The Prison of Ferality… Besieged Humanity

by Saleh Abu Shamala




There is nothing more severe and cruel than for a person to live a feeling of oppression and suffering without being able to describe it and determine its causes and sources. It is the feeling of powerlessness and loss of human dignity when uncertainty meets oppression, and it seems to you that not only the world has abandoned you, but your language has also abandoned and betrayed you to the point that you do not know how to describe your torment.

My fellow Palestinian youth and I, especially those engaged in cultural and creative work, suffer the feeling of pain and ferality inherent in our suffering from complex social dilemmas: a prison of ferality, the ferality of the Israeli occupation, the ferality of ideology, the ferality of alienation, the ferality of siege and repetition, the ferality of geography, the ferality of colonialism, the ferality of language and dictionaries. All of them conspire against the Palestinian to make him struggle with a life unlike any other, trapping him between the monotony of the familiar and the exceptional, madness and dreams; All this ferality could not exclude reason and obliterate knowledge. It may have set limits; it may have limited our resources.

In this context, I see that the Palestinian comes as a figure that can apply to all the oppressed in the world, as Palestinian’s life now looks like the life of those behind prison bars, “which is reflected on the oppressed in the world.” 

The truth is that most of us are prisoners in prisons that are different from ordinary prisons, “but present the same substantial restrictions” we suffer from siege and repetition, a different form of imprisonment and capture.

However, I go with the vision of the educator, Munir Fasheh, a Palestinian educator and thinker who believes that Gaza still plants the seeds of hope, and the seeds that can heal humanity from being feral.1

In this regard, Munir resonates with what Jalal Al-Din al-Rumi once said, “Perhaps you are searching among the branches for what is only manifested in the roots.” Whoever relies on branches and ignores the roots, will collapse at the end. Most of us rely on branches and ignore the roots. The farmer may prune the trees and leave the roots to be withered away, but the people of Gaza are the only ones who know how to deal with the roots.2

The Palestinian in Gaza is still digging up the roots of his humanity so that its branches blossom in knowledge, culture and literature; harnessing all their forces for liberation and building bridges of solidarity among the indigenous around the world and employ indigeneity in their liberation struggle.

As was the case in South Africa where the spiritual knowledge of Ubuntu helped the liberation process from colonialism, I see that also for us in Palestine, we need an epistemological revolution that can lead to a political revolution. The Palestinian defining moment comes when the same dynamic in which the unity of the oppressed led to the isolation of the oppressor, when it is not only the oppressed who seek political change, but also many indigenous in solidarity around the world.

Reaching this stage invokes a new kind of global cultural-political awareness. Ubuntu is a philosophy of humanity which brings validation and reconciliation, considering humanity as a bond that binds all beings together, once we pursue the promise of freedom and justice for all. We need to raise the voice of those who are not heard, so we have to convey their narrations and experiences. We have to listen to their true stories, their complex stories. To produce an authentic human discourse that strengthens bridges of solidarity between Indigenous peoples and the oppressed around the world, establishing their existence, awareness and knowledge to be able to break out against colonial culture.

The liberation of the Palestinians from their brutal cognitive siege necessarily means liberating them from the idea of pain, liberating them from the idea of always suffering,

and the idea of enjoying the suffering inflicted on them. The Palestinians and oppressed people have all the motives for the revolution, but they do not revolute against anyone; perhaps this is because they have reached a “the stage of pain as pleasure” 3. as David Le Bretoncalls it in his book Expériences de la douleur: entre destruction et renaissance. 

What leads me to wonder as it seems significant and related to our humanity in this moment in which we are shredded from time by the siege and occupation – how can we liberate our oppressed humanity from the prison of ferality? We keep surviving, we are still struggling to keep the question simply open.

This paper wishes to propose the framework of Ubuntuism and reach our indigenous roots, by studying the prison of ferality and the social dilemmas that the Palestinians suffer from, as well as Indigenous peoples and other oppressed people around the world. To begin the process of Mujaawarah 4 explained by Munir Fasheh as “learning as self-refinement that includes contemplation, conversation, experience, and diligence in creating the meaning of the experience”- this paper proposes to discuss the seeds of knowledge that have to be planted to heal the Palestinian and all those who suffer from the ferality of modern, colonial life.

Chapter one: An anthropology the Prison of Ferality
The Siege and Repetition dilemma


What is the siege that we all Suffer?


