A Political Prisoner in Israel

A letter from administrative detainee Imad F. Sabi'
Published: 1997-07-14

"The question is not whether I can bear it — but should I?"

July 14, 1997


My name is Fadia and I am a student at the University of California at Berkeley. I just chanced upon your page and was really impressed, especially by the breadth of articles you've posted.

My uncle, Wissam Rafeedie, is currently a political prisoner under administrative detention in Asharon Prison, Israel. I have a small request for you. One of my uncle's best friends, Imad Sabi', is also a political prisoner, currently in Megiddo military jail. He has released the following letter in English which explains the situation of Occupied Palestine's administrative detainees. It is elegant, passionate, and sincere. I was wondering if you'd be interested in posting it on your web page? If you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them. My email address is [email protected]. Thank you very much.


Sabi' is one of nearly 300 Palestinians imprisoned indefinitely without trial by the Shin Bet under "administrative detention." Left as residue from the British occupation of Palestine, used as a tool to suffocate and silence the nucleus of Palestine's intelligentsia, and justified by the Israeli government as a means by which to tame so-called "security threats," the evils of administrative detention deserve our attention. Please read Imad's passionate appeal for justice, and voice your concern by writing to:

Deputy Major General Daniel Reisner
Judge Advocate General's Office, Ministry of Defense
Haqirya Tel Aviv, fax: 972-3-569-3320.

Letters to Imad and his comrades can be sent through his advocate:

Attorney Tamar Pelleg
12 Hatanaim St.,
Tel Aviv 69209.

etc., etc.

These are months. Take the first line, add the numbers up = six times six is thirty six, months that is. Three years. It is the way Ali Jaradat's detention is composed: the original detention order of six months, followed by five consecutive extension orders, each six months in duration.

The second line is Ahmad's; the third Elia's; the fourth Khaled's; and so on and so on. Numbers — simple and pure — inscribed on bits of paper.

All together, put one on top of the other, through a straight forward arithmetic calculation, and what you get is a mountain, ever rising, of years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds.

It's colossal. It's frightening.

Years and years of so many human beings' lives taken away, stolen, usurped, confined, suspended, canceled, obliterated, confiscated, pilfered.

"Administrative detention"

The Israeli version of apartheid-era South Africa's Ninety-Day Detention Law, of El Salvador's Decree No. 507 of December 3, 1980, of countless other Laws, Decrees, State of Emergency Regulations, Military Orders that go to make figures stuffed into reports, the 'raw material' of committees, campaigns, appeals, web-sites. The United Nations Economic and Social Council even has a 'Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions.' Its report for 1995 carries the serial number e/CN4/1966/40. Palestinian administrative detainees are briefly mentioned there: not all of them, just six, that funny number again.

"Security threats"

That's how we are described. That's why they are obliged to put us in prison. That's why they resort to special decrees, why they have eliminated due legal process, with its stifling, laborious, time-consuming legal procedures, formalities, niceties. Security. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," says Yitzhak Mordechai, the Israeli Defense Minister, speaking in the Knesset,

"Administrative detention is not very nice. I agree. I know something about democracy and the rule of law and all that. But it is so effective a tool in fighting terrorism that we simply cannot, should not even think of giving it up."

"So effective"!

Of course it is "effective." Bashing somebody's head in with a baseball bat is "effective." Bombing a ten story building to eliminate a thief is "effective." Burning a forest to light a cigarette is "effective." Firing a hundred workers is "effective." It depends on what your purpose is, on what you are trying to achieve. It's all so relative. You can look at it this way, you can look at it that way. It is up to your view of human life and its worth, to your Weltanschauung.

"To be imprisoned without knowing why, without being able to find out what the charges against you are — what could be worse?" asks Tzahi Hanegbi, the Israeli Minister of Justice.

"But," he adds, "security makes it necessary, no matter how unpleasant."

Amos Oz: "The law shall level the mountain," we are told, "but not right now. For the time being, security must level the law... a specious security that bears within it the seeds of its own destruction."

