Source: Sul Nowroz 2024

There is a bandstand in south-east London, in Ruskin Park, off Denmark Hill. It has a perfect pitched roof that slopes downwards resting neatly on eight green pillars. Under the roof is a small stage, enclosed by a waist-high picket fence. Tall trees with fat trunks gather round the bandstand, resembling an expectant crowd, their branches lightly swaying. Two football pitches, with miniature-size goals, and four tennis courts sit to the side. Kids run, parents watch. Dogs on leashes sniff shrubs and soil. This is a quintessential London park setting, and on Wednesday it was the site of Doctor Adnan Al-Bursh’s vigil.

Ofer Prison

Source: Google Maps

Two thousand miles from Ruskin Park and fifty miles north of Ghazzah is Ofer prison. The facility is built on the unceded Palestinian lands of Beitunia and is a brutal place. Six block-shaped buildings, holding some 1,200 people, squat inside a high-walled enclosure. The buildings stare up to the heavens, looking to be released. This place is haunted by violence and on occasion, death.

Brutal Murders

On October 24th 2023, Arafat Yasser Hamdan, 25, died while in detention at Ofer. His death was unexpected to all – except those who beat him and placed him in the sun for hours at a time with a bag over his head. Between October 7th 2023 and May 2024 a total of eighteen Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli prisons. Qadura Fares, from the Palestinian Commission of Detainees, shared that ten of the eighteen had been tortured or beaten to death. He described how Khaled Jamal Shawish, Thayer Abu Assab, and Abdul Rahman al-Bahash were each attacked by up to fifteen Israeli guards. Others had been denied critical medical attention leading to their preventable deaths.  Fares speculated a further forty deaths may have occurred but are not officially acknowledged by the Israeli security services.

On the April 19th two additional names were added to Fares’ list – Ismail Khader, 33 and Adnan Al-Bursh. Both were tortured to death.

Husband, Father, Doctor

Screengrab – Instagram

There are perhaps a hundred of us gathered in the evening sun. It’s t-shirt weather. Most appear to have come directly from work, rucksacks heaved over shoulders. We are here to create a special moment in Adnan’s legacy. On this small patch of London, we are remembering one of the city’s transitory residents – Adnan completed his fellowship just around the corner from here at Kings College. He must have walked through this park, past the bandstand, on multiple occasions.

Adnan was from Jabalia in northern Ghazzah. He was fifty, an attentive husband and an affectionate father to six children. He served his community as a part-time medical professor, an adviser to the Palestine national football team and most notably he was the head of orthopaedics at Al-Shifa Hospital, Ghazzah’s largest medical facility. He was handsome and articulate, he completed a Masters in Political Science after finishing his medical studies, and was regularly interviewed by various media outlets.

Source: Mohammad Al-Bursh

After October 7th 2023, Adnan’s life became unrecognisable. He and his family were forced to flee their home and took refuge first in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, and then in an UNRWA school. While life for the family was scrappy and scary, life for Adnan was shocking.

 “Today has been one of the most difficult days in my career. I have seen things I can never unsee.”

Adnan Al-Bursh pictured left. Source: Ghazzah Ministry of Health

Adnan was working on the most damaged patients in the most demanding conditions. Al-Shifa was empty of medical supplies, electricity was intermittent, and the Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) were constantly shelling parts of the hospital rendering it useless within weeks. Adnan relocated first to the Indonesian Hospital, where he was injured, and then to Al-Awda Hospital, in northern Ghazzah. Despite his injury Adnan continued to care for the wounded. We know from testimony that he performed forty procedures in a single twenty-four-hour period. In mid-December 2023 Adnan was detained by the IOF.

Torture and Murder Visit the Bandstand

The bandstand falls silent.  A message from Adnan’s wife, Umm Yazan, is read out.

He continued to treat his patients until the Zionists called him: ‘Adnan Al Bursh come down or we will burn the hospital.’ He went down to them and was taken away.”  

My first thoughts are about Adnan. How did he feel on hearing his name being called out, on being singled out?  I imagine him walking into the courtyard, dirty scrubs, hands raised. Exposed and vulnerable.

