Monday, July 7, 2008

My Friend Omar

A Palestinian friend of mine from last summer, Omar Qassis, was arrested in March and has been held since under administrative detention (meaning without charge). Omar spent a lot of time with the international students studying at Birzeit last summer, and he was always ready to help us or to talk with us about anything.

I got this update about his case today. He is in a prison in the Negev inside Israel, and so far his family has been prevented from visiting him, and he still doesn't know the charges against him. His administrative detention expires on July 31, so if it is not renewed he will be freed then. The Right to Education campaign at Birzeit University is asking people to write on Omar's behalf to the International Bar Association. See here for details.

Here's an excerpt from the Right to Education article:

On the 17th of May 2008, Omar told the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University about his conditions while under interrogation and once he arrived in Ofer prison in the West Bank.

"I am O.K. but since my arrest my weight has dropped from 67 to 59 kilos. Since arriving in Ofer I have not been given enough sugar and I couldn't sleep for the first 4 days. I had hemorrhoids which were painful but my requests to see a doctor were ignored. In the end I had to skip meals to be able to see a doctor.

The hemorrhoids developed while I was under interrogation because I wasn't given any clean clothes and the solitary confinement cell I was in - 'the hole' - was really humid. I was in 'the hole' for 11 days. Also when they started interrogating me I was tied down to a chair while intelligence officers questioned me for 4 hours at a time. Some soldiers told me that I would get hemorrhoids from sitting down so much if I didn't start confessing.

I also couldn't sleep because of the mental distress I was under. I wake up easily, every time a soldier walks past. I saw soldiers beating other inmates and fear that I could be next. I'm also very disoriented, I hear sounds of dogs barking and people screaming at night. I think these are recordings but they affect me. I also heard a siren the other night and I imagined Israel was going to war with Iran and that they had evacuated the prison leaving me there alone. I have lost my bearings and am generally confused about the times of day or night.

The other day I cried. I cried at the sight of an old man, probably in his 60s, sitting alone and looking very fragile. I also know that he is diabetic. I can't stand to see the injustice he is in, and even less to imagine the injustices he has seen.

Now that I am here in prison I am in less physical pain but I am still stressed at the uncertainly of it all. I have no idea how long I will be in prison. I have no idea what they are doing or claiming. All I know is that I'm not a threat to security but I was still being questioned about all sorts of things, so anything and everything is going through their heads.

I basically just want to know when I can see my family again."

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