"For the time being"

Pre-Oslo, post-Oslo; pre-redeployment, post-redeployment; 1974, 1987, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1997; pre-the-pull-out from H1 in Hebron, post-we're-talking-again; when Labor-Meretz was in power, after Likud-Gesher-Tsomet-Shas-Third Way-Sharansky came to power. For the time being.

For the time being. Samir was 34 when he came in, he's 37 now; my daughter Deena was six months old, her age is 21 months now; Ashraf Daraghma's father was alive; he's passed away since; Mohammed was in school, now he's in prison; Hassan had jet black hair, not it's turning gray; etc, etc....


You come in for six months, you've already spent thirty-two, have four more to go, but still cannot be certain that when this last extension runs its course, you'll be going home. A hill turns into a mountain; a drop into a pond; a tiny point into a large circle. "Ah well... detention is terrible. Much worse than a sentence when you're sure when the end will come, even if it's years ahead — you know as well as I do." — Nadine Gordimer, "My Son's Story"

"Once again the world outside was sealed off. There was only the long stretch of days ahead. No landmarks that I could envisage. In spite of recalling myself again and again to the accuracy of my intuition, in spite of the preparation this afforded, this was still a residue of blasted hope..." — Wole Soyinka, "The Man Died"

"But sometimes you get a funny feeling inside. Maybe your number really would come up one day. God, just to think, you might walk out and go home!" — Solzhenystyn, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

Legal recourse

Appeal court. A single military judge presides imperiously. On the table to his right sits the administrative detainee, next to him his lawyer. On the opposite table sits the military prosecutor and by his side the collector and guardian of the 'evidence,' kept in thick files with red plastic covers, where the 'classified information' lies.

  • Act One: "What?" asks the lawyer. "Classified information," is the answer.
  • Act Two: "How?" asks the lawyer. "Classified information," is the answer.
  • Act Three: "Why?" asks the lawyer. "Classified information," is the answer.
  • Curtain.

This is the law in operation. 782 years after the Magna Carta. So we decided to boycott these fine courts.

"The judge asked me twice if this was meant as a verbal attack on them, and I said it wasn't. I just wanted to read the passage," — Turkish dissident Mahir Gunsiray, charged with "insulting the bench," after quoting a scene from Kafka's "The Trial". Reported in Newsweek, October 14, 1996.

Your number will come up one day. Not to go home, but so that you are informed of yet another extension. Extensions are, I surmise, a subtle and malicious form of psychological torture. One almost sees the gleeful smile on the 'invisible' face of the man in the shadows putting his signature on the next extension order. 'Another six months. Another four, three, two... His life is mine!' he says.

MY life is mine!

My life is Reem's, is Deena's. "It is wrong. The question is not whether I can bear it or not. The issue is should I have to bear it." — Soyinka

—Mejiddo Military Jail March 5, 1997.

July 30, 1997

Thank you so much for your letter of acknowledgement and your interest. I received a personal letter from Imad and now I have his new address (below). He will be delighted to learn that your web page will post some of his writing. He told me that he wrote a piece entitled "Of Hope and its Trammels, Talking Birds, and Security Diseases," which was printed in "Ha'aretz" next to a translation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Story of a Kidnapping." An Israeli translator and editor added a powerful introduction, indicting adminstrative detention and she went so far as to have what he wrote translated into Spanish and sent to Marquez himself!

Imad also told me that he received a renewal on his scholarship to pursue his master's degree in Holland. Unfortunately, the Israeli High Court has refused his petition to be released. He will be representing himself to the High Court for a permit to travel but says that he is "not at all hopeful."

If you are interested in contacting Imad for more information […] this is his address:

Imad Sabi'
Hasharon Prison
Section C (Administrative Detainee)
P.O. Box 7
Ben Yehuda 40550

I guarantee he'll respond promptly.


Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Imad F. Sabi
Title: A Political Prisoner in Israel, A letter from administrative detainee Imad F. Sabi'
Published: 1997-07-14
First posted on CODOH: July 12, 1997, 7 p.m.
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