May 25: the faces of liberation
On May 25, 2000, locals broke through the red metal gates of the Khiam detention center, liberating the prisoners who suffered under the Israeli occupation for twenty-two years.
Boot marks mapped on chests and necks, the smell of stool plaguing overcrowded cells, electric whips flogging bare bodies, and the experience of one's mental sanity turning on them are synonyms of normalization with "Israel."
Al Khiam's Israeli prison halls are haunted with bodies being mopped in and out of cells, and the walls of isolation cells remain pages of every prisoner’s diary.
But the prisoners remained steadfast in the face of the years of physical and psychological Israeli torture because of the doctrine of resistance. A tool no bullet can penetrate, no tank can run over, and no army can defeat.
On May 25, 2000, prisoners were showered with rice and flowers, replacing whips, boots, and cuss words. On that illustrious day, the South of Lebanon was liberated. Flooding out of the Khiam prison gates, the bodies of the free souls were liberated.
The Israeli torture camp
The Khiam Detention Center was built in the 1930s as a French barrack complex on a hill overlooking the village of Khiam.
During the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 1985, the facility replaced the Ansar detention camp as the location where over 5,000 Lebanese resistance supporters and forces got imprisoned in horrible conditions and frequently tortured by the SLA (South Lebanese Army).
During the 2006 war, several Israeli raids bombed the prison to remove traces of the prison. However, the scars on every prisoner's body are enough to exhibit the real meaning of "Israel"; it means prisoners hung on electric poles for hours while alternating between showers of boiling hot and freezing cold water.
"Israel" means attaching electric clips on a prisoner's gum until his teeth fell down, beating bare bodies until their bones would break, and psychologically draining one's mental state. Every prisoner has a story to tell, but they all have one conclusion, "we will continue to resist until 'Israel' no longer exists."
Cell No. 3
A bag was pulled down over Ibrahim Rachidi’s head in 1985, as Israeli officers took him into the Khiam prison for participating in a resistance operation against the occupation.
He was first interrogated for three to four hours straight by an SLA officer. In an effort to disclose information about the resistance, Rachidi was flogged for eight hours straight with an electric whip.
“I preferred death before saying anything,” he stressed to Al Mayadeen English.
For four months, in a 90x90 cm room, Rachidi was kept in isolation before being transferred into a 2mx2m room with five other prisoners. The darkness and isolation triggered mental stress and worsened his eyesight.
The tightness of the crowded rooms made it difficult for the prisoners to sleep, so they took turns. “Some would stand while others sleep, then they would shift,” he explained.
‘Food the size of my palm’
In addition to the unpleasant cell conditions and physical and psychological abuse, the prisoners were deprived of proper and nutritious meals. “Food was served in quantities as small as my palm,” he explained.
To paint a picture of the inadequate nutrition, he explained that SLA agents would slide plates under the cell door, which contaminated the food with insects stuck on the door and other dirt. “In addition to the moldiness of the food, we had to handpick worms and other insects from the food.”
Between fighting the pain roaring from an empty stomach and looking at the spoiled pint of food, the prisoner would unwillingly and without thought, dig into anything digestible, not only edible.
‘At that moment, I wished I was deaf’
“They kept us on alert... they’d pass in the prison hall banging on our cells to keep us anxious to when the next torture session would take place,” Rachidi stated, describing the psychological abuse prisoners would undergo.
He continued, “I was in my cell one day and an SLA agent approached me. He began small talk before revealing why he was here.” The officer broke the devastating news to Rachidi about the death of his mother, who he saw only three to four times during his entire imprisonment period.
“I wasn’t allowed to be at her funeral or see her… "
But this wasn’t the hardest or last painful moment for Rachidi; “there was a mosque near the prison. I could hear the Imam speak through the microphone. He was mourning someone in the area. I thought I heard his name... at that moment, I felt like someone was squeezing my stomach and burning my heart."
He continued, "I called over one of the prison guards and asked him... did they mourn my brother?" The guard confirmed the news to Rachidi and "at that moment, I wished I was deaf," he explained.
Rachidi's unforgettable eleven years at the prison ended in 1996 when he was liberated.
