Just a stone’s throw away from Israel’s separation wall in Abu Dis, near Bethlehem, is a miniature replica made from five concrete blocks welcoming visitors to the Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs. The idea behind it, says the curator and director Fahed Abu El-Haj, is to show that Palestinians are two kinds of prisoners: those languishing behind Israeli prison bars and others suffocated by the wall and ubiquitous checkpoints.

The three-storey museum is the brainchild of Abu El-Haj, who at 17 was sentenced to 15 years in an Israeli jail. Following his early release, Abu El-Haj realised he wanted to salvage all the literature, poetry and writings that Palestinian prisoners accumulated. “Writing in prison was a dangerous affair,” says Abu El-Haj. “The Israeli prison authorities perceived pens as Kalashnikovs. This great heritage born out of suffering needed to be salvaged and showcased.”

Abu El-Haj, who was illiterate when he was first incarcerated but learnt to read and write behind bars, is dedicated to highlighting the suffering of prisoners, a theme widely reflected in his curatorial selections. The 450-square-metre site is partially dedicated to those Palestinians who perished inside Israeli prisons. Other areas showcase personal diaries as well as letters and documents written in minuscule hands and smuggled out with visitors in tiny capsules.

The highlight of the museum is an installation with six cement pillars encased in green grass on a red-tiled platform. “This represents the heinousness of life in prison,” says Abu El-Haj. “But the land is still green, because it’s ours and it’s watered by our blood.”
 
Dalia Hatuqa
June 1, 2013