Then my mind wanders. Who tied his hands? Who blindfolded him? Who placed him in the truck that drove him away? I feel guilty – I am here for Adnan, but my mind is pre-occupied with his captors. The notion of preparing someone to be brutalised is stomach churning, and I wonder exactly what type of person would do that.

I looked for him, asking other hostages released in the south whether they saw him. He was initially at Al-Naqab [prison in the Negev]. He was interrogated every day. His eyes were blindfolded, a bag was put over his face and his hands were tied.

I have seen many photos of Adnan, enough to build a mental picture of what Umm is describing.

Then he was moved to Nafha [prison]. Same thing. He was subjected to torture and interrogation.

Nafha prison is a mean place and considered one of Israel’s harshest prisons for Palestinians.  It consists of two blocks and a single large isolation unit. Harassment of prisoners is common and includes frequent withdrawal of privileges and violent cell raids.

Source: Qudsnen

“Then Ashkelon.”

Thirty-five miles north-west of Nafha and sitting just off the Mediterranean coast is Ashkelon, home to Shikma prison. The site has history, first used by the British Army as a regional headquarters, then by Israel as a detention centre. During the 1970s it was notorious for welcoming new Palestinian detainees who were forced to pass in-between two lines of guards who would beat them into bloody pulps with batons. The savage welcome was nicknamed “al-tashreefa,” loosely translated to grace us with your presence in English.

The violence didn’t end there. The facility was also designated an official Israeli interrogation centre, one of four scattered across historic Palestine. The interrogation wing is operated by the Shabak (Shin Bet in Hebrew), Israel’s internal security services, who are known to operate a barbaric torture programme.

Source: United States Department of State, Wikimedia Commons

Alexandra Johnson was a US State Department official based in Jerusalem from 1977 to 1979. She is best known for two cables she sent to Washington in 1978: Jerusalem 1500 sent in May and Jerusalem 3239 sent in November. Johnson was dismissed from the State Department in January 1979 and died in Enid, Oklahoma, in 2002.

The cables Johnson dispatched describe the interrogation methods used by the Israeli security services and make for harrowing reading. The content was based on a series of in-the-field interviews Johnson carried out herself.

—–The following contains references to acts of violence, including sexual violence.—–

Johnson reported detainees were forced to strip naked and subjected to freezing showers for extended periods. Some had restraints hung onto ceiling mounted hooks leaving detainees dangling for hours. She went onto classify the torture into three categories: ‘level one: daily beatings with fists and sticks; level two: alternate immersions of the victim in hot and cold water, beating of genitals and interrogation twice daily lasting several hours; level three: rotating teams working on a nude person under detention by applying electrical devices, high frequency sonic noise, refrigeration, prolonged hanging by the hands or feet, and inserting objects into their penises or rectums.’

In November 2023 Amnesty International released its latest findings on Israel’s use of torture. Like Johnson’s work, it was painful reading: “The beating to the rest of my body did not stop, at one point he started jumping on my back – three or four times – while yelling ‘die, die you trash’ … in the end before this finally stopped, another officer urinated on my face and body while also yelling at us to die.”

It is not clear how many days Adnan was held at Ashkelon. At some point he was transferred to Ofer prison, where he died on Friday April 19th. Ofer is nine miles from Jerusalem, from where Johnson had sent her cables forty-six years earlier.

My husband was tortured for four months in custody before he was martyred at the hands of his cruel prison guards. For two weeks we were not aware of his death.”

On May 5th Adnan’s family initiated legal action to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death and to secure the return of his body.

Since October 7th 2023, the IOF have murdered some 500 medical workers, wounded 1,500 and detained 300.

We leave the bandstand and file out of the park. We pass through a small gate which has a sign asking to close it behind us. Everything here is orderly. There is a community garden, fenced in, with edible plants running in neat rows. Disused plastic bottles turned upside-down protect young seedlings. Tools are carefully stored in one corner. 

I think of Adnan completing his fellowship in the building next door, of him leaving the calmness of this place for the chaos and savagery of occupation, for choosing to forgo the easy life, to instead serve those in need. I imagine him here, unbruised, unbloodied, unbroken. You are not forgotten Adnan, and we will continue to tell your story.

Adnan Al-Bursh (1974-2024)

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
(Refaat Alareer)

Source: Mohammad Al-Bursh

©2024 Sul Nowroz – staff writer