Jaber Wishah

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Jaber Wishah is a Palestinian ex-prisoner who spent 14 years in prison; he is currently a human rights activist in Gaza, he is the Deputy Director of PCHR.

From a Frontline biography:

Jaber Wishah, Palestine

In 1948, my family, like thousands of other Palestinian families, was forcibly driven out of their homes into exile. After the nakba (the disaster), my family lived in al Bureij refugee camp, in the middle of the Gaza Strip, where I was born. The miserable situation and collective suffering, was the first reality that my eyes and mind were opened to. Since that time, and following the occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip by Israel in 1967, I have witnessed many horrible events, struggled against various injustices, resisted the belligerent Israeli occupation, and defended my people and country.

For many years, while I was a lecturer in Physics, I participated in and led political and military resistance against the Israeli Occupying Forces in the Gaza Strip. For this reason, the Israeli authorities imprisoned me for 15 years (exactly 5262 days, 5261 nights). During this time, they subjected me, and thousands of other Palestinian and Arab detainees, to horrific torture.

My comrades, it was during this time of crushing torture and severe violations of my rights, in the dark and rotten cells of interrogation centres when I made my decision to become a human rights defender. I recall some specific incidents - each one had a grave impact on me, on my thinking, and on my philosophy.

At midnight on 5 June 1985, two-dozen Israeli soldiers forcibly entered my house to arrest me at gunpoint. I insisted on giving farewell kisses to my two daughters, Fidaa (2 years) and Hanin (4 months) who was sleeping in her cradle. Her baby smell accompanied me during 15 years in prison and even after my release. How many victims, mothers, and fathers around the world have had this experience?!

The next time I was able to kiss and hug my daughter was five years later during a prison visit. I still remember how filled with fear I was the day of that visit. She had never touched me, never seen her father's face - except from behind the wire net that separated detainees and visitors. As my daughter came towards me, I wanted to throw her in the air but the ceiling of the room too low; to turn her round but the passage was too narrow; to lay down on my back and play with her but the place too crowded. Suddenly my daughter burst into tears. So as not to interrupt and spoil the visit of my comrades I, bitterly, let my daughter return to her mother on the other side of the screen. I spent the next two weeks wondering - what did I do to make her cry? Later, my wife told me that my daughter had cried because she never wanted her mother to be in prison like her father. It was at this point that I realised - that when I had hugged her and turned away from the rest of my family she witnessed them through the same screen that she normally saw me through. At that point she began to cry because she thought that now her mother was in prison. It is not only the detainee who is in prison, but also his family, wife and children who are tortured by his absence.

Similarly, I recall the first opportunity in three months to see a delegate from the International Red Cross. I was, at the time, being subjected to the most horrific torture. In order to hide this from the Red Cross, I was also being moved from prison to prison. To this day, I remember the face, the smile, the warmth and the name of the Swiss delegate. When eventually I saw him and could explain to him what torture and events I had been subjected to. I realised then the importance of the role of human rights defenders like this man.

The final incident I want to recount today was extremely influential in my own personal process of moving away from political violence towards defending human rights. I was sick and badly needed treatment in the prison hospital. My hands, in accordance with Israeli security regulations, were handcuffed behind my back and my legs were shackled. The handcuffs were preventing the nurse from treating my condition properly. I remember the nurse and the doctor having a heated argument. The nurse was insisting the handcuffs be removed. The doctor was stating clearly that I was a terrorist and that I had to be handcuffed for security reasons. I will never forget the words of that nurse - "Yes, he is a terrorist but above all he is a human being, above all we must treat him like a human being."

Dear Comrades, these three small events are a very narrow portion of the personal experiences which I have lived, and which many of you will have lived through. One final comment: I spent two thirds of my life trying to defend and liberate my homeland, unfortunately without success, and so it is worth spending the rest of my life defending human rights.

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