In Israeli prisons there are men and women who have not only been deprived of their freedom but also the most basic human rights. Some maintain their hope of freedom despite being behind bars for a quarter of a century or longer. Prisoner Salim Kayal is one such man, a doyen of the Palestinian prisoners from Gaza held by Israel.
Born in 1953, Salim Kayal lived in Al-Zaitoun district of Gaza City. He was arrested on 30th May 1983, exactly twenty-eight years ago, on charges of belonging to Fatah and carrying out resistance operations against Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. An Israeli military court sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Between 1976 and 1982 he was arrested three times by the Israeli occupation forces and since 1983 has been held in many Israeli prisons. In total, he has spent more than half of his life behind bars.
Married, Salim Kayal has one daughter, Dua’, who was born just after his imprisonment in 1983; she has grown up deprived of the care of her father and he has been unable to be there for his beloved child. Even the visits that she was allowed to make have now been stopped by the authorities and it is unclear whether or not messages between father and daughter actually get through. She has sent him messages via radio stations but she hasn’t heard her father’s voice for years. Dua’ kept postponing her wedding in the hope that her father would be free to attend, but it was not to be.
Like most long-term prisoners, Abu Dua’ is suffering from several illnesses, the most serious of which are hypertension and diabetes; it is clear that the Department of Prisons has been negligent in this respect. His family are concerned that the lack of medical care is making matters worse.
His mother is 95 years old and longs to see her son before she dies. “I hope to see Salim before my death and it would be enough for me to see him even if that cost me my life and I died immediately afterwards,” she says.
According to Salim’s wife, “No matter what his sentence is, our faith in God is great. Even if our prayers aren’t fulfilled in this life, Salim will stay in our hearts and minds just as we knew him to be: strong, steadfast and firm in the belief that he will return to the streets of Gaza.”
Like other prisoners and their families, Salim Kayal is pinning a lot on the negotiations to strike a prisoner exchange deal with the Israelis over their soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured while on active duty against the people of Gaza. In the meantime, prisoners like Salim remain steadfast in their sacrifice and know in their hearts that the liberation of themselves and their country can only be a matter of time.