There are people in prisons who resisted the Israeli occupation of their land and paid with their freedom and youth. Such people grew up in prison teaching other prisoners to cope with life behind bars, encouraging them to challenge the occupation and helping them to learn and follow the right path. They are the doyens of the Palestinian prisoners who deserve to be in the spotlight as they go through life with dedication and hard work.
Othman Ali Hamdan Musleh – Abu Naji – is one of those men. Born on 13th June 1952 in the village of Azawya, near Salfit, he grew to become a Palestinian hero and father to seven boys and one girl who live with their mother, deprived of their father’s presence.
Abu Naji earned a high school diploma before working in the construction industry, travelling to neighbouring countries in the process. According to his eldest son, Naji, the children were unaware of the reasons for his journeys. This only became evident after his father’s arrest: “We found out that he used to travel to Damascus and Beirut to receive military training and then would come back to apply what he had learnt here on the ground in Palestine.”
Othman Musleh was (and remains) a Palestinian patriot and hated the occupation, refusing to be silent about Israel’s violations of international laws and conventions. He led a Fatah commando group which carried out operations against Israeli targets; the overall head of the military movement was Fatah legend and martyr Khalil Alwazir – Abu Jihad.
In 1982 after the Israeli invasion of Beirut and the outbreak of war, Abu Naji was arrested. The Israeli occupation forces had carried out a campaign of mass arrests and on 15th October dozens of military vehicles entered the village of Azawya at night; the soldiers were brutal and caused havoc in the Musleh household. They took Abu Naji to an unknown destination and gave no reason for his detention.
“More than 45 days after my father’s arrest,” recalls Naji, “we were surprised at the charges against him. Although my father did not look like someone who worked with the resistance, we found out that he had been responsible for many operations, not to mention the trips abroad for training.” Abu Naji was accused of planting explosive devices inside Israel, the occupation state, as well as making explosives, shootings and leading a commando group. “The most serious accusation was that he killed three Israelis and wounded nineteen others,” adds Naji. “It was this which got him a life sentence. Once in prison, Israeli intelligence accused him of carrying out seventeen military operations against Israeli areas.” A plan to kidnap an Israeli pilot was in its final stages when Abu Naji was arrested.
As is usual, the occupation authorities were creative in the torture of Palestinian detainees, and the treatment meted out to Abu Naji was no exception. His family home was destroyed and the family members were dispersed. According to Naji, the family’s lawyer heard about the plans to demolish their home and they were able to clear the house beforehand. The house which had taken Abu Naji several years to build, including the time needed to acquire the land, was destroyed by an army bulldozer in minutes.
In prison, Abu Naji followed his ambition to study further and completed a Bachelor’s degree; he is now working on a Master’s, even though he is suffering from ill-health. The prison authorities do not provide any treatment for him. He had a minor stroke a few years ago and has high blood pressure, but he may have to wait until his release – if it ever comes – before that can be treated.
Currently in Ashkelon Prison, Abu Naji is one of the icons of the prisoners who are given enormous respect by everyone. He is in good spirits and confident that he will be released into the care of his family soon, putting a lot of hope in a prisoner-exchange deal that will see Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and many Palestinian prisoners tasting freedom once more.