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October 20, 2011

Palestinian Prisoner Tastes Freedom After 33 Years

by Scott Bobb

The 477 Palestinian prisoners who were released Tuesday in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit are enjoying families and freedom after years of confinement. One of the longest serving prisoners was Nael Barghouti of the West Bank, who spent 33 years in jail for a fatal attack on an Israeli soldier.

Nael Barghouti greeted friends and family he has not seen in 33 years. Some, he has never seen before. Others, like his parents, were not here. They died while he was in jail.

Kobar's 5,000 residents are close-knit. Most have a relative in an Israeli prison. The mood is festive, but Barghouti said he is not celebrating.

“I do not feel completely free because complete freedom means releasing the other people inside the prisons. It means an end to [Israeli] restrictions on the West Bank and Gaza. Until now this has not happened,” said Barghouti.

Barghouti is a member of Hamas, which traded Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. The release included prisoners from rival groups, such as Fatah. This has raised hopes of a Palestinian reconciliation, as Hamas and Fatah have been feuding over the  future course the Palestinians should take.

Many hope the prisoner exchange also will boost the stalled Middle East peace talks. Barghouti does not think so.

“I think the confrontation will change if the other side changes. We have not seen the other side change,” said Barghouti.

Many fear some freed militants will resume their attacks. Others say this will not happen. Barghouti said only that he does not plan to jump into any ventures in the near future.

 

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