As soon as the doyen of Palestinian prisoners Nael al-Barghouti was set free by the Isreali authorities, he and a group of his single friends began to look for eligible spouses in an attempt to start leading a normal life spent after decades behind bars.
“I spent 34 years in jail,” Barghouti told Al Arabiya. “I could have had lots of children during that time. But this is our destiny and now I am starting a new life.”
Barghouti married a recently-released prisoner and his story encouraged many other prisoners to follow suit, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society.
Barghouti was arrested in 1978 and was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in October 2011 with another 450 as part of the prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel which involved the release of Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. Today Barghouti is called “the doyen of Palestinian released prisoners.”
Abdullah Abu Shalbak was single when he was arrested 21 years ago and also got married after his release.
“I got a small house for me and my wife to live in and am trying to buy a car,” he told Al Arabiya.
Despite managing to find a life partner, Shalbak admits to facing several obstacles in his rehabilitation.
“When you spend 21 years behind bars and are released at the age of 44, you feel you are in a different world and you need to know what is happening around you. Your family will need to sum up two whole decades in a few days. This was very stressful for me,” he said.
Despite the confusion of being in a totally new world, Shalbak admits that he is enjoying “the learning process.”
“I am learning something new every moment. I am in a different era where people use new things like cell phones and computers. There are also new generations that I am getting to know and I am learning a lot from them.”
Another released prisoner Othman Musleh spoke of the burdens he has been facing since his release from prison.
“When you are in prison your worries are much less as you are only concerned with the few people who are with you in the cell. Now, I worry about everyone and have to bear with the constant harassment of occupation forces,” he told Al Arabiya.
Musleh was arrested when he was 30 and father of seven.
“When I was released, I learned that I have 21 grandchildren and that my oldest son is 40 years old. I am now trying to give my grandchildren the care I couldn’t give my children.”
Musleh said the most difficult part of his new life is feeling that he needs for make up for everything he missed especially in relation to his family.
“They are also trying their best to make that time up for me. I am 60 years old but they treat me like a newborn child.”
Nezar al-Tamimi’s life has not been a walk in the park since his release. While he was released to go to the West Bank, his cousin and fiancée Ahlam was deported to Jordan.
Tamimi had to sign a document agreeing to be deported to Jordan in order to be with her; they are now getting ready to be married.
All Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit deal in October last year receive monthly salaries from the Palestinian Authority ranging between $500 to $1,500 ─ depending on the time spent in jail.
Many of the newly-released prisoners, especially those from the West Bank, refuse to talk about the possibility of engaging in military action against Israel for fear of re-arrest. Israel has already threatened to re-arrest any of the released prisoners in case they show to be a threat to its national security.
So far, Israel has arrested five of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal and is threatening to re-try them and put them in jail. Most of them were sentenced to life imprisonment.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)