The Prisoners’ Diaries
Norma Hashim. Social activist. Kuala Lumpur, 2016
Norma Hashim’s book, The Prisoners’ Diaries, is a collection of interviews with freed Palestinian political detainees who, bearing the psychological scars of their imprisonment, refuse to remain silent. Already available in 6 languages, a Persian edition is in the works. The stories are simple but hit hard, exposing the flagrant human rights abuses in Occupied Palestine so rarely covered by mainstream media.
Her second book, Dreaming of Freedom, is a collection of first hand narratives by Palestinian child prisoners and includes affidavits taken by an NGO, several weeks after the boys were arrested and interrogated. Some of these child prisoners were as young as 11 and included both boys and girls.
Norma is adamant that although her name is on the cover, the books are the result of the hard work and commitment of many people in Gaza, the West Bank, the UK , US and around the world . Without having been to Gaza or Palestine, she nevertheless has worked tirelessly to get these stories published.
An accountant by training, Norma now devotes all of her time to social activism and is involved in not only projects to support and document the Palestinian community but projects supporting the blind and the homeless.
Through her foundation, Al-Fitrah, she produces braille versions of Islamic books. She is also the treasurer of Viva Palestine Malaysia.
When asked about what drives her, she said that in the case of the book, Dreaming of Freedom, she could empathise with the youngsters as she has five boys of her own. Angry that children are being incarcerated and beaten, threatened with violence and made to inform on their own community, she wants to give a voice to these victims. She hopes to be an agent of change through her books.
Both books are available online at GB Gerakbudaya Enterprise Sdn Bhd or at their shop in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
Here is a story from the book, Dreaming of Freedom, reproduced with the kind permission of Norma Hashim.
A Child of Shuhada Street – Yaan Al-Shrbati – Age 14 – Hebron
I don’t expect any child’s life in the rest of the world to be like mine and those who live on my street. Our daily life has turned into a battle to exist with dignity, although we, as children, know little about battles – we mostly think about playing and having fun.
Shuhada Street (which means Martyrs’ Street) to the south of Hebron is a narrow street, which with the number of soldiers, settlers, checkpoints and fences feels narrower than you could possibly imagine. Yet this street is a part of me, as much as I am a part of it. I couldn’t leave it behind even if I wanted to.
Since the start of this Occupation, the people living on Shuhada Street have become targets for settlers who are doing their best to take over our homes while being paid to do so. We have known this since we were breastfed by our mothers! Simply because we are not normal Palestinians, we are the people of Shuhada Street.
One Saturday I was walking in the street trying to live just another day. I was feeling more comfortable than usual, because it was the Jewish Shabbat which normally meant the settlers would not trouble us and I could walk slowly. I heard some noises but I didn’t pay attention to them. I continued walking but was suddenly stopped by a number of Israeli settlers.
I thought they would, as usual, only curse me then I could continue walking. But this time after one of them cursed me, another one spat at me. I stopped in my tracks. The third settler began attacking me. They all then started beating me together. I no longer stayed silent and started screaming at them loudly.
A soldier came and pushed them away, but then grabbed my shoulder, playing the usual role in the play that we have all got used to. I thought he had some humanity, but I was wrong. He kicked my body and hit me in the head as I screamed in pain and pleaded for any Palestinians around to help. I listened to the settlers fabricating a story, telling the soldiers that it was me who had assaulted them first. I was in disbelief.
The soldier took me to a nearby military post. Police officers came and took me to a police station at the Kiryaat Arbaa colony. I was taken to the interrogation room, not knowing why, as I was the victim of an assault. The interrogator tried to make me say something. I refused, insisting on my innocence. I was still trying to work out exactly how bad my wounds were after the beatings of the settlers and the police.
I spent a whole day at the police station. One of the officers brought a piece of paper in Hebrew and forced me to sign it without knowing anything about its contents. I found out later that it said: “I will not create any problems in the future.” I was photographed and then released on bail. I was not arrested for a long time, but that experience changed me in many different ways.
Imprisonment is not the most serious offense committed against the Palestinian children of Shuhada Street. Every minute under Occupation at the mercy of the settlers in this Martyrs’ Street we are subjected to thousands of violations including police dogs and settlers throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at us. They scream at us and beat us. All of this disturbs the tranquillity of our lives from the day we come into this world. Arresting me without committing any crime gave me more determination to continue to exist here.
I still live in my family’s house in my street, in my little neighborhood. I will never leave.
* Yazan still goes to school but living on Shuhada Street in Hebron, a place separated by the Occupation from other parts of the city, means he has to cross multiple checkpoints when he goes to school in the morning, and upon returning home in the afternoon. In the past few months, a number of Palestinians have been shot in front of his family home, increasing the pressure on this child.