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Two Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit deal, now home in the West Bank, express no regrets and view prison time as service to their cause

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Sumoud Karajeh in her bedroom, surrounded by plaques celebrating her. (Daniella Cheslow)

Fakhri Barghouti was a trim 24-year-old house painter with a jet-black pompadour when he plunged a knife into an Israeli officer near the village of Nebi Saleh, on the border of the West Bank and Israel, in 1978. Sentenced to life in prison for killing the soldier, Barghouti walked out of jail last month in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. He arrived in his village of Kobar, just north of Ramallah, with a barrel chest and a slight stoop. His hair was silver and his bottom teeth missing. Thirty-three years later, his home town had boomed from a sleepy hamlet of 1,000 people to a suburb five times its size. His sons were grown; his wife had aged. Like Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep in the mountains for 20 years, Barghouti returned to a life where he felt almost everything had changed except himself.

“I felt like a time machine,” he told me. “I could not believe all the buildings. And when I came to the village, I didn’t know a soul.”

In the village of Saffa, west of Ramallah, Sumoud Karajeh, 23, is marveling at her new lease on life. In 2009, Karajeh was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stabbing a guard at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

“When I was in prison, I thought I will not be a mother, I won’t study until I am 40 years old,” Karajeh said last week in her living room. Now she’s moved back into her childhood bedroom, reconnected with friends, and plans to study social work at Al Quds Open University as she did before her arrest. “I will have a normal life,” she said.


Barghouti and Karajeh are only two of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners Israel agreed to release last month in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured and held by Hamas since June 2006. Even though most Israelis support the swap, most also recoil at the idea that convicted militants like Barghouti and Karajeh have been given a chance to lead normal lives. And yet both say they have no regrets about the crimes they committed. For Barghouti and Karajeh, and scores of other Palestinians who could otherwise never enter Israel, prison, in fact, offers a rare opportunity to live in the belly of the beast. It serves as a rite of passage—a forge where Palestinian national ideals are hammered into place.

Karajeh spoke to me on a rainy day last week. A tiny schoolgirl carrying a yellow umbrella had pointed the way to Karajeh’s home at the edge of the village of about 4,000. A banner of Palestinian flags fluttered over olive trees in the yard. On the front door was a poster: “Free Palestinian Prisoners,” it said in English and Arabic. Inside, the house was cold enough to wear a jacket. A picture of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas embracing Karajeh leaned on a shelf next to an oversized stuffed puppy. Karajeh and her mother, Hanan, sat on ornate wooden chairs upholstered in gold. Karajeh wore a bright patterned headscarf, pristine white sneakers, jeans, and a blue cardigan. Pale, with thick black eyeliner and full lips, she had a gap between her front teeth that made her look younger than 23. While she spoke, her mother brought out tiny cups of strong coffee.

Though Karajeh admitted she was in prison because she stabbed an Israeli soldier, she refused to give any details about the stabbing or her motivation. An onlooker captured the event on a cell-phone video and posted it to YouTube. Karajeh said that Israeli intelligence officers had summoned her to the Ofer compound near Ramallah for a two-hour interrogation two days before we met, and she was still rattled by it.

The hardest thing about prison, Karajeh said, was the first 30 days. Israeli intelligence officers interrogated her deep underground in the Russian Compound, a prison steps from Zion Square in central Jerusalem, she said. For a month, Karajeh saw only the investigation room and the tiny cell where she was in solitary confinement. She could not tell what time it was. “Prison was like a grave,” Karajeh said.

I asked her how she stayed sane. “Well, my name is Sumoud,” she quipped. Sumoud is Arabic for steadfastness. “The soldiers would shout, and I would think to myself about my life, about my village and my street and my house,” she said. “I would remember my relatives and name their children in my head, and I would sing to myself.”

A religious Muslim, Karajeh said she trusted that Allah would deliver her from her suffering. And once she was tried and sentenced, life improved. Karajeh was transferred to the women’s division of Hadarim prison, and three months later to Damoun in northern Israel. It was her first time away from home, where she was one of seven brothers and sisters. The other Palestinian prisoners took pity on her. “They were kind to me because I was the youngest,” she said. “They would bring me gifts from the canteen. They would teach me things like English and Hebrew.”

