“I parted ways with you and that date marks my final sadness because those were the last words I spoke. Then, I went with the guard, and my words were erased. Meanwhile, I remain on my bed, waiting for my fate. What surrounded me, I knew but did not feel. I was like the wounded bird complaining about his wound to the monstrous beasts and birds of prey.”
Date of birth: 31 January 1976
Place of residence: Silwad, Ramallah
Occupation: Construction worker
Marital status: Married with one daughter
Date of Arrest: 20 December 2003
Sentence: Seven life terms
Date of Release: 18 October 2011 (as part of the prisoner exchange deal)
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On 18 October 2011, Ahmed was released as part of the first phase of the prisoner exchange deal concluded by the Israeli government and Hamas authorities, whereby 477 Palestinian political prisoners were released in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, with an additional 550 prisoners due to be released in mid-December. As part of the deal, upon his release Ahmed was forcibly transferred to the Gaza Strip for an indeterminate period, in contravention of international humanitarian law, meaning that he was not reunited with his family, who live in the West Bank.
Ahmed Al-Najjar was arrested on 20 December 2003, when Israeli forces brutally stormed his home in the middle of the night. During the arrest, the Israeli soldiers shouted threats, threw sound bombs, and smashed the contents of his house, terrorizing the family and completely disregarding the fact that Ahmed’s wife was four-months pregnant. Ahmed was then transferred to Al-Moskobiyyeh interrogation center (Russian Compound) in Jerusalem, where he was interrogated and detained for two months under such harsh circumstances that he started to suffer from extreme pain in his stomach. Despite his deteriorating health condition, Ahmed was repeatedly moved between multiple prisons before finally being transferred to Ramleh Prison Hospital.
Ahmed had previously been arrested on two additional occasions. His first arrest and detention was on 10 March 1994, for a period of 3 months. His second arrest was on 15 November 1998, when he was held in Meggido prison for 5 years, until his release on 13 March 2003. Ahmed has spent the majority of the past 13 years in prison, as his most recent arrest occurred only 8 months after his release in 2003.
Throughout his detention, despite being seriously ill, Ahmed has been the victim of the Israeli Prison Service’s (IPS) systematic policy of medical negligence. His major health problems began while he was imprisoned in Hadarim Prison in 2008, when he started to develop hoarseness in his voice. As is typical of Palestinian prisoners’ experience of medical treatment in Israeli prison, Ahmed was only properly diagnosed after almost two years of intermittent and irregular medical examinations. Until then, he had simply been prescribed more painkillers every time he complained of pain and was examined.
After two years, Ahmed was eventually moved to Ramle Prison Hospital to receive a CAT-scan, but even this process took an extremely long time, as most tests and laboratory examinations are consistently delayed for sick detainees. Ahmed’s throat was finally scanned and he also received a T-test, which concluded that he had cancer of the vocal cords.
After his diagnosis, Ahmed began chemotherapy, followed by radiation treatment, both of which were unsuccessful. It was not until an entire year later that the doctors decided that Ahmed required surgery. Again, even after the decision to operate was made, further delays were incurred due to his file being frequently moved from one hospital to another and Ahmed being forced to wait until all other patients on the hospitals’ waiting lists were treated ahead of him.
Ahmed’s surgery involved the removal of the tendons and glands of his throat. The doctors also attempted to open a hole in his neck for breathing but were unsuccessful. The surgery left Ahmed completely unable to speak, and as his airway was subsequently closed, he also could no longer eat through his mouth normally, requiring him to consume only food as fluids. As Ahmed recounts, “My life is very difficult in this form. I need special attention when I eat … and what scares me most is the prison administration’s ignorance about my condition. The doctor told me that he removed the tumor, but because it is a dangerous type of cancer, it can come back and spread further. If they had respected the rules and international law and given me monthly check-ups, we could have avoided the cancer. Now my life is in danger.”
It is Israel’s responsibility as the Occupying Power to provide adequate medical care to all prisoners it has under its care according to the Geneva Conventions, to which it is a signatory. The inadequate treatment of Ahmed’s cancer and numerous additional cases of medical neglect reveal that Israel is in clear breach of the international standards that require provision of medical treatment and specialized medical care for sick detainees.
Prior to his detention,Ahmed was living with his wife, mother, and brother in the same house. At the time, Ahmed had only been married for five months and his wife was four-months pregnant, meaning that Ahmed met his daughter, Ibaa’, for the first time in prison.
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A year after his arrest, Israeli forces continued to terrorize his family. On 30 January 2004, a large detachment of soldiers entered his house and ordered the family to leave urgently. In the next half hour, they began to demolish the home, without allowing the family to take any of their possessions with them. The four floors of their home were flattened, and even today, Ahmed’s family is prohibited from rebuilding their house on the same land. His wife now lives with their daughter in his brother’s house.
After 9 months of detention, Ahmed’s wife was finally able to visit him for the first time. At first, she received permission to visit him once every 6 months but this was later cut down even further to once a year. Recently, Ahmed has been permitted to receive a visit from his wife, mother, and daughter every 2 weeks. His brother, however, is still not allowed to visit him. His daughter, now 7 years old, has grown up far away from her father and even during visits cannot hear his voice.
After his operation, Ahmed has only been able to communicate in writing during his family visits. From his hospital room, he prepares what he wants to ask his family with pen and paper. Though the visits usually take place from behind a glass barrier, on occasion, Ahmed is allowed to sit with his family without the barrier. Because she is still too young to read and write quickly enough, Ibaa’ must communicate with her father through eye contact and body language. Ahmed recalls, “My heart and every part of my body are crying today. Being in this prison has stolen my feelings and emotions. I have become paralyzed and have lost my words. I cannot even tell my daughter I love her. I can read the words in her eyes, and I can see that she understands that prison is taking her father from her. I can tell that she has learned the feeling of hatred. The language of our eyes speaks louder than words, and it is the only way I can communicate with my daughter and my wife.”