When I am asked about life in Palestine and in Gaza specifically, I find that the answer to this question is painful, but my answer would be, “Gaza is a prison of brutality.”

Imagine the ferality the prisoners suffer, imagine the ferality of crossing the same roads every day, hearing the same words all day, meeting the same faces, dealing with the same stores and markets; to be imprisoned does not only mean to be hand-cuffed, but to live the dilemma of siege and repetition, the repetition of everything; this is what was designed and inflicted onto the Palestinians by the feral occupation; A huge open-air prison with ferality; to live a godforsaken colourless life. Imagine such a ferality the human-being would suffer, imagine if they are writers, creators, musicians, or artists; it is the curse on them; they do not have any chance to improve their creativity, to fill their hearts and minds with imagination; tied down all the time, hearing the sounds of explosions, seeing blood and scattered bodies, not allowed to travel, not allowed to express their views; their life is prison-like. The bitter fact is that we are real prisoners. These prisons might not look really like ordinary prisons, but you experience the same. The feeling of realizing how similar the restrictions are in substance, even if they differ in form.

The one who can tell the real story of siege and imprisonment is the one who experiencing it, Walid Daqqa 5, as his experience is an anthropology of siege and imprisonment, that should be represented to every prisoner and sieged in the prisons of ferality6. This anthropology can be read in his texts especially those he wrote to his imaginary daughter, Milad7.

“This essence in specific is the target in the prisoner’s life through hours, days and years. You aren’t targeted primarily as a political being, and you aren’t targeted as a religious or consumerist being who can be deprived from pleasures of material life. You can adopt the political opinions you like; you can practice the religious rituals you believe in, and you can have many of your consumptive needs, but what will always be targeted is the social being and the human in you….8

  Likewise, humanity around the world suffers the siege, repetition, and ferality, which we can infer from the Stanford prison experiment to understand the conflicts in the prison system (the siege), where the US Navy funded this research with the aim of understanding the conflicts in its prison system. The experiment was announced in the newspapers to get participants for $15 a day. The majority of the participants were white, male, and middle-class, all of whom were undergraduate students. To simulate prison life, the group was divided randomly into two equal groups of prisoners and guards.

“You can create in the prisoners a sense of lethargy, a degree of fear, you can suggest some arbitrariness that makes them feel that you, the system, and that we all control their lives, they will have no privacy, we will rob them of their personalities and their individuality in various ways. As a result, all this will lead to a feeling of losing control on their side, and in this way, we will have absolute power and they will have no power9.”

That’s what Philip Zimbardo, the leader of the research team, told the guards before starting the experiment, but the test quickly got out of hand. The prisoners suffered and endured unbearable sadistic practices at the hands of these guards. This test provided a model for the patterns of obedience that people display when subjected to an ideological system, with social and institutional support, that has been successfully employed in the real prisons of America to clarify and understand the features of the power of authority, and that the reality one lives is what controls his behaviour, more than anything else inherited in his personality10.

This ensures our siege and analyses our behavioural sources, and makes us feel a danger to our humanity and our authentic roots, and places us in front of the responsibility of healing from that institutionalism and ferality, and calls us to return to the origin of things, identities and dictionaries, to our human nature, and to learn from contexts outside the colonial and capitalist patterns that lead our social contract to the benefit, not to the value. This was Walid’s message to his daughter, Milad.

“The Path of Struggle is the same path of knowledge, it’s a harsh path where you would feel lonely or afraid of the unknown, the case in prison is just like the case in the siege, the peak of struggle is to still be able to question, and to be ready even to sleep in your prison mattress.11


Occupation and Ideology dilemma


Palestinians, especially those who are preoccupied with the cultural and creative act, suffer from many challenges, which are clearly reflected in their values in a structural way, starting with the Israeli occupation and its feral practices and ethnic cleansing from time to time, and the siege and closure that it imposes, restricting movement, and obliterating the place to kill the cultural act in Gaza, by destroying all cultural centers, ranging from the “Village of Arts and Crafts”, to “Saeed Al-Mishal Theatre”, to “Abdullah Al-Hourani Center for Studies”, to “Samir Mansour Bookshop” and others, which were places that accommodated the majority of the voluntary, cultural efforts of young people for free.

This makes me think of how far we have come with our humanity. What have we planted to harvest this wasted land12? It was once said, “What goes around comes around.” This is obvious even to children. I see now we have to think about it one more time, what have we done to harvest all of these wastes?  