The blessings of rain
On February 19, 1986, Ali Sherri was dragged by Israeli soldiers to the Khiam prison for taking part in a six-day operation against the occupation.
"I can't explain the situation, how do you explain something like that?" Sherri stressed while trying to describe his experience in an isolation cell, adding "I was almost legally blind from the darkness of the room."
"They hung me on a pole and flogged me with an electric whip... sometimes they'd leave me hanging for hours," Sherri said describing the torture he experienced.
"Your entire body starts shaking until you stop feeling anything; you become numb to the pain," he added.
After the interrogation period, he was transferred out of the isolation cell and into another with five other prisoners.
"The cell was inhospitable... it was either really hot or frosty cold," he explained, adding that "but when it was soaring hot, I remember they'd force us to cover our entire bodies from head to toe with thick wool blankets. The feeling of suffocation is indescribable."
"One day, there was heavy rain and we were parched from days without water. Try to imagine our desperation at that moment... We asked one of the prison guards to place a bucket in the courtyard so that we could drink from it, but he refused." Sherri narrated.
Due to the extreme thirst, the prisoners thought of innovative ways to get water. Sherri's cell members, and the nearby cells, collectively worked to get access to the rain.
"We thought of nothing other than searching for cells with water leakage," and they began creating pipes that would fall into their emptied buckets of stool, with the help of prisoners who were tasked with different duties inside the prison.
"Allah said rain is a blessing... it truly was. We started sharing the buckets with each other, trying to hydrate ourselves with whatever quantity available."
'I didn't want them to visit me'
“When you are in the prison, you know nothing about your family. I couldn't know if one of them passed away, and that was what scared me the most. I didn’t want them to visit me."
On one of the visiting days, which came after years of no visits, Sherri explained how he was embodied with fear as he approached the area to meet his family. "I was afraid that one of them wouldn’t show up."
"I first saw my father, but I couldn't see my mother. Do you know that burning feeling you feel in your throat? My heart dropped... I thought to myself, my mother died. But a few seconds later, which to me felt like minutes, I heard her voice."
His mother approached the barbed wire that separated her from her son and started to cry with hysteria. She saw what remained of him, as he put it, nothing but skin and bones.
"I wish they never came, I couldn't handle seeing my mother so weak, not in front of them [the Israeli soldiers and SLA collaboraters]."
On July 21, 1996, Ali Sherri was liberated and he returned to his work with the resistance. "They think we would stop, what they did made us resilient even more," he concluded.
The cook and the radio
"The most painful moment for me was when someone from my own family interrogated me. It’s not easy. It psychologically drains you," narrated Mohammad Daoui, who was imprisoned in 1988.
Daoui was tasked to cook for the prisoners, along with others. He revealed that an old lady that got food to the prison would help sneak in whatever the prisoners desired. She started sneaking in newspapers wrapped in bread or hidden at the bottom of food pots.
"After reading the newspaper, we would throw it in the bucket of stool, to get rid of the evidence," he explained.
'like a river that will drown us'
Daoui and the prisoners in the cell wanted a radio. They asked the old lady to sneak in a small radio, and they started thinking of ways to hide it in the cell.
One of the prisoners whispered to Daoui, "if you get the radio, it will one day flood us like a river and drown us... and it did", he narrated.
While Daoui was cooking in the kitchen, he hid a knife in his pocket. In order to safely sneak it into the cell, he found an excuse to climb up to a roof that is built above the "sun area" [an area where the prisoners were allowed to get some sun every few months or weeks], then he dropped the knife in a cloth for another prisoner to pick up.
After sneaking in the knife, Daoui and his cellmates took a thin metal from the barred door and tied it to the knife in order to carve a hole in the wall. "After all the digging, we couldn't feel our fingers."
It didn't end here, they still had to cover up the radio in the hole. Daoui hid sand in his pockets and his cellmate was able to steal a little cement. They created a small cane mat and covered it with sand and cement, in order to make a cover for the hole.
