Ibrahim (to the Shabak interrogator): Have you ever interrogated a table? I am a table now. Go interrogatea table. If it talks back to you, come to me and you’ll find that I have become a mountain.” — Ibrahim El-Rai, quoted in a handbook publishedby the Committee for the First Commemoration ofthe Martyr Ibrahim Mahmood al-Rai (Translated and reprinted in Lena Meari’s Sumud)
On the 32nd anniversary of his assassination behind Israeli bars, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the memory of Ibrahim al-Rai (Abu al-Muntasser), the hero of the interrogation rooms. Ibrahim al-Rai was killed under torture by Israeli jailers in the interrogation cells where he was held and tortured for over 10 months of continuous solitary confinement on April 11, 1988. Until his death, he gave not one word of confession to his jailers and torturers. His revolutionary life of struggle and resistance continues to inspire Palestinians and internationalists everywhere, not only for his steadfastness behind bars but for his radical love for and commitment to the Palestinian people and their liberation.
Born in 1960 in Qalqilya, Ibrahim al-Rai joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1978 after two years of active involvement in the popular struggle. He was first arrested in August 1978 for his role in the Front and was released in 1982. He was released as part of a campaign by the Israeli occupation to promote the so-called “Village leagues” as an alternative to the Palestinian revolution and its leadership. Upon his release he publicly declared, “These people represent only themselves and the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” at the time a revolutionary declaration that openly defied the occupation upon his release. He was returned to prison to complete his original sentence.
He was active in all fields of struggle, organizing mass cultural activities, dabkeh groups and youth symposiums. He established the Democratic Progressive Student Pole at An-Najah University in Nablus before devoting himself to political activity in Qalqilya as well as armed resistance throughout the northern West Bank of occupied Palestine.
He formed volunteer work committees that harvested wheat with the farmers, provided assistance to poor and marginalized people, rebuilt damaged properties, cleaned the cemeteries and painted schools in the refugee camps. He took strong inspiration from international and Arab struggles, including the Algerian liberation movement and the Vietnamese people’s war.
Again, in 1986 he was arrested and interrogated under torture for nine months, during which time he refused to provide a confession despite facing intense torture. Even after he was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, he was not sent to the collective prison rooms with fellow prisoners but was instead held in solitary confinement, denied the ability to even shower, shave or change his clothes.
During this period he was held for 58 days in the interrogation cells in Jenin prison, then transferred to the interrogation cells in the old Nablus prison, and from there to the infamous al-Moskobiyeh detention center. He maintained a hunger strike throughout his time in the Moskobiyeh detention center until 29 November 1987, when he was transferred to Ramleh prison and thrown into solitary confinement there, where torture and interrogation continued. While held in al-Moskobiyeh, he wrote on the walls of his cell: “My comrades, they may hang me and this is possible, and if they hang me, they will not kill me, so I will stay alive. I will challenge them and I will not die, and remember me, I will remain alive in the beats of your heart.”
His example represented the “Philosophy of Confrontation Behind Bars” and resistance under interrogation that has come to exemplify Palestinian sumoud or steadfastness. Two days before his death he sent a letter to his family members:
“My beloved family, my lovely mother, passionate regards from my heart. I received your letter and, indeed, I read it almost every day as it encompasses immense meanings that motivate me and give me new powers each second I spend in my solitary cell. The poem that the comrades dedicated to me affectsme deeply and mobilizes me to really be the samed [steadfast] hero. . . . I realize that my solitary confinement is meant to separate me socially and culturally.Yet their plans will fail. The increase of suffering and hardships will not stopme; it motivates me to continue. . . . My beloved, I wish for you to ask the lawyer to visit me as there are issues I need to discuss with her regarding my solitary confinement and my case.”
Ibrahim al-Rai is considered to be the Bobby Sands of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement, a symbol not only of the prisoners but of an entire people’s commitment to resist colonialism, Zionism, and imperialism. His experience inspired a generation of Palestinians to refuse to confess under torture, and the slogan, “Resist, resist like al-Rai under interrogation” remains a call for Palestinian revolutionary consciousness that refuses to break or bend.