Jon Donnison
BBC News
October 18, 2012 - 12:00am

"In prison you miss all the wonderful details of life; the sun, the trees, the beach, the women," Muhammad Al Far tells me as he sinks back into a comfortable sofa at his house in Gaza City.

It is exactly a year since Al Far was released as part of a deal which saw over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Twelve months on, the sun shines in through the window of the former prisoner's living room, Gaza's beach is five minutes down the road and his new wife Wafa sits alongside him.

Al Far's eyes shift towards the door. It is open. He can leave any time.

"I have my freedom," he says.

Planned attacks

Muhammad Al Far spent 18 years in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 1993 when he was 29, still a young man. He is now 47, well into middle age.

Al Far tells me he was once a senior figure in the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

An Israeli court gave him two life sentences after he was convicted of "intentionally causing death" and working for an "illegal and unrecognised organisation".

I ask Al Far if all this is true.

"Yes," he says quickly. "I planned and co-ordinated attacks against Israeli targets."

I ask him if he regrets what he did. This time there is more of a pause.

"No," he eventually says.

"I was fighting the occupation. It was my duty and my honour to do so. Palestinians were being killed every day. The Israelis took our land. In an occupation you have to fight."

Al Far says he saw himself as a soldier in a war, no different from Gilad Shalit - captured by Hamas militants in 2006 - or any other soldier in the Israeli army. Most Palestinians would agree with him.

I ask him whether it has been difficult adjusting to life outside after so many years behind bars.

"Things are not a hundred per cent back to normal but I'm getting there. I feel re-engaged with society and with the environment. I can breathe the fresh air."

Al Far says, as a former prisoner, he is treated with respect. He tells me the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank pays him a monthly salary to support him. He does not want to say how much, calling it only a "normal amount".

He says getting married has helped. His house is still decorated with the dried flowers from the wedding, nine months ago.

"Having a partner has made a big difference. It's good for my psychological stability. Wafa gives me somebody to talk to and share my experiences."

The couple are expecting a baby in the spring. Al Far says he never got chance to have a family before he went to prison.

I wonder if he were to have son, would Al Far wish him to make the same choices he did?

"I would not tell him what to do but I would explain to him the crimes of the occupation. As long as the occupation exists, there is only one way to deal with it and that's to fight," he says.

So would Al Far himself return to violence?

"I am too old now. I am not a young man anymore," he says.

"There any many other ways to resist through peaceful protest but if the Israelis pressured me to carry a gun again then I would."


Israel always said it feared many militants would return to violence.

Those convicted of the most serious offences were sent to Gaza or deported abroad where the Israeli government thought they would be less of a threat.

But figures from the Palestinian prisoners rights organisation Addameer show only eight of the more than 500 detainees who were released to the West Bank or East Jerusalem are currently back in Israeli jails.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority's Ministry for Detainees, Amr Nasser, told the BBC such a low level of re-arrests reflected that some of those released as part of the deal should never have been in jail for so long in the first place and were never really a threat.

Back in Gaza, I ask Muhammad Al Far whether there is anything he is missing about prison.

"I think I lost a cufflink there, but I'm not going to go back to look," he says with a wry smile.

"I made very dear friends in jail. I miss the camaraderie. Many of my friends are still there."

Addameer say there are around 4,600 Palestinian "political prisoners" currently held in Israeli jails. Israel has convicted many of them of acts of violence and terrorism.


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