In West Bank, Palestinians Have Mixed Views on Shalit Swap Deal

Although Hadi Barghouti and Naji Abu Hamid both have family members in Israeli prisons, they see don't exactly see eye-to-eye on Hamas' prisoner exchange.

RAMALLAH - When Hadi Barghouti, 33, was born, his father Fahri was already in prison. Hadi's mother was three months pregnant when his father was accused of murdering an Israeli near the West Bank settlement of Halamish. Fahri Barghouti was sentenced to life in prison. He and his cousin, Na'il Barghouti, who was arrested earlier in connection with the murder, are now the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and symbols of the campaign to free Palestinians in Israeli custody.

Only hours before relatives of the two prisoners met with Haaretz, the family got word that Fahri and Na'il Barghouti would probably be back in Kubar, their village north of Ramallah, by Tuesday. In 2004, Hadi, too, was sentenced to prison, three and a half years. Ironically, that gave him a chance to get to know his father better.

Hadi Barghouti - Daniel Bar-On - October 2011
Daniel Bar-On

"I didn't serve my entire time at the Ashkelon prison, but when I got there, I was with my father," Hadi said. "For the first time, I learned not only to get to know him but also to love him. Until then, we had only met during [prison] visits, when it was almost impossible to talk."

Hadi said he always believed that his father and cousin Na'il would be part of any prisoner exchange deal for the release of Gilad Shalit.

"There is no comparable case from the standpoint of the number of years spent in prison," Hadi said, adding that although he had hoped for his father's release before Shalit's abduction in 2006, the Shalit case gave him extra hope. "I am satisfied [with the prisoner exchange], but my joy is not complete because my brother Shadi will not be released and will remain in jail. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison."

Grandfathers on both sides in Israeli custody

Hadi is now employed at the Palestinian legislative assembly. He is the father of two young girls, including 3-year-old Majdal, named after an Arab village that stood where the Israeli city and its prison now stand. Hadi's wife is from the same extended family, and her father, too, is in Israeli detention.

"My wife's dad is the brother of Na'il Barghouti," Hadi said, noting that his daughters have two grandfathers in Israeli custody and his family is also related to Marwan Barghouti, the former Fatah leader who was convicted of involvement in the murder of a number of Israelis. Marwan Barghouti is reportedly not being released in the Shalit deal.

"It has been a hard life," Hadi Barghouti said. "You can imagine that, as a son, it's hard for you to see prison authorities bothering your father, or one of the jailers telling him what to do and you can't do a thing. When my term in prison was over, after three and half years, it really wasn't easy for me to leave. I left my brother and father, and I didn't know when I would see them again. Since then, they've allowed me to visit my brother once but not my father."

He said Red Cross staff told him that the Israeli authorities denied him access to his father on the claim that the two are not related.

His father should have been released 18 years ago at the time of the Oslo Accords that set up the Palestinian Authority, Hadi Barghouti says.

"[My father] was accused of murdering the Israeli in 1978, in his fight against the occupation, but after the Oslo Accords there has been peace between the two sides, so why haven't they freed him since?" he said. "And as long as there are prisoners like that, it's clear they will try to free them by every means .... The time has come for the two sides, Israelis and Palestinians, to understand that that's enough with this war between us."

'What will Hamas tell my mother?'

Meanwhile, Naji Abu Hamid walks the alleys of the Amari refugee camp, angry and anxious. He is constantly approached by people asking if any of his four brothers are part of the prisoner exchange. "Not one," he replies. Abu Hamid is a high-profile Fatah activist who served time in Israeli prison himself. One brother, Nasser, is considered a founder of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Another brother was assassinated by Israel in 1994 after he killed a Shin Bet security service official on behalf of Hamas.

"What will Hamas tell my mother?" Naji Abu Hamid asks. "It's the worst possible deal there could be for the Palestinians. Hamas has legitimized the split between Gaza and the West Bank. It agreed that some of the people expelled to Gaza would only return to the West Bank after a number of years .... We're in the middle of a worldwide campaign for recognition of a Palestinian state and these people are conceding everything. In Hamas they talk about [the prisoner exchange] as an accomplishment. What accomplishment?"

Hamas, Abu Hamid said, speaks of getting back 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for just one Israeli soldier, Shalit. But he said the price also includes the siege of Gaza and many deaths, injuries and Israel's destruction of Palestinian homes since Shalit's abduction.