Ten Years After Shalit Deal, Palestinian Prisoner Recalls His Release, Struggles, & Hopes
Eyad Abu Khayzaran, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad who served a life sentence in Israel for killing a 76-year-old man in 1991, learned that he would be released in 2011.
But Israeli authorities had earlier ruled that he would never be able to go back to his hometown in the West Bank. Instead, he would be sent to the Gaza Strip, where he'd need to start his life from scratch.
For many Israelis, the release of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier
captured by the Islamic group Hamas in 2006, was a joyous event, even if it meant that the Jewish state would set free 1,027 Palestinian inmates jailed in Israel on terrorism charges.
But for many others, 18 October 2011, was associated with disappointment and defeat, primarily because terrorists such as Eyad Abu Khayzaran, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, were released.
End to the Suffering?
Khayzaran, now 50, from the village of Tubas in the West Bank was released during the prisoner exchange deal in October 2011.
He was handed a life sentence in 1991 for stabbing 76-year-old Shlomo Yahya to death
in a Tel Aviv suburb.
The Shalit swap deal brought his sentence to an end.
"In 2011, when I learned that I would be released as part of the deal, I was extremely happy but then I was saddened when I started thinking about all my mates who would remain in Israeli jails".
Yet, Abu Khayzaran was also saddened for another reason. The Israeli authorities had ruled that he would never be able to go back to his hometown, Tubas. Instead, he would be forcibly moved to the Gaza Strip, where he would need to start life anew.
"They [the Israelis] wanted to punish me, but it turned into a positive thing for me. Gazans have welcomed me as if I was one of them. On my and other inmates' return, they threw a big celebration and they called us their heroes. For me, they have become a new family", Abu Khayzaran explained.
Coping With Reality
Soon after his release, he started a family. But he says he was struggling to get used to life outside of a prison cell.
"I spent 20 years in an Israeli jail. Fifteen of those years I was kept in isolation, so when I was released I found it difficult in dealing with people. I had become extremely nervous and couldn't stand anyone around me".
Time has cured some of those difficulties. Now, ten years down the line, Abu Khayzaran says he dedicates his time to his family and children, whom he is trying to raise to be useful members of society.
The former inmate is also keeping an eye on the news, especially given some indications that another swap deal with Israel could be on the horizon.
Hamas, who holds the bodies of two IDF soldiers and who allegedly knows the whereabouts of two Israeli civilians, is trying to negotiate a deal with Israel, according to which the Jewish state would free more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners.
For now, Tel Aviv isn't budging, and while Egyptian mediators are trying to broker a deal, Abu Khayzaran says he is hopeful that one day "all Palestinian heroes" will be set free.
"They have suffered enough. They sacrificed themselves for a cause and they deserve to go back to their families and lead happy lives embracing them", he summed up.