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The Smile of Policeman Agadi

30 January 2002

Finally, they let me go to the toilet. My body shook with cold. My hands were swollen and my body throbbed with pain. I fantasized about sleep, about free hands so I could scratch my nose, about looking for my mother.

In the Shin Bet facility where the good cop is the one who kicks the tray of food into the cell, and the bad cop is the one who shoves it into the hole that was the toilet, I could only fantasize about such things: and about decent respect; about an interrogation in which the interrogator doesn't curse, spit, kick, shake, torture.

But this time something that had never happened before took place. On my way to the toilet, weaving like a drunk, in a shaking, smashed body, I heard someone stammer, "What's happening to this guy. They've destroyed him."

The thick hood, stinking of piss and vomit, which was on my head, made it impossible for me to move my head to see who was speaking. I couldn't believe my ears. The torture and lack of sleep had often made me delirious.

The man removed my handcuffs. Every touch of my hands was torturous. After he took the hood off my head, I saw something strange - a smile on the policeman's face. The policeman gestured toward the toilet doors and said, "Please."

It took me time to open my trousers because of the pain in my hands. All I could think was that it was a trick. Something terrible was going to happen to me. But what could be worse than what I was already experiencing?

The policeman slid open the shutter in the door and asked if I smoked cigarettes. I said yes. He lit one, and gave it to me, then closed the shutter. After a few minutes he came back with a cup of tea. He said: "When you want a cup of tea or to smoke, ask to go to the toilet."

Later, in my cell, I was once again forced to sit in the Shabah position: the stinking hood on my head, the handcuffs tight on my wrists, while I sat on a small stool. The thoughts ran through my head - Why didn't he beat me? Why didn't he shout? Why didn't he curse? He was probably another hallucination, like the one the day before when during an interrogation I thought children were attacking me, kicking and biting.

The next day I saw him again. He smiled at me and offered a cigarette. I managed to read his name on the metal badge on his chest: Avraham Agadi. He was dark, and looked to be about 30 years old.

Then he was gone for three days, and I missed his smile, the smile that was so important on interrogation days. When the Shin Bet allowed my lawyer to meet me, she brought a jacket,. My mother sent it to me after she saw the soldiers tear off my jacket during my arrest. The cold won't bite into my flesh any more, I thought. And here's Avraham Agadi, smiling when he sees me wearing a jacket.

On the way back from the lawyer's visit, a police sergeant saw the jacket and got mad. He ordered Agadi to search me, and Agadi said he already did. The sergeant got up from his chair and grabbed the coat, shouting "what's this?" I said, "A jacket. That's what it is." He ordered me to take it off, and then he took it and went away. I told Agadi that I was sorry that the sergeant shouted at him because of me. He said, "You don't have to apologize, they're the ones who should apologize. What do they accomplish causing you such suffering?"

More days went by without sleep. I couldn't hold my head up, and finally the frustrated interrogators decided to let me sleep - four hours to recover. Agadi showed up, gave me a packet of cigarettes and left.

After a few minutes I shouted, "Police, police," to ask for a light, to smoke, and to sleep. The policeman asked angrily where I got the cigarettes. I told him I won the Toto.

That was seven-and-a-half years ago, in March 1994, in the Shin Bet interrogations facility in Ramallah. In 1996, I was sent to administrative detention for two-and-a-half years. In 2001, after another round of interrogation and torture, I was sent to Megiddo prison for administrative detention. The first period of six months went by. Two months ago, the detention was extended for another six months. I am 34 years old now, and the scars of the torture are on my body. My soul is scarred. And I still keep Agadi's smile in my memory.

We can all live without torture, without terror, without car bombs, without assassinations. We can live here without one denying the right of the other to live. We can have a joint future, of equal rights, since we, the living, are more precious than the things we are fighting over; we have to give up racism, not democracy; give up fanaticism, nor human rights. We can and should see the other side not through the sniper's scope or above the explosive belt. We must stop this ruthless cycle of bloodshed.

From Megiddo Prison I call, to learn the lesson of history, the lesson that says there's no future for repression and discrimination, occupation and terror. Israeli and Palestinian security won't be preserved by assassinations and terrorism, but by human behavior, like Avraham Agadi's.

Abdel Rahman al-Ahmed, a Palestinian human rights activist, who was arrested in May 2001 for being in Jerusalem illegally. A few days later he was transferred to the Shin Bet for interrogation, and was put in administrative detention, for unknown reasons.
Published in Ha'aretz (Israel) 2002 Ha'aretz

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