Voices from Israel’s ‘open prison’: Feeling caged in Holot

‘My curiosity drives me to walk around my prison, where I stand like an inmate near those massive buildings, guarded by imposing patrol towers.’ Musings by a Sudanese refugee in Holot prison.

By Hassan Shakur

I live in a rugged and semi-abandoned grassland. It is a very remote and isolated area that doesn’t seem to support life at all. There are numerous rocky hills without trees, and the area lives up to its name as a deserted desert.

I live in a small confined center enclosed by a fence that reminds me of a cowshed. The detention facility where I currently live consists of several housing units, each with its own small yard. The center is as tough and strange as its surrounding environment.

Detainees in Holot (Photo by Activestills.org)
Detainees in Holot (Photo by Activestills.org)

Sometimes I aimlessly wander and create a lovely evening picnic for myself. There are huge prisons, poultry sheds, animal farms and military bases around us. Often my curiosity drives me to walk around my prison. I just stand like an inmate near those huge and massive buildings guarded by the imposing patrol towers.

As I walk toward the poultry sheds, I am struck by the amount of chickens I see in such a small place. I go around to the cow sheds, hoping to see something interesting, but unfortunately I find that they are also in prison. Sometimes I tell them, “Hi cows! Look, you should come to Africa – your friends there are free to move anywhere.” Finally, if I don’t find anything enjoyable to do, I climb a hill, lay down on the rocks and wait for the wind to blow. At least then, in that moment, I can enjoy listening to the sound of the wind. Instead, I find myself listening to guns firing from a nearby army base.

Hassan Shakur during his goodbye party before being sent off to Holot.
Hassan Shakur during his goodbye party before being sent off to Holot.

The weather here is definitely stranger than anything I’ve ever experienced; it’s always changing. It ranges from very hot, to stormy and windy in the middle of the day, to cold at night. Occasionally we have beautiful, spring-like weather in the morning. This time of day, the morning, is my favorite moment to contemplate; to try and see everything around me as just wonderful.

Written by Hassan Shakur, Schoolhouse student and teacher assistant, and current English teacher in Holot. Hassan continues to work on and develop his English writing via email with his private volunteer tutor, Tamara Elise. 

 This piece was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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