Prison Break With a Spoon - The Story of Amjad Al-Deek
By: Raneem Ghunaim/Arab America contributing writer
If I were to sit here and talk about all the brave Palestinian men and women who have fought with everything they have for their country, I would be sitting here for years. Every name and story is one to be remembered. They all hold a remarkable memory in our Palestinian hearts, but for now, I want to shine the light on the story of Amjad Al-Deek. He is a 38 old Palestinian man from Kafr Ni’ma who escaped prison with a spoon.
The Great EscapeOfer Prison
“I was in my early 20s, a third-year College student attending the University of Birzeit in 2001. I was majoring in Finance. They arrested me at a security checking gate. I was imprisoned for 65 days. They tortured me, investigated me non stop, and put me in solitary confinement. I did not know day from night. After they transferred me to Askalan, I was there for 5 months then they transferred me to Ofer.”[sic] This is a direct quote from Amjad Al-Deek when he was interviewed and asked to share his story. He explained in detail the horrific acts he was subjected to in these prisons.
The guards tried to break him down by constantly treating him like an animal, torturing him, and committing other inhumane acts. Their abuse only made him more determined and he was willing to wait and fight through. Now, Ofer is an occupied place in Palestine that the Zionists have made into an area for prisons and other occupation forces. These forces would recklessly throw Palestinians in jail for simply walking down the street, so much so that their prisons started filling up. This led to Ofer being used as an extra place to put Palestinian prisoners.
How They Met
“In 2003 after my imprisonment, I met Riyad Kalifeh and Khalid Shanitah. We were all waiting for our sentence which of course would have been severe. Because all of us had previous issues with the zionist military.” [sic] For those with previous rough history with the IDF, usually the sentencing and overall treatment is much worse than if it was a regular person. The reason they do that is to show their “power,” a power they do not actually have. Palestinians are courageous and fear nothing, which scares them and leads to this treatment.
“The grounds and walls of the prison were not properly built, were easy to break, and uncomfortable to walk on. The 3 of us came up with the idea of escaping prison. It might be a 1 in a million chance, but we were willing to test our odds. Each cell was packed with inmates. The first step was to empty the cell, no one must know about this.” [sic]
“We did not have any other tools to dig except for spoons and our nails. Following up with our plan was very difficult to do because we had regular headcounts. Not a single ant walked by without the guards noticing. It felt like we were walking on eggshells. Every breath was counted, every turn you took was recorded. We started to slowly dig without anyone knowing. The sand that used to come out we either put in our pockets or pillowcases. After 17 days we were able to dig a 15-meter long tunnel.”
The Prison Break: 59-60 seconds
“After we reached the end, we feared that we would get caught. The tunnel was very tight and the time was not on our side. So we had to finish quickly and in any way, we had to escape. It was 4 in the morning Date 22-5-2003. We crawled on our bellies in the tunnel all the way out. When we entered the end of the tunnel I started counting. It took us a total of 60 seconds to reach outside. I easily got out my size helped me. The other two guys had some difficulties but eventually, they got out.” [sic]
“The feeling was unbelievable. 60 seconds ago, I was imprisoned and unable to breathe. Now 60 seconds after I am free, under the sky surrounded by trees. There were electric wires all around. This was the scariest and most difficult one. But we were able to surpass it. We entered Ramallah and hid there for a while, it was perfect because we knew the area very well. And knew every inch and corner of it. After 5 hours, the morning headcount had started in prison.” [sic]
What Happened to Them
After the prison break, Shanitah went to Bethlehem, three days later he was caught. Amjad and Riyad went to their village, Kafr Ni’ma. Riyad got married and escaped in the mountains with his wife and they disappeared for the next seven months. During that time, they stayed on the run because the military was after them. It was a very difficult experience for them, but that did not matter; they were free. As they stayed on the run, they moved to different hiding places every now and then.
On December at 10 pm, they were caught with guns fired from both sides, sadly Riyad was killed and they rearrested Amjad. After a while they released Shanitah, but later he was caught and they killed him. As for Amjad, he was sentenced 15 years for escaping and having firearms. “Regardless of all the pain I went through, I still remember the time between 59-60 seconds. And it makes all of it worth it, I still remember my joy when I left the tunnel.” [sic]
Although Amjad was ranked 1st in his class at school, he was unable to continue his Masters. Why would they not allow it? Because he got the Red Card. The Red Card is for those who are considered to be “dangerous inmates,” and to them, Amjad was a huge threat. Getting this card limits one’s freedom even more. When any IDF soldier sees that you have a Red Card, they would immediately call on 10 other soldiers to ensure”their safety.”
A person with a red card is not allowed to stay in the same cell for more than 3 months. They are not allowed to stay in the same prison for more than 6 months. If the family wants to visit, the inmate must be fully chained. They call it the triangular chain – two on the legs and one on the neck, like a wild animal. Those with the card also get a weekly check-up.
What Was Next for Amjad?
Amjad’s family was unable to see him for years because of the Red Card. They finally saw him after his 15-year sentence was over; the date was: 16-6-2017. The day before his release date, they added 8 more months to his sentence because he had snuck in a cell phone. Not done tormenting him, they requested a $15,000 payment from him. Knowing he did not have that kind of money, they gave him an alternative, to spend 200 more days in prison.
“They took my happiness away from me, they wanted nothing but revenge. But every time I remember the 59-60 seconds, I forget the pain, hunger, and misery that they put me through.”
These were Amjad’s exact words about the situation. “The 15 years went by, to this day, I still laugh. I outsmarted the “Military that can’t be defeated.” His official release date was on 24-1-2018. He was free! “…… they took off my chains and I screamed as loud as I could FREEDOM FREEDOM.” Everyone from his village came to see him with warm hugs and with so much pride.
Amjad is now 38 years old; he looks back at his current situation and it pains him. His friends who are his age all have children that are now 18 years old. And him….he has nothing. They took every ounce of freedom from him. He wishes to continue his education and rebuild a new life for himself. As for Riyad, after his death, his wife gave birth to a son whom she named after his father. Riyad’s son now is 14 years old. “My friends from my age now all have kids and careers. Yet, I am still here thinking I’m 20 and they had just caught me. Regardless of the bitterness of the situation, I will never forget the 59-60 seconds. I am now a free man” [sic]