighty not to make anyone face this destiny. They were indeed difficult days. I do not know whether I will forget them one day or not…
After two and a half years during which she did not see the sun except for a few minutes on her way to the court, Ibtihaal Yoosuf Beetlu was free from the nightmare of captivity. Many people were waiting for her outside the prison in Ramle. In normal life – as she describes it -- there is her father, friend, brother, her mother who was consumed with grief and Wajdi whom they brought one day to the interrogation room in a miserable state. She never thought that she would see him in such a state. He had suffered from the Shabeh method (sitting in a crucified position with hands and legs tied and head covered with a filthy hood) and tortured for a long time. On that day, they told her that he would not leave the prison and that he would be tortured as long as she did not talk. She said, "The sight of my fiance, Wajdi, standing before me exhausted and unable to move due to torture. I will never forget this scene as long as I live…"
I knew that they would come:
On 21 January 2003, Ibtihaal (20 years) was at the end of a telephone call with her fiance, Wajdi Al-‘Aaroori. They had concluded their marital contract just three days before. The Zionist soldiers surrounded the dormitories where she was staying in Al-‘Ayzariyah. She was a student at the colleague of Da‘wah and Usool Al-Deen (Islamic Call and Foundations of Religion) in Abu Dis. Ibtihaal says, "I knew that they would come to arrest me. I predicted that they would come when I learnt that they had arrested two of my friends, Faatimah Zaayid and Eemaan Abu Saarrah. I was not afraid. I said to myself, 'The Destiny of Allah will inevitably occur. So, I have to face this with strength and patience.'"
Ibtihaal was sick on the day they broke into the place. She said, "When I opened the door, I immediately knew that they had come to arrest me. Since I was very ill, I did not tell them that I was Ibtihaal. Later, however, they came to know the truth. They drove me to Bethel and I stayed there until the morning. I was arrested at 9 AM and remained there until 9 PM."
Talking about the night of her arrest, Ibtihaal adds,
It was a very difficult night and cold severely swept me as if I had never experienced winter before. I was kept in a small cell with neither blankets nor any means of heat. I was alone at the beginning and then I met the two girls, who were arrested in the same case, for a few minutes and then they put me in a cell with the wife of the prisoner, Ahmed Sa‘aadaat. I was in a very miserable state of health. My health worsened when they left me without cover in the rain near Bethel for more than an hour and a half. They confiscated my clothes bag when they put me in the cell. I could not sleep all night. On 23 January, I was transferred to the Interrogation Unit at the Russian Compound Detention Center (Moscobiya) in Jerusalem.
Interrogation and its unforgettable scenes:
She still remembers the interrogation where she experienced physical and spiritual pain. The period of interrogation lasted more than 75 days. Later, Ibtihaal would know that they were the most difficult days in her life. During these days, she saw what she had never expected to see in her worst nightmares. She says, "It was simply faith and patience that helped me to resist all those long days which were full of grief..." She added that during the interrogation for the charge of helping wanted Palestinians and sheltering them, they (the Zionists) used the worst methods used with Palestinian prisoners to get information from me. They used the Shabeh method for a very long period and this caused me serious physical problems and I needed a long period to recover. This was in addition to the worst method, which is psychological pressure. They told me that my father had suffered a stroke and he was in hospital, that they had deported my mother to Jordan, that they would prevent the marriage of my brothers and sisters in any way, that our house had turned into a pile of dust, that my fiance, Wajdi, would remain under torture in Moscobiya if I did not confess. Nevertheless, I did not believe them and replied, "You are lying. You just want to put pressure on me. I do not have anything to say regardless of whatever methods you use."
Days thereafter when Ibtihaal was in an interrogation session, they brought her some photos of her fiance, Wajdi. She says,
When I saw these photos, I wished I had died before that. They took photos of him when he was being tortured in order to put pressure on me. I doubted these photos and said to them that they were fabricated. Minutes thereafter, however, Wajdi was standing before me and I could not say a word. He was very exhausted and in a deplorable condition. It seems that he suffered the Shabeh method for a long period. He greeted me and asked about my condition and then directly they drove him outside. I tried to keep steadfast but they told me that Wajdi would remain in this state until I confessed and ended the matter.
During some interrogation sessions, they used to leave me alone in the interrogation room for more than seven hours, and when they returned they would ask me if I was tired. Thereupon, I would demand to be taken out of the cell. Then they would leave me for more time. During the last days of interrogation, I lost a lot of weight since I used to fast most days without appropriate healthy food and being kept in poor living conditions. The cell was a very bad and repulsive place. It was a dark room with walls painted gray. It was not more than one square meter without a barrier separating it from the toilet. The place was so terrible and it emitted strange smells and sounds. I spent most nights reciting the Quran, supplicating and sometimes I would chant to entertain myself.
With the stoolpigeon:
Narrating another story, Ibtihaal says: "At the end of the days of interrogation in Moscobiya, I was taken to the interrogation center in Ashkelon for three days. There I met the so-called "stoolpigeons". On the first day, they left me alone in a cell. On the second day, they brought me a strange girl who looked disgusting. I immediately realized that she was not a detainee; rather, she was a stoolpigeon. She tried to ask me about my case but I claimed to be sick and kept sleeping most of the time."
In Ashkelon, Ibtihaal suffered the Shabeh method for long periods again. She says,
They put me on a chair inclining 45 degrees, tied my hands and feet and placed a hood over my eyes. I remained in this state from the morning until the evening. The severest condition that the detainee ever experiences occurs immediately after the end of that session, for one cannot move any part of his body out of severe pain. They knew that I was fasting. When I asked them to bring me some water to drink, they brought me water polluted with gasoline. I used it to make ablution. As such, I spent two days with neither food nor drink. The difference is that the cell in Ashkelon had cats, dogs and insects of various kinds...
After detention in Ashkelon interrogation center, Ibtihaal was transported to the women's prison in Ramle, where more than 120 Palestinian women were being held in very difficult and painful circumstances. Only those who have experienced the pain, disease, beatings and breaking into rooms can describe such circumstances. Ibtihaal talked about the status of prisoners in "the grave of the living" as she called it, saying,
Actually the women prisoners suffer very dangerous and difficult circumstances. However, no one does anything to settle their issue and release them because people are unaware of the suffering they go through. Six prisoners live in only one room, beds are blocks of concrete covered by mattresses and there are neither windows nor air vents. We would often wake up during the night to dry the mattresses which had become very wet due to the humidity. There were no means of heating in the room except the so-called "tile", a circular piece of tile which is heated and used for cooking, and so on. We used it to dry mattresses and clothes. Everything in the room needs to be dried, even during mid-summer for there was always humidity. We did not know whether it was day or night outside, for our relationship with the sun and daytime ended when we were thrown on the threshold of the Ramla prison…
An Israeli prison
Ibtihaal Beetlu and memories of captivity - II