Upon closer examination of the Palestinian context, we find that ideology is integrated with the ferality of the occupation, which is another evil that we have planted in the soil of our humanity, which has caused us to reap new feral disasters.  

Gabriel Abraham Almond believes that there is a great connection between the political culture of the individual and his role in the political system13, but the political culture that prevailed after the “Palestinian Division” in 2007, was formed by social and psychological trauma factors, which were followed by a geographical, political and moral division and a break in the bonds of the social fabric necessarily intertwined with politics, which led to a confused relationship with the political system divided against itself.

Little by little, and in a context of feral challenges, including those created by the occupation and siege, and the change in the parameters of the national cultural identity, the Palestinians are experiencing alienation and disintegration at the level of group dilemmas that have turned into individual dilemmas, and this is what I have noticed in the many cultural discussions that are still ongoing. Despite all the ferality that the place is enduring, it is now possible for an observer or researcher of the cultural scene in Palestine and Gaza to infer the choices of cultural actors focused on escaping towards individual salvation, or considering that culture is a subjective matter.


An Alienation and Culture dilemma


Most of the approaches of social criticism ideologies, most of which were based on Marxism, revolve around the essentiality of literature representing life at its social, not individual, level. The ferality and pain that drive culture and creativity are necessarily related to the issues of society.

If we look at the Palestinian literature that arose during the June 1967 setback, with its narration and poetry, we can be sure of the fact that most of what was produced as a reflection of the issues of society, issues of liberation, resistance, independence and other issues that were unanimously called the major issues. The realistic social function of literature, intertwined with the national concern, that a popular context under occupation must be a revolutionary and liberating function.

While if we contemplate the young literary or poetic product in Gaza, that has been suffering, for fourteen years, from a huge pain depending on the political situation and the continuation of this collective suffering day by day. How can young people create literature out of suffering and darkness, creativity out of loneliness, freedom out of oppression, and cognitive liberation out of siege, and achievable dreams out of defeat.

All this is a mixture of rooted suffering and alienation from context, which makes it present independent, individual, modern solutions that transcend the concept of suffering from being product of the political situation to suffering in the context of its connection to human existence. This product mostly presents itself first and then represents what is created of textures, motives, struggles, suffering, questions, and concerns that mingle within this self. It is a product that interacts consciously and unconsciously with itself and with the other. It is a product that presents the functionality of itself solely, not what is reflected on the street, or instructed by an external party. All of this is reflected in the language used, a language that reviews the existential, suffering, expatriate self, surviving with its own context. This confirms the alienation of the creator and artist from their social context, which is in crisis with the ferality of occupation, siege, ideology and others.


Chapter Two: An anthropology of The Healing
Healing of a part, healing of the whole


At this point, we became aware of the nature of that prison of ferality where we suffer various kinds of ferality and dilemmas, and given that “what goes around comes around”, I believe that the reins of change and healing lie in our human will. We can’t wait for someone else to heal this ferality. We don’t need great things to happen to enable us to make change. We need to realize the greatness of what resides in us, our roots and our authenticity, and the importance of what surrounds us before we seek something new. Let us remember what we are capable of as indigenous peoples, and recall what we have built with blood and dreams as we pay the price for the manifold atrocities of our human civilization. We may not have enough wealth and power, but as a group, we are undefeatable.

We spend a lot of time and power to regroup and seek a change of systems not made for us, instead of trying to change our approaches. Let us use some of our power as a group to create our own lives, our own applicable approaches.

Despite the fact that colonization is a brutal act of invasion that has taken place long time ago, it still continues today through militarised infrastructure and colonial-state practice, for instance in policies such as checkpoints, surveillance, police brutality, displacement, environmental destruction, collective incarceration, stealing water and resources, profanation of burials, and cultural erasure and appropriation14.

From this point, avoiding tricks and attempts to indirectly control Indigenous peoples, and seeking to invent ways and methods to deceive colonial powers and build up movements of solidarity between various Indigenous peoples.

This is what prompts us to rethink of a new indigenous solidarity approach, which is not limited to the theoretical and academic level, as it suggests that it is an attempt to restore the stolen past and weep on the ruins, and does not rise to the level of action, by anticipating a similar fate for the indigenous peoples and issuing warnings of inevitable consequences, without paying attention how important these writings are in raising awareness and keeping the truth alive. Rather, it is that practice which is capable of making sincere efforts to link the pain of indigenous peoples around the world, with the aim of finding a common ground and future for the popular struggle to liberate from that ferality and oppression.

