“If they made you choose between freedom for you or freedom for another prisoner, sentenced for life, what would your choice be? I choose freedom for the other prisoner, because what I have left of my sentence is little, and others need to get out of the darkness of prison.”
These powerful words reflect the courage of the speaker; a man who has retained his ideals despite spending most of his life in prison. He does not have much time left to serve, but has spent over thirty years in prison and has a few more years before he can expect to taste freedom. Then he will go home, but under very different circumstances to those on the day that he left. He will be ill, dangerously so, and may not have many years left to him; he won’t embrace his parents because they passed away while he was in prison; his house will be empty.
Akram Mansour was born in the city of Qalqilya in 1962, one of a family of fifteen. He was educated in UNRWA schools but had to leave early due to hard living conditions; he worked with his father on construction sites. Prisoner Akram was known for his good personal qualities throughout his early years; he was very loving and compassionate and spared no effort in helping others. His passion for his homeland saw him join the Palestinian resistance movement at an early age, unknown to any of his friends or family.
On 2nd August 1979 he was detained by the Israelis for his role in seizing an Israeli bus in response to a major Israeli military incursion. He was held for about eight months, facing harsh interrogation and being moved from one prison to another until his trial in March 1980; prisoner Akram Mansour was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Since then, the Israeli authorities have tried many methods to undermine his determination: they have held him with criminals and civilian prisoners; he was in solitary confinement for lengthy periods; and he was moved frequently. Despite all of this, Prisoner Akram did not lose heart. Indeed, he studied for his High School diploma and passed.
Akram Mansour’s mother passed away in 1988, followed soon after by his father. One of his sisters died in Jordan without seeing her brother in prison.
Harsh conditions in prison have had a detrimental effect on Prisoner Akram’s health. He has a tumour in his head from which he suffers fainting spells; his hearing has been damaged by the torture to which he has been subjected; most of his teeth are missing, also because of torture and beatings; one of his fingers is useless and is as good as dead. He has to suffer from all of this with little or no health care in an Israeli prison.
Prisoners have to go through many humiliations in jail, and Prisoner Akram Mansour is no exception. He told his sister during one visit that he was once forced to eat some pasta off the floor when the wardens threw his food of the plate; he was beaten and insulted as he ate. On another occasion, the wardens poured a bucket of urine over his head; when he filed a complaint he and some other prisoners were forced to strip naked while cold water was poured over them.
Prisoner Akram’s brothers are unable to visit him in prison because they don’t have Palestinian identity cards or other necessary papers. The Israelis also use “security” as an excuse to deprive him of family visits. People who know him say that he is the epitome of patience in the face of such difficulties.
Akram Mansour spends his days in a state of unrivalled optimism due to his imminent release from prison. He is prepared to wait, and has insisted on people in prisoner exchange discussions to stand by their principles and not succumb to Israeli pressure.