Since Palestinians are usually incarcerated inside Israel, their families must receive security clearance to cross the border and visit. Karajeh’s family got permission three times to visit her, she said. Her parents filled her bank account at the canteen, where she could buy spices, meat, and clothes at what she said were highly inflated prices.

Karajeh traveled across Israel when she was transferred among prisons. During those trips, she would peer out of the tiny bus windows to catch glimpses of what she calls Palestine. It was her first trip there since she was small. “Even though you are in prison, you think to yourself, it’s comfortable, we are in Palestine,” she said. “They didn’t take us to the normal streets where the regular people live. We were on a highway. We didn’t see people. But we could see the land and the trees.”

Karajeh came home to a hero’s welcome in Saffa on October 18, just before Shalit was released by Hamas. Locals slaughtered two calves in her honor. Well-wishers crowded her house, so much so that Karajeh began slinking away to her room for some peace. There, among her old stuffed animals, 18 plaques honoring her sacrifice to the Palestinian people crowd her bookshelves and bureau.


Fakhri Barghouti’s face is plastered across the village of Kobar. From crude cinder-block walls and the stuccoed sides of homes and shops, a graffiti stencil of Barghouti’s face looks down, victorious. He and his cousin Nael were the two longest-serving Palestinian prisoners released in the exchange, both arrested in 1978. (Nael assisted his cousin in murdering the Israeli officer.) They both returned to the West Bank triumphant, Barghouti riding on the shoulders of young Palestinian men who see him as a national hero.

Last week, Barghouti met me outside his home and slowly walked up the many concrete stairs that led to his living room. His shoes, like Karajeh’s, were brand-new. Before the first interview question, Barghouti opened with a volley of his own: “The occupation takes our land and kills our sons,” he said. “We have to resist. We don’t like killing. Israel made us kill. Israel’s daily attacks on the Palestinian people give us no alternatives.”

Barghouti knew he would pay a heavy price for planning and executing a murder. He missed his two sons’ childhoods. His parents and two brothers died while he was in jail. “The homeland is more important than family,” he said. “The homeland is our mother and father.”

Daniella CheslowFakhri Barghouti, with his granddaughter, amid the graffiti images of his face. (Daniella Cheslow)

While Karajeh saw little of Israel when she was in prison, Barghouti’s 33-year term brought him into intimate contact with Israeli society. In the 1970s and 1980s, Palestinian prisons were known as “the second university.” Wards were organized by party, and party heads set hours for communal meals, exercise, and lessons. This is how Barghouti, a Fatah member, learned Hebrew.

He used it to read the autobiographies and political writings of most Israeli leaders, part of the 2,000 volumes he pored through in more than three decades. He particularly liked the writing of Israel’s current prime minister. “Netanyahu, he said what he thought,” Barghouti said. “In his book, he said no to peace, no compromise. He is clear. And Rabin, he was an enemy of the Palestinian people, but he worked hard for his own nation.”

Barghouti fought the prison authorities consistently, with hunger strikes for better conditions. “In the beginning, we slept on thin rubber mattresses,” he said. “And our blankets were not warm enough. We didn’t want to live in a hotel, but as humans. And our conditions did slowly improve. We got proper mattresses and pillows.” Television and radio came in 1985. Seven years later, another hunger strike brought Arabic TV channels. Those small victories helped him cultivate a hope that he would be released, as other Palestinian prisoners had been in 15 previous deals since 1967.

In 2004, Barghouti’s sons, Shadi and Hadi, joined him in prison. “I was watching Israeli Channel 2, and I saw my sons are going to jail,” he said. The two brothers were accused of plotting to kidnap an Israel solider. Shadi was also accused of conspiring to kill an Israeli soldier. When Barghouti was imprisoned one of his sons was an infant and the other still in the womb. “So, after all these years we met each other. The meeting was so hard. All the prison cried. I have never had a more difficult day than the day I met my sons.” Haaretz reported that Barghouti’s two sons slept on the floor huddled with their father in cell 21 of Ashkelon’s prison for the first nights; he fed them with food he bought in the canteen.