"We hid it for years until May 15. An officer, "Abu Nabil", interrogated me. He asked me about the cell, I said nothing. He asked again, I said there are prisoners and mats inside. He yelled and asked after another guard mentioned the radio. I confessed."
Daoui was forced to kneel down before the guard's boot rushed into his stomach. He fell to the ground and the guard's boot stepped on his neck, as he described it.
"With the guard's boot on my neck he told me 'you are driving us crazy outside and are driving us crazy inside'. At that moment, even though his boot was on my neck, I felt powerful. I felt like my foot was on his neck."
Six years later, he was liberated in 1994 during a prisoner swap.
The Mother of warriors
"He was getting a map to give it to his brother. You see, my son was a spy for the resistance. I hid him in the house, but they found him... they took us all in."
Ruqqayah Charafeddine was taken into the Khiam prison in 1992 for one month, then for four months in 1994.
She was interrogated for helping her children [resistance fighters] to successfully operate against the occupation. Three of her children were taken in with her.
"I wasn't afraid, nothing scared me... I just couldn't bare hear my children being tortured; they made me hear them on purpose," Charafeddine said.
"Every time they'd pass in the hall, I would try to see them through any crack in the door or wall. They had blue bags over their heads."
After several months away from her husband and daughters, Charafeddine's husband came to visit her, but she forced him never to visit again.
"Did I want to see him? Of course, I did, but they would use him as a tool to pressure us; I wasn't going to allow that," she said.
She revealed that they tried to tempt her with promises for a "better life" for her children, but her tongue was a serrated knife saying, "I would rather die before one of my children works with you."
Charafeddine narrated how five soldiers and a head officer faced her with her son's weapons. They waved the weapons in her face while grilling her with questions. "He asked me, what are these? I said weapons... He said these are for your son... I said, and? He asked, what would he need these for? I said, to kill you... what else?"
She described how the officer's face looked before he said, 'you're very brave,' and she replied, "there's nothing to be afraid of."
"I remember after that he looked at me then pointed at an SLA agent and said ' you see this pig, he sold his blood for dollars.' The traitors think they're smart, they don't know they'll be stepped on one day," she continued.
Her youngest child was imprisoned after a year, her middle child was let out after five years and when asked about her eldest child, the crack in her voice summed up the pain of every mother during that period.
"My eldest son was taken to 'Israel', I haven't seen him since then... it's been 35 years," she concluded.
Honor more expensive than blood
For three years, A.A spent unforgettable years at the Khiam detention center. He spoke to Al Mayadeen English about what most choose not to mention, honor.
"They would look for all ways to hurt our honor... you know how important it is to us," he stated.
A.A explained how mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters were used as pressure tools. They were subjected to humiliating situations that they thought would pressure the prisoners to speak.
"For example, they would get a veiled member and force her to remove the scarf off of her head... they'd cuss her, all in front of our eyes," he explained.
"Do you know how hard that is to witness?"
A.A explained how the psychological pressure and torture were way worse than anything physical. He illustrated some torture examples, but none were worse than meddling with one's honor.
He concluded that the resistance will never be disarmed, "it is our honor and it will remain." His words revealed the resilience of every prisoner that lived under the occupation's brutal ways. The weapons that once liberated them, will continue to protect and keep the land liberated, as he put it.
Through the gates
Reader, close your eyes and imagine yourself breaking through the gates of the Khiam detention prison. Try to hear the voices of loved ones rushing to free their children, mothers, brothers, daughters, and fathers; how the voices of locals chanting in the name of God shook the prison walls.
The prisoners stuck their hands out of the small cell doors as locals began breaking the doors open. Prisoners yelled in desperation and relief, it was all over.
Every wall, corner, and brick in the detention center holds a story of a prisoner who once uttered the secrets of his pain, before masking them with heroism in the face of the SLA and occupation officers. Every inch of the prison will remain a diary for every prisoner that suffered under the indescribable and unmatched forms of torture.
While the world welcomes normalization agreements with "Israel," the resistance community remains determined to fight with every drop of blood. The doctrine of resistance is more valuable than what the world has to offer.
"They can offer us all the money in the world, but our honor and liberty are too valuable to be sold."