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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.”

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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