They did not call each other father and son; Barghouti had missed out on raising them. But Barghouti saw in Shadi and Hadi younger versions of himself. “I saw myself in everything they did,” he said. “It was like reliving my childhood.” Hadi has since been released; Shadi remains in prison. A banner featuring Fakhri and Shadi hangs in Barghouti’s living room.

As we spoke, Barghouti’s wife, Sameera, sat down on a living room couch. She wore a flowing, loose floral veil and a green velvet skirt. She waited for her husband for 33 years, betting he would return. On the day of his release, she went with friends and relatives to greet him at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority compound where Yasser Arafat is interred. “We were afraid and not afraid,” she said. “We had been so disappointed from the previous swap deals. We did not believe this deal would come through until Fakhri came to the house.”

Sameera said that she wrote letters to her husband during his incarceration; most were not delivered. To keep in touch, Sameera spoke about him on Palestinian radio, hoping he might hear the broadcasts in jail. I asked Barghouti how it felt to see himself growing older while in captivity. He dismissed the question and grinned. “People get old,” he said. “It’s natural. It doesn’t matter if you are inside or outside. But I feel like I’m 30 years old.” Since his release, Sameera says “it is as if we are young again.”

Now that he is back in Kobar, Barghouti is slowly readjusting. He dotes on his grandchildren—Hadi’s son and daughters—who cling to him even though they have known him for only a month. One 3-year-old granddaughter has straight brown hair in a bob that swings as she skips at Barghouti’s side. She says her name is Majdal, “like Askalan.” (The Israeli city that is today Ashkelon was known as Majdal or Askalan in Arabic. Israel evacuated its Arab residents, mostly to Gaza, in 1950.)

While Karajeh returned home with dreams of picking up where she left off, Barghouti knows that isn’t possible. He tells me he is talking with the Palestinian Authority about a possible job in education, though has not yet found a position. But he has no regrets about killing that officer. “I feel proud of my people, of my family, of my sons, and of myself,” he said. “My time in jail was for Palestine.”

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This is a troubling report, but I think we all know what the solution is.

Declare Israel as an illegitimate state and in the next breath announce that it will now be a bi-national One State Solution.

After all, with women like these, the OSS will become TFS(guess what that acronym stands for).

I’ve read this on anxious left-wing Jewish blogs, so therefore it must be true! Right?

Thank you, Daniella, for doing such a great job on a difficult piece of journalism.

Is anyone surprised? these people are terrorists & they want Jews dead. Nothing new here at all.

Bill Pearlman says:

I’m curious what the soldiers name was that he killed. His parents, his siblings. But I guess that doesn’t count. What this proves is that Israel needs the death penalty, and fast.

philip mann says:

`We had no choice`. There`s always a choice. If they had held demonstrations in TelAviv,or any city, they might have won their case years ago. Instead,we have this stuff , where killers-even worse are those who blew up the pizza shops and busses-these creatures are heros,then and now.

Dani ben Lev says:

Nothing new here. When you live here this is common knowledge. What’s worse is 972mag and Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal romanticizing these people. “Peaceful” my arse.

Meanwhile back in Lebanon the Islamofascists are planning the next coup. I can’t wait for Dana, Blumenthal and that psycho Nir Rosen to keep us up to date….,7340,L-4151677,00.html

“And Rabin, he was an enemy of the Palestinian people, but he worked hard for his own nation.”

Yes, an enemy who died trying to give your people an independent state and a life of dignity. You, Barghouti, deserve nothing but misery.

Lynne T says:


Of course they had a choice of establishing a state ever since partition, but after decades of propaganda promoting martyrdom (while the promoters of martyrdom grew rich robbing the Palestinian treasury) and ignoring the fact that most of Mandatory Palestine was annexed to create Jordan, we get rationalizations for the murderous behaviour despite established facts like peace and prosperity in the occupied territories relative to conditions in neigbhouring countries in the period between ’67 and Arafat’s return under Oslo and BS from the boycotters about what a paradise a binational state would be for all despite evidence of how bad Arab rule has turned out for non-Jewish minorities.

