“Ping pong tables.”
Oh… I thought. A Red Cross truck is bringing us supplies. How nice.
“And, what’s in those?” I asked again.
“Sneakers,” the Red Cross guy said. “Those packages are sweatpants. Those crates have TVs.”
It was 1992—I was fresh in my new job working in the Israeli Prison Service (IPS). And, boy was I in for a surprise.
I watched them carry truckloads of these goods past my wide-eyed envious inmates.
Then, I wondered out loud, “Where they takin’ all that stuff?”
“To the political prisoners,” a guard said.
‘Political prisoners’ is Israeli parlance. In the US, they’re called terrorists.
Similar to many Jews like me, born and educated in America, I rationalized: “Giving ping pong tables to these guys!? Well, I guess the Israelis must know what they’re doing.”
My jail, Nitzan Maximum Security Prison in Ramla holds 700 men. Two hundred of these are the world’s most dangerous terrorists, leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah.
Guys you wouldn’t let your sister go to the prom with.
Like Izz al-Din Shuell al-Masri who meandered into a Jerusalem pizza shop, overflowing with teenagers, mothers and infants, and detonated an explosive he was concealing in his guitar case. Nails, nuts, bolts and shrapnel ripped through the air and killed fifteen people, including seven children. An entire family, parents and three children, were wiped out. Judy Greenbaum, 31, from Passaic, N.J. died, as did other Americans. One hundred and thirty others were also wounded, some lost eyes, arms and legs.
Izz al-Din Shuell al-Masri, 22 at the time, was a soldier in Hamas, and states happily in interviews, “Even though I’m sentenced to sixteen life-sentences, I know that I will eventually be freed from prison and we’ll be freed from Israeli occupation.”
Back to ping-pong tables.
So, for over a decade and a half in my mind, I compared how the IPS treats Israeli inmates (7.5 on a one-to-ten-scale) and its terrorists.
My advice to you: If you ever find yourself facing an unfortunate and unavoidable incarceration—tell them your name is Abdul.
Here’s the facts from my first-hand experience.
The terrorists had a new TV in every cell. And they had a private pantry in every cell block storing food items complimentary to their ethnic palates –e.g. lentils, Turkish coffee, young beef. These goodies were there to keep them happy, and they supplemented the Service-issued diet.
They had daily exercise and yard time and I personally watched them practicing martial arts (mediocre), calisthenics (poor), running, and soccer (amateurish).
They got special Friday afternoon yard-time for their religious sermon and minyan. They’d spread out their prayer rugs, and get lined up – no AWOLs tolerated – in razor-straight rows of strict military-discipline.
They had regular extended family visits, which was always a security nightmare, the same screening nightmare posed by regular attorney visits, free legal defense, free education, medical and dental treatment.
Conditions sound good? Yes, and whoever authorized them might have thought they were beneficial for Israel’s security.
That assumption is dead wrong.
Conditions like the above is like pouring kerosene on a burning fire, for the following reasons:
First, terrorists behind bars are glorified martyrs in their communities. Media-covered incarceration simply elevates them into becoming viewed as more powerful leaders in their movements – even while behind bars.
Second, try as the Arabic-speaking IPS officer did to monitor the weekly sermons, they remain hot podiums for brain-washing propaganda. It was a regular ritual: seventy congregants form a perfectly round circle in the exercise yard, listening to one of their own leaders preach. He’s ranting. All the terrorist inmates know that every word is being overheard and screened against incitement for violence. Yet, week after week, the same frenzied vile is spewed: “And, with Allahs’ help we will overcome our enemies and drive them from our land.”
The IPS won’t stop them. It would look unacceptably bad in the media.
The continuous torrent of defense attorneys, family and friends is well-known to be an unstoppable supply route for contraband – in both directions.
From the outside, cell-phones were smuggled in almost daily. These are used to coordinate operative directives to their terrorist organizations.
From the inside, three by four inch scraps of paper containing microscopic handwriting with military directives is transmitted to the war front.
The education, partly supported through our tax-shekels, partly from Arab funds – which also comes from millions of US tax dollars – is not only a budgetary scandal. It’s worse.
Put succinctly: They did enough damage as uneducated terrorists, what will they do as educated ones?
One day, guarding the exercise yard, I asked a twenty-something Hamas guy how he felt about prison and about his three life sentences.
He thought a second, then responded, “We have good lives inside the prisons. Our families are also taken care of outside because we’re here.”
He laughed and added, “It’s only a matter of time before we’re freed through a prisoner-exchange or peace-deal. We all know that in the end Islam is going to win over Israel, and the war with the West.”
I don’t know about that, I thought. In the meantime, you and your cronies are behind bars, where you belong.
This week, a Knesset panel discussed a bill to end “5-Star Hotel Conditions For Terrorists.”
I still believe the Israelis know what they’re doing. I’ve lived here long enough to see we’ve got some of the best minds in the world working to keep the economy strong and society flourishing Yes, with all the problems, we do have some of the greatest thinkers at work, even in politics, trying to keep this place safe. People who read, absorb and decide based on listening to other’s thoughts.
For my part, then, I just hope they’re listening to this: You can’t win a war while abetting the enemy.