Hebrew Hear-Say: Free to speak their minds

Dr. Tomer Einat, a criminologist at Jordan Valley College who has studied prison language, offers advice to certain former MKs.

This column might be of particular interest to a captive audience. With an increasing number of former parliamentarians heading for the jailhouse rather than the House, we asked Dr. Tomer Einat, a criminologist at Jordan Valley College who has studied prison language, for some words of advice. Einat says that Omri Sharon, Nomi Blumenthal et al might feel they suddenly have a lot of time to serve outside the Knesset, but in fact their relatively short sentences won't give them much of a chance to truly pick up prison slang. Nonetheless, they should quickly absorb some behavioral dos and don'ts headed by "Do: Watch what you say" and "Don't: Break your word." "The most important rule in the Israeli prisoners' code of behavior, extensively documented in criminological studies, is never, under any circumstances, snitch on a fellow inmate," says Einat. He found 15 expressions in Israeli prison argot (which actually resembles a peculiar dialect of Arabic) to describe inmates who abide by this code. Woe unto those who break this particular honor-among-thieves precept. One of Einat's interviewees explains: "These maniacs [pronounced with a short first "a" and meaning informers/collaborators] are a bunch of ahabals [idiots]. They think that all of us are dibels [silly] or z'ilehs [slow] and that we cannot see how they sing to every blue [prison staff] or moko [prison employee]. They are behaving in an abu-ali [show-off] way, like, no one can currently blow [hit/hurt] them. But all inmates know about their actions and then, suddenly, a little red riding hood [ambush] is done to them, and their faces are marked with a small Picasso [face-cut], so everyone will know that they are not to be trusted." Other threats include the self-explanatory "do him an intifada" or "do him a kusa," at the cutting edge of warnings. Violence is usually carried out, in prison terms, by the "kings of the castles," "real men" and "cowboys." Their victims are poetically known as "shoes," "rabbits," "invalids," "dirties" and "ass-openers." Despite the descriptive terminology, incidentally, according to Einat, homosexual intercourse in Israeli prisons is rare. Epithets once used in this context are now used derogatively in other ways, he says: "Whores" are those who cooperate with the authorities and "cocksinelles" (transvestites) give in to other inmates without a fight. The criminal mind can be very inventive when it comes to word play: For example, "bakbak" (bed bugs) is used to describe tea leaves and a burglar is known as a "fisherman." But since drugs are the dominant currency in the prison world, most prison words have been coined relating to them. Atlit jail even became known as "Colombia" because of the prevalence of drugs there. Einat, no snitch, refuses to reveal those terms not generally known. After all, he has too much inside information to be completely free with his words.