Dear Mona

Israeli military court thrives on breaking the Palestinian mind and soul. It exists to perpetuate Israel’s very apartheid structure with a conviction rate of 99.97%. It’s a kangaroo style court in which Palestinians have already been found guilty prior to entering the court room. What is being negated is the form of punishment, and regardless of what it is, it’s always severe.

Mona Qaa’dan, a Palestinian from Arraba, Jenin has been incarcerated in Hasharon prison stince 2012. Her trial has been postponed for the 17th time on Wednesday, the 3rd of September 2014. Mona has been denied visits and remains held in cell number 1 with 4 other women.

This, however, is not a piece on Israel’s apartheid system or its military court which exemplifies everything that Zionism is built on. This is a piece about Mona, precious Mona.

Mona Qaadan

I read about Mona Qaa’dan long before I met her. She is one of 22 Palestinian women held in Israeli jails. I read her story and noticed how she, like the majority of Palestinian resistors, is glorified and romanticized.

When I was incarcerated in April of this year, I was transferred to Hasharon prison and placed in cell room number 1 joined with Shireen Issaw, Intisar Sayyad (who was released on June 9th), Lena Jourbani (the longest serving female Palestinian prisoner), Alaa Abu Zaytouneh (Also released Summer of 2014), and of course Mona Qaadan.

Mona, was the first face I saw and the last.

I had arrived at approximately 3 AM, and by the time I was processed into the system and admitted into the jail cell, it had been 4 AM. Mona greeted me wearing her prayer clothes, as she is accustomed to waking up at dawn every day for Fajr prayers. She took me in, shaken and distraught, without even asking my name. She took me in, ensuring I had the necessities, a toothbrush, a towel, some soap and utensils for breakfast the next morning. As I cleaned up, she took it upon herself to prepare my bunk, with new sheets and pillow covers and waited as I sat quietly in a corner trying to understand what was happening. She waited, patiently until I was ready to climb into bed and sleep.

As I crawled into bed, Lena Jourbani had awoken from my crying and began to strike up a conversation “what’s your name?”

“Mariam, Mariam Barghouti.”

In which Mona interrupts and proclaims to Lena “let the girl sleep, we can talk in the morning, it’s been a long night.”

So we slept, still unaware of the fact that I was conversing with Lena or that it was Mona Qaadan, the one we had chanted for in demonstrations, that was talking to me. I didn’t know Shireen Issawi was sleeping the bunk adjacent to mine, and we all slept.

A few hours later, a bulky Israeli guard came for the routine count and having fallen asleep just an hour prior, Mona wakes me up in the most gentle of voices. “Yalla habibti, wake up and go to the other room so they can count.” If one listens closely enough, they can hear the agony that has grown within Mona’s voice, exasperated by the days that seem like years in between these walls.

As they conclude their counting routine, Mona comes back joined with Lena to give me clothes they collected for me and a new towel. They took me in, without having to ask, they took me in. This scenario is not exclusive to me. One morning, I inquired why the 6th bunk was unoccupied anyway as the other rooms are overcrowded. Mona and Lena explain that they have it constantly prepared for a young girl that is constantly being detained by Israeli forces. “She’s so young and 16, we like to make sure that she’ll always have a place to stay whenever they bring her in.”

They have become like mothers and older sisters to all the prisoners in Hasharon. Their word is firm and to never be broken and their hearts gentle and kind.

I was slightly intimidated by them, their fierceness and the firmness in their dialogue. Later I learned how kind they were and Mona was no exception.

I spent most of my time in Hasharon cuddled in my bunk, just watching the routine of these women and how this has become their life. My first day, when it was time for lunch, Msakhan was on the menu.

Mona came to ask me if I liked msakhan. “I do, but I don’t eat meat, I’m vegan.” I wasn’t even hungry, I didn’t want to eat, I just wanted to cuddle in my bunk and sleep, everything was so surreal, I was in a constant state of derealization. A few hours later, when it was time to eat, Mona and Lena approach me saying “we made msakhan you vegan msakhan, yalla come eat.”

Just like that, they went out of their way to ensure that I eat. Still without knowing a thing about me. In the evening after our cell was locked up, I got to see another side to Mona. During the day, she’s busy running errands and taking care of business whether it was distributing the meals, or ensuring the needs of other prisoners are taken care of, she’s always doing something. Yet, the moment those doors close and it’s just 4 walls, 6 bunks and a blanket serving as a rug, there is this tenderness to her. We were talking and she begins showing me pictures of her fiancé, whom she hasn’t seen since the engagement. “This is my fiancé, handsome, no? I’m hopeful we will be together.”

So we all begin talking about our loved ones, and I listened as attentively as possible, I didn’t want to miss a detail. Suddenly, Alaa and Mona begin talking about going on a diet, Mona explaining how she wants to look good in her wedding dress.

Then as Alaa begins watching Twilight on the television, I notice Mona caressing Lena’s hair. Lena. Strong Lena, curled like a child with her hair being caressed as Mona plays with every lock. Precious, affectionate Mona.

That’s Mona, or a fraction of Mona. 17 postponed trials later and exponential amounts of caressed hair.

It is our failure and our silence that helps with the continued incarceration of these women. They are not monuments for us to admire, nor are they heroes that must hold the Palestinian cause on their backs. They are our sisters and the most fragile of sisters.

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