Freedom News

The Pergamon: prison and sisterhood

A succession of people have been jailed over the last few years for taking direct action against companies which participate in selling arms to Israel, which are then used to kill children in Gaza. Stav writes about being one such prisoner of conscience.

HMP Eastwood Park
London, December 2022

In the summer of 2022, I gained insight into the British penal system when I was remanded to Her Majesty’s Prison Eastwood Park. I was sent to jail for one month along with eight other activists following direct action in Bristol against Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private arms company. During the month I spent in the penitentiary, I documented everything I saw, heard, felt, and thought as a form of resistance – knowing that whatever sufferings the British prison might inflict on my comrades and me, it would pale in comparison to what my Palestinian friends had undergone while being tortured in the apartheid prisons operated by the Israeli “Shabas” (Prison Service).

The diary begins with a real-time account of my experiences from the cellar of Bristol’s Magistrates Court and later from Eastwood Park prison. It was initially written in Hebrew to prevent guards from deciphering the text. I later translated my notes into English during the hours I spent under curfew, cuffed by an electronic tag.

As I await trial for burglary and criminal damage, the struggle against the oppressive British authorities and their complicity in the crimes of apartheid and colonisation in Palestine only grows stronger as more and more people resist and take direct action to dismantle and disarm Israel’s war machine. Resistance will eventually win, and apartheid will be abolished.

Until the last factory falls
Until the last drone is smashed
Until the prisoners of occupation are
set free!

May 19th 2022

“I’m so proud to have been standing side by side with you for something meaningful. If this is the only print we’ll leave in this world, then it was worth it. You are beautiful inside out, a woman who carries the fire. I’ll get the details for you. All my love,” wrote comrade Jane on a note she smuggled for me.

Around 6pm. It’s a late afternoon hour in HMP Eastwood Park. The comrades are facing release, and Lisa, in the nearby cell, is suffering. We are here because of virtue, not vice, I tell her. The State, she says, will always protect the powerful, and she’s right. I must also sober up and become realistic about the prospect of spending a lot of time here. Still, if this were the only thing I’d leave behind me in the world, so be it. The only beauty that exists in the world belongs to the lovers of justice and freedom.

Outside my window there’s an amazing spring day, but we are not allowed to leave our cells. In the sky there are fetters-clouds, but we can only see them through the double-glazed glass.

Evening comes, and Lisa gets bail. I’m so happy for her. I hope also to be released soon, but I will maintain my inner peace no matter what happens.

Freedom is bound by pain, and nothing can be born without pain.

The guards had mercy on us earlier and took us out to the yard after we’d missed the opportunity to go along with everybody else. Jane and I were jogging and exercising together. We also talked. One of the guards had asked us if we were sisters. “No,” we answered, but in my heart, I knew she was better than a sister to me. Sisters share a womb, but we share love and fate.

She and Lisa will leave in a few moments, and I’ll remain by myself. Yet I am not alone, but among all the lovers of freedom, among those who give their lives for her.

Lisa has left the cell, and the guards don’t let her share anything with me – not even the stamped envelopes she had been given. The arrest and imprisonment were hard on her, so I’m happy she got bail. The rest of the girls imprisoned in the unit call me immediately after Lisa’s release. They call me “Lisa’s bea” and make sure I’m okay. They are very sweet and tell me I’m not alone. It seems Jane has also released, and I am thinking of the push-ups we did together under the vast English sky as the guards were staring at us. What a beautiful sight to have experienced. If this is the only print we’ll leave in this world, let it be it, as Jane wrote.

Like the birds that flew in the sky above Bristol’s prison yard, my soul, too, wanders above and afar.

The days preceding the arrest were among the most beautiful days of my life. In a nearby park, we practised self-defence with our comrades. The sun shone on us in the late afternoon light, until suddenly, a marvellous sight of pure love revealed itself to me. On the same evening, we were laughing together, and when morning came, we headed to Bristol to take the factory down. That night, I didn’t sleep at all. It felt like the night before a big school exam.

And indeed, it is a test – one of character.

One of the comrades had to wee in the barricade room of the factory we’d occupied. We carved out a plastic bottle so she could pee inside. To protect her privacy, we all turned away, facing the wall, and sang the partisan song, “Bella, Ciao!”

May 20th 2022

I’ve started running around in the yard in endless circles to keep mentally and physically fit and signal the others – you’d better chase someone else. The push-ups and exercises also signal to the guards and prisoners that I’m stronger and faster than them, but in my heart, I’m aware of my weakness. Now I’m looking out the window, and it’s my third day in Eastwood Park. I remember the ride to court in the prisoners’ transport van.

Going on that Mephistophelian device was a shocking experience. I wasn’t prepared to be transferred to the court in such a sadistic vehicle, but rather in “normal” or “regular” police cars. When I was loaded like cattle on that huge mobile prison truck, I was shocked to see Charly, a sweet boy, sitting in the narrow iron cell, staring out of the hatch at me. I greeted and smiled at him, and immediately I heard someone shouting “Stav, Stav” from the other side. It was comrade Lisa – whose angelic look was in total contrast to the tiny iron cells we were put in. I asked her immediately who else was in the van, and she said that R and Jane were here. I then noticed R and asked him if everything is okay, and we sent each other kisses. “Be strong”, I told him.

After being unloaded from the truck, we were thrown into the dock to face the judges following a long wait in a 2×2 square metre cell. Three pigs sat between us in the dock but failed to separate us. I’d written to R in Hebrew on a paper I had that “Everything is going to be fine”, asking “How are you?”

When we were led out of the chamber and taken back to the arrest cells due to some technical problem (it was nearly impossible to hear or understand anything of what was going on in court), R replayed in Hebrew, “Let’s hope so [that everything is going to be all right]”. After that, we were taken back to the main courtroom, where the judges presided. By then, R had also gotten a pencil and paper, and wrote in Hebrew: “We’ll be sitting [in jail] for a little while, and that will be it.” After the court had rendered its decision we were taken down to the holding cells, but just before being taken to the corridor where my cell was, I looked back to see him and shouted, “Bella, Ciao!”. He replied, “the 15th then!” – the date of our bail hearing. He was utterly composed and calm about everything that just went down. I hope his family can stand his absence and the fact that he is injured.

After the hearing at the Magistrates court only we, Lisa, Jane, and Eden, were led back to the prisoner transport van. Through the thick double-glazed iron window, the skies were coloured with dazzling pink and orange and more beautiful than ever. I stared above me at the sky as if trying to engrave the colours in my mind, thinking I might not see the sky for a while and that I might have to spend a long time behind walls.

Yet how beautiful the world can be, even when people are led to their confinement. The love of humans, the love of my comrades and of R, reaches far beyond the material realm. I know R is imprisoned far away, but in our spirit, we are united in the love of freedom. The love of freedom is stronger than handcuffs, chains, and walls. Fetters are material objects, but the love of freedom is invisible and cannot be broken. The liberation of people from their chains will be only through the love of freedom and in love – and it is the same love that saves me now from the grey walls and the sounds of slamming doors. These walls have now become no more than parts of the palace of glory for the great spirit of freedom.

My inner freedom carries me now way beyond the barbed wire – far beyond the trees and the vast fields outside my window. I hope that the sky above will look kindly down on us.

~ Stav

This article first appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of Freedom Journal.

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