The indigenous cooperation on solidarity initiatives that contribute to enhancing human awareness among the children of the new generation about the transnational historical legacy and what is anchored in our cultural, social and spiritual soil as a humanity united by concerns and hopes. The language of humanity and healing from the institutional virus unites us.

Hence, the necessity of healing from the civilization that did not leave anything in life that did not destroy, and the restoration of a civilization whose main artery was wisdom, the compass on which we must put our efforts to work on the fertilization of our knowledge soil, to be stemming from living, healthy soil.

1 Fasheh, Munir, conversation during: The sixth Global Gathering of the Ecoversities Alliance – Siwa Oasis Saleh AbuShamala. 23 03 2022.

2 Fasheh, Munir, conversation during: The sixth Global Gathering of the Ecoversities Alliance – Siwa Oasis Saleh AbuShamala. 23 03 2022.

3  Le Breton, David. Expériences de la douleur: entre destruction et renaissance. Métailié, 2010. 184.

4 The Mujaawarah as defined by the educator Munir Fasheh: It is a mediator/ tool/ mechanism/ social framework for learning and community work, dealing with learning as a biological ability, to realize learning as self-refinement and argument for the fabric with those and around the person, so that the value of each person is what he improves, so that the words derive their meanings from Life: from contemplation, conversation, experience, and diligence in creating the meaning of the experience.

5 Walid, A Palestinian prisoner from Baqa al-Gharbiyye in occupied Palestine since 1948, and he is the father of the child “Milad”, who was born through “smuggled sperm”. Captured in 1986, he is still being held in the occupation prisons. He is one of the most prominent thinkers of the captive movement and has several books, including: “Diaries of the Resistance in Jenin Camp 2002”; who wrote in late July 2009 inside his isolation cell in Gilboa Prison, that fortified gray fortress that was erected from concrete and steel to be the most guarded prison, a study entitled “Smelting Consciousness, or Redefining Torture”, one of the most important books he wrote in an analysis the captive movement came to him and how the Israeli occupation was able to turn oppression and torture into a “Modern Complex” in line with the discourse of human rights; hidden and easy to obfuscate and mislead. “The Story of the Secret of Oil”, a novel for young people, won the Emirates “Etisalat” award for literature for young people. Many articles have been published by him, the most important of which are “Parallel Time”, which was written in 2005 in Gilboa Prison, and turned into a play entitled “The Tale of the Forgotten in Parallel Time” (2011), which was also written in Gilboa Prison, and the play “Parallel Time” produced by the theater The Maidan in Haifa (2014).

6 The prison of ferality, is a description of every place where a person suffers oppression and ferality, in which he suffers from physical and psychological restrictions similar to the situation of captivity and siege.

7 Milad, a name given by the prisoner Walid Daqqa to a girl he imagined for years from his prison cell in the Israeli occupation prisons, until she became his first victory over the beast, Milad, born on February 3, 2020 through “smuggled sperm” after decades of struggle.

8 Excerpt from the letter of Waleed Abu Daqqa, a prisoner since 1986 – to the present 

11 Excerpt from the letter of Waleed Abu Daqqa, a prisoner since 1986 – to the present 

12 “The Waste Land,”  T. S. ELIOT, Poetry Foundation, accessed on 01/06/2022, at:

13 Political Culture refers to the specifically political orientations and attitude towards the political system and its various parts, and attitude towards the role of the self in the system. Almond, Gabriel and Verba, Sidney (1963)78.

14 Indigenous Struggles from Turtle Island to Palestine,” US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, accessed on 01/06/2022, at:

Saleh K. Y. AbuShamala is a Palestinian writer and researcher. Saleh holds a B.A. in Management Information Systems from the University of Palestine. He is also a cultural and political activist and a member of the editorial board of 28magazine, a literary and cultural publication in Arabic, managed and edited by a group of young Palestinian writers from Gaza and abroad, addressing different cultural issues in a vision to relocalization of knowledge and the Palestinian narrative. Saleh is leading coordinator in the civil forum of “Politics Club” managed by Civitas Institute in Gaza which focuses on the civic engagement of youth and junior researchers in public affairs through recurring civic forum-debates, Think-tank studies and discussions, also a member at New Alphabet School a collaborative self-organized school for practice-based research which will function as a colloquium for practice-based, situated approaches in cultural studies, art, and activism. Saleh is a researcher of the Palestinian cultural act under siege, the social roots, and the Palestinian cultural soil.

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