I won’t forget you Basma: A musical prison reflection

"Two Sisters" by Pablo Picasso (detail)
"Two Sisters" by Pablo Picasso (detail)

I never really met them, only passed by. I saw them through the window of a car traveling through the beautiful Carmel forest. This was before last year’s great fire which consumed so much of it, and the view was nothing short of heavenly.

Then heaven was distrubed. Through the treetops stuck the dark concrete tower of an old prison. Then around the curve appeared the rest of it. Damon prison, where many Palestinian political prisoners are kept, was once declared “unfit for humans”, not by one of those wicked human rights organizations now under investigation by the Israeli government, but by the Israeli government itself. The Ministry of Justice published this opinion in 2002, one year after the prison, which was previously shut down, reopened to accomodate the detainees of the second Intifada.

I think it was about that time when I first drove there and saw them. There were hundreds of them: ladies from the West Bank, some in embroydered countryside garb, some in more modern city clothes, all in Hijabs. They were stepping out of four or five busses parked in the gravel lot in front of the prison. Israel gave them a day’s leave to cross the Green Line, travel through the forested hills and see their loved ones, briefly.

Seeing a loved one briefly – there’s a song about such an experience. I heard it today, and the image of these women sprang to my mind immediately. It is “I remember you Amanda” by Chilean legend Victor Jara. It is the story of a working class girl who gets five only minutes each day to see her factory-working beloved. Jara beautifully described the passion of those brief spells: “life is eternal in five minutes” he sang.

Victor Jara was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s bullies in 1973, in a stadium that is today named after him. In his memory and in honor of the women in the gravel lot, I put together a local version of “I remember Amanda”. An English translation of the lyrics appears below.

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[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnYp3bnMtRE[/youtube]

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I won’t forget you Basma

I won’t forget you Basma
At Damon prison
Lost in the crowd
Making your way towards him.

You lost him at night
They banged at the door
And now from Hebron
You came to be with him
with him
with him
with him
with him
Only ten minutes
What can you do in ten minutes?
Someone’s grabbing your sholder
Outside they await you.
You let go of his hand
He sends his boy a kiss.

I won’t forget you Basma
And I won’t ask you
Whether he conspired to harm me
Whether he was proven guilty.
I’ll accompany you all the way
As you twiddle with your headscarf
The tear isn’t shed
Perhaps it remained there with him
with him
with him
with him
with him
for another ten minutes
What could you do in ten minutes?
Here is the roadblock
Move on! Hand your documents!
Hugs from the neighbors
and sleepless wee-hours

I won’t forget you Basma
At Damon prison
Lost in the crowd
Making your way towards him.