Former Palestinian Prisoners Describe Life on the Outside

Article Summary
While the international community investigates the conditions of Palestinians in Israeli prisons, writes Amjad Semhan, former prisoners are coping with life in the real world. He talks to several former Palestinian prisoners who say that their struggles behind bars have been replaced by newer and bigger struggles "on the outside."

After 20 to 30 years of detention, how does a released Palestinian prisoner live his life? What kind of psychological situation does he face? After all those years, does he believe that he still has a future?

Those who have entered prison as a child or young adult and were released at an old age gave As-Safir a “taste” of life after leaving the prison that has robbed them of their youth.

Nael al-Barghouthi, the former longest-serving prisoner and current freed Palestinian, may be the most optimistic: he is like a child who has just received new toys. With his good nature, spontaneity, experience and wisdom, he summarized the story of his freedom with the following three words “wedding, funeral and madness.”

Barghouti told Al-Safir, “Today, I describe my life as a wedding, encompassing joy in every sense of the word. I also describe my life as a funeral, as I feel sad after losing a friend or relative. Having a life filled with such mixed feelings is madness in and of itself. None of these emotions were available in prison; feelings there only went in one direction.”

According to Barghouthi, he and many other freed prisoners quickly integrated back into society because of the “great love” shown by the people around them. However, in his opinion, there are also many difficulties, notably “establishing a personal life, creating a family and building a home. All of these are difficulties that I do not know how to deal with.”

He believes that there is nothing quite like the taste of freedom, but “my freedom and my friends’ freedom are still incomplete. We have simply moved from a small prison to a larger one, where there are trees, stones and more human beings. The air in this prison is much cleaner than the air inside the cells.”

Now 54 years old, Barghouthi, who married a former prisoner, has helped other former prisoners get married as well. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, the majority of former prisoners have been able to marry, while the rest returned to their families or were deported abroad.

Abdullah Abu Chalbak, who spent 21 years in prison, said that he felt born again after his release. However, upon his release, this new-found freedom added difficulties to his life to which he was not accustomed inside, despite all the pain and worries he experienced there.

In his interview with As-Safir, Abu Chalbak added, “When I was freed, I had to become familiar with things that were strange to me, such as computers, cell phones and many other technologies that were not from my time.” According to Chalbak, the most difficult was the “learning about what happened during my time in prison, as well as all the events that took place during the two decades of my absence. All of this has given me a huge headache: how can my mind adjust to all that has happened in such a short period of time?”

Most freed Palestinians fear being re-arrested by the occupying forces for reasons of revenge. The Palestinian Prisoners Society reports that this has already happened with five former prisoners. What’s more, occupying forces also have the power to deport prisoners.

Nizar al-Tamimi, who spent 13 years in prison, agreed to be deported. He did it not just to leave the country, but also pursued a love that began behind bars. Tamimi told As-Safir, “I agreed to be deported to Amman so that I could join my cousin Ahlam and marry her.” Nizar has suffered greatly from the loss of his parents, who he was unable to visit while in prison, and his deportation enables him to join his other beloved ones.

Notably, the occupation forces released Tamimi to the West Bank in October under the “Loyalty to the Free” deal. However, Ahlam was deported to Jordan. Nizar, who fell in love with Ahlam when the two were behind bars, was forced to sign an agreement that he be deported to Jordan for three years so he could join his cousin. He is currently making preparations for the marriage ceremony.

Osman Mosleh, who spent 30 years in the prisons of the occupation forces, told As-Safir in an interview that “prisoners have fewer worries in prison than outside it. In prison, things are confined to your cell mates, but here you bear the burdens of the old, the young, of your relatives and of those further away. Also, you are constantly harassed by the occupation forces.”

Mosleh was arrested when he was 30 years old with seven children. When he was released, he had 21 grandchildren, and his eldest son was 40 years old. He told As-Safir, “I am trying to give my grandchildren the affection that was denied to my own children. Today, my children are like my friends. My life is very content, but it is also difficult because I have to make up for lost time, especially with my family, because of what they lost during my absence.”

All freed prisoners who were released according to the “Loyalty to the Free” deal or the “Shalit” deal receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority, as they were hired as full-time staff in the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Authority usually pays the freed captives a salary ranging from $500 to $1500, depending on how long the person spent in prison.

Many freed prisoners, especially those who live in the West Bank, refuse to discuss military activities against Israel for fear of being arrested again. Israel has threatened to re-arrest any freed prisoner and imprison him according to the same sentence he had before his release if he conducts any activity against them.

Found in: palestinian prisoners society, palestinian prisoners, palestinian hunger strike, palestinian, loyalty to the free, gilad shalit

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