Binyamin in O says:

Lynne, if what you say is true, there can only be one of two solutions: 1. the status quo, i.e. apartheid rule of the West Bank and Gaza; or, 2. a forced removal of the 3.5 million Palestinians on the West Bank (if they won’t go to Jordan, they will be sent to heaven) together with continued imprisonment of 1.5 million Gazans.

But there is, of course, a third way, that nasty left-wing Jew-hating system called democracy (which means freedom and EQUALITY for the Arabs).

Personally, I really don’t care that much, as long as neither mounts a genocide against the other (which only Israel has the power to do).

What I do care about is keeping America from being dragged into a few more decades of war with Islam over some crappy chauvinistic state on the fringe of the Med.

What a gorgeously produced piece of propaganda for a murderer and a would-be murderer. For shame.

Palestiniansareamyth says:

“Binyamin” AKA as Ahmed the nazi: Typical anti-semitic pro-Arab terrorist propaganda. These Aab Fakestinian squatters should go back to their homeland of Arabia where they belong!
Israel can never make peace with these blood-thirsty barbarians!

Shmuel, what isn’t so very surprising is your “these people” crack…very so unsurprising.

brynababy says:

Oh, aren’t they both adorable!

People, like Daniella, must learn that from the point of view of Arabs only they have the right to rule on that land and Jews must depend on their good will since they are the owners (of property that was “unjustly” expropriated from them) and Jews are the tenants. Any other solution to this conflict is unacceptable to Arabs and will remain unacceptable as long as they continue to remain brainwashed by the Islamic clerics and leftist radicals.

andrew r says:

Sample: “After all, with women like these, the OSS will become TFS(guess what that acronym stands for).”

Considering that Israel is a segregationist state and those who established it loudly announced that intention in their party organs, and that they accomplished the aim through warfare on civilians, it takes a lot of gall and cynicism to portray killing its military personnel as having a Nazi-like agenda.

The additional protocol to the 12 Aug. 1949 Geneva Conventions recognizes “armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination […]” in other words international law recognizes the right of occupied peoples to resist occupation.

How penitent are Israelis is also a relevant and realistic question.

It begs a realistic answer.

For anyone out there who identifies with the Palestinians, this is the face of Palestine. These murderers are the face of Palestine. They are heroes to their people. The Arabs have never wanted peace and they will never want peace. Please open your eyes to this!

The PLO was created in 1964 to free….the West Bank? No! To free “Palestine” of Israel and the Jews. Before then the term “Palestinian” was only used for Jews during the era of British Mandate Palestine. If you support Palestine, then you support people who actively want the destruction of Israel and many call for the genocide of the Jewish people. Just know who and what you are supporting when you cry crocodile tears over the fake nation of the “Palestinians” who could have had peace in…1937, 1947, 1967, 2000, 2008.

The Nakba is characterized as an ethnic cleansing. That is what it is, and that is an unalterable undoubtable fact of history in testimonials of blood, vanquishment, and displacement.

West Bank occupation is unsustainable, you know it, I know it, and the past ugly awful elongated 36 years really and truly shows it.

Typical tablet crap and tripe…
How about doing an article on the Jewish families torn apart by these venal beings?

David B. says:

should TABLET wish to stay relevant it needs to get a handle on some of the comment posters.

Wow, people living under armed occupation don’t see attacking occupying soldiers as a terrible crime! Who could have seen that coming?

Jacob.Arnon says:

Occupation is just a word.

Fighting to protect your life is legitimate.

Killing civilians in the name of “liberation” isn’t.

The Algerians fought a dirty war against the French in Algeria. After they achieved independence they went on fighting each other.

The way you fight your enemy will determine the kind of society you set up.

Killing children in pizza parlors wont lead to the creation of a just society.


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Two Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit deal, now home in the West Bank, express no regrets and view prison time as service to their cause

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