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Despite difficulties, Palestinian women continue to marry prisoners

More Palestinian women are marrying prisoners serving life sentences in Israeli jails in what they see as an act of patriotism.
Prisoners gesture from their cell at HaSharon (Rimonim) high security prison, some 40 kilometers northeast of Tel Aviv, on February 23, 2014, after an American-Israeli prisoner serving life for murder was shot dead after he seized a gun and opened fire on three guards, before barricading himself in a prison bathroom. Samuel Sheinbein was killed when elite troops entered the bathroom at Rimonim prison to bring the situation to an end. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty

RAMALLAH, West Bank — About 7,000 Palestinian prisoners linger in Israeli jails, including more than 470 sentenced to life imprisonment. While many of them are married with children who are growing up without their fathers, others sometimes get married while serving long prison sentences.

On Sept. 30, 30-year-old Heba Ayad from the town of Abu Dis married 40-year-old Munzer Snobar from the town of Yatma in Nablus. Snobar is detained in an Israeli prison.

Ayad, who has been working at the Hurriyat Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights in Ramallah for five years, is one of dozens of young women who have married prisoners serving life sentences. Snobar was arrested on Dec. 29, 2003, and given four life sentences for participating in several military operations against the Israeli forces during the second intifada (2000-2005).

Ayad told Al-Monitor that her engagement to Snobar “was out of complete conviction and not out of sympathy,” expressing her happiness with her decision.

She first met Snobar in 2014 through a prison window while she was visiting her brother, who is also a prisoner. On April 17, 2015, his parents asked Ayad’s family for her hand in marriage.

Ayad and Snobar were engaged for a year and a half, which they spent preparing to get married in their complicated legal circumstances. They completed the necessary paperwork and found a way to take the marriage contract into the prison for Snobar to sign it. It took four months for the International Committee of the Red Cross to get the marriage contract with Snobar’s signature out and deliver it to a Sharia judge, who officially married the two on Sept. 30.

Speaking about why she decided to marry a man who was sentenced to life imprisonment, Ayad said, “This is my conviction. We have so much mental compatibility and we love each other. We are so much alike. We love life and we do not give in to sadness. This is why we are hopeful and we do not place much importance on the long years he has to spend in prison.”

Ayad also spoke about her family’s opinions. “They did not object to my decision, but some family members advised me to think carefully about it, as I could get married and have children [with someone else]. But I refused to let anyone interfere in my convictions and my decision.”

After they were married, Ayad sent a request to the Palestinian Ministry of Interior to change the social status on her identification card from single to married. After this step, she could submit a request to Israel through the Red Cross to obtain a permit to visit her husband and place his ring on his finger. However, this procedure can take up to two months and she fears the Israelis will deny her request.

The Red Cross works with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and is in charge of organizing family visits for immediate family members under its prison visitation program created in 1968.

Ayad is concerned about getting older and not being able to have children. Since Snobar is in prison, they would have to smuggle his sperm out to perform an artificial insemination. “We are not thinking about this at the moment, but eventually we will, especially since I may not be able to have children at an older age,” she noted.

Of the Palestinian prisoners sentenced to life in Israeli jails, 42 have already served 20 years. Another 16 have been in prison for 25 years, according to the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs.

Ayad’s story is not the first of its kind. Former prisoner Mona Kaadan, 45, from the town of Arraba in the northern West Bank, was one of the first Palestinian women to marry a prisoner with such a lengthy sentence. She got engaged to Ibrahim Aghbarieh, from the town of Umm el-Fahm inside the Green Line, in 2000. He is serving three life sentences.

Kaadan told Al-Monitor, “I got to know Ibrahim through my brother Tareq Kaadan during his detention.” Their marriage was delayed for several reasons, one of which being that the Red Cross does not work with prisoners from inside the Green Line, as they are considered Israelis. Aghbarieh's family could not help him marry in absentia, and Kaadan could not get into the Green Line without an Israeli permit.

The Israeli army had arrested Kaadan five times on charges of affiliation with the Islamic Jihad movement. She was able to marry Aghbarieh when she herself was in prison in 2008. With the help of the Yousef al-Sedeek Institute for Prisoners Protection, which submitted their marriage request to the Israeli Prison Service, Kaadan and Aghbarieh were brought to the Nazareth court on July 3, 2008, and were married.

Kaadan, who was released in March, has been with Aghbarieh for 16 years now. He is almost 50 years old, and he has only served 25 years of his three life imprisonment sentences in Rimon prison for participating in an armed attack on an Israeli army camp in 1992. However, all these years have not obscured the reason Kaadan married him. She said, “The main idea that encouraged me to marry Ibrahim was my belief in this message [of love.] This person sacrificed his life for Palestine, and he deserves for me to sacrifice myself for him and give him the hope he needs to carry on.”

However, the Israeli authorities refuse to give Kaadan a visitation permit to see her husband, as she is a former prisoner. “We only communicate every once in a while through letters because Israel won't give me a permit to visit him. Last time I saw him was on May 4, 2015, when he was able to visit me while I was detained.”

Issa Qaraqe, the head of the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs, believes the rise in women marrying prisoners means that the Palestinian people are still hopeful. He said that women who marry prisoners serving life sentences is a testament to willpower and hope, showing that they believe their detention will not last forever.

Qaraqe told Al-Monitor that such marriages show that Palestinian women are faithful to the cause of the prisoners and that they express their appreciation for their sacrifices by challenging traditions and societal norms. The act, he said, is the embodiment of national and social loyalty.

Sociology professor at An-Najah University Maher Abu Zant told Al-Monitor that women are marrying prisoners as an act of patriotism, sacrifice and loyalty. He noted the major social repercussions of such marriages, most importantly that the wives may never have the chance to live under the same roofs with their husbands or raise children together.

Despite all of Israel’s attempts to stop these marriages by blocking the entry of marriage contracts for prisoners to sign and preventing the wives from visiting their husbands by withholding permits, many Palestinian women continue to hope that the prisoners will one day be released and able to live normal lives.

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