Indeed, it was a celebration for Misleh, back with his mother, his wife Umm Ubaida, his daughters, Shaima, 23, Israa, 21, and his son Ubaida, 19, and many extended family and friends in Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Six days after his release, friends and family continued to flow to Misleh’s home to welcome him back.
He had just served almost two decades in the Israeli desert prison in the Negev (Naqab) and was among the 477 Palestinian prisoners released as part of the recent prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel that also saw a captured Israeli occupation soldier returned from Gaza to his home.
Returning home to Maghazi
“While I was riding the bus on the way to Maghazi, I bet with my fellow passengers who were released prisoners like myself that I would recognize Maghazi. But as we got closer to the camp, I discovered that many things have changed since I left twenty years ago,” Misleh told the Electronic Intifada,” as he, seated next to his mother, received people coming to congratulate him and his extended family.
“I hope that all other Palestinian prisoners will be released from the Israeli occupation jails,” said Misleh, whose family comes originally from the village of al-Batani, now in Israel, before they were expelled to Gaza in 1948.
“Inside the prison, we followed all the developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the so-called peace process. In 1999, I recall that the Palestinian Authority announced that Israel would release hundreds of prisoners and I imagined myself to be one of those released, yet I was disappointed later to hear that only prisoners belonging to Fatah and some other factions would be released. I kept up my hope every time we heard about a prisoner release.”
Sentenced to 100 years, denied family visits for 11 years
Misleh, a member of the military wing of Hamas, was arrested from his family home by Israel’s Shin Bet secret police in 1992, two years before the creation of the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo accords. He was sentenced by Israel to 100 years in prison for involvement in armed resistance against the Israeli occupation in Gaza.
“The hardest moment I recall was right after Eid’s arrest by the Israeli occupation on the first day of Ramadan,” recalled Umm Eid, “Shaima, who was only three years old at the time asked me, ‘Grandma, what is my father going to eat to break his fast today?’”
“I cried a lot and felt a great deal of sadness for this little girl, adding to my own agony,” Umm Eid said, “Can you imagine? I was denied permission to visit him by the Israelis from 2000 to 2011, for unclear reasons.”
Israel has routinely denied visitation rights to prisoners, a violation of international law that has been regularly condemned by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Hard to believe Eid is home
Down the street from Umm Eid’s small house is another, nicely decorated with paintings, while on a table lay candies and sweets for those coming to offer congratulations. There, Eid’s wife Umm Ubaida, along with Israa, Shaima, and Ubaida looked cheerful, though with reddened eyes from tears that have accompanied the high emotions of their father’s return.
Drawing a long breath, Umm Ubaida exclaimed, “I cannot describe my feelings, I cannot believe my eyes that Eid, my dear husband is now among us, is now speaking to us, touching us and showering us with his emotions, which we have missed for about twenty years now. Thank God, first and foremost, and then thanks to the men of resistance who managed to bring him and many others back to their families. May God bless them for such a great victory.”
Missing family milestones
Eid’s absence from the family home “left a great vacuum in our lives,” Umm Ubaida reflected, “I have endured a lot, acting as a father and mother at the same time.”
“Two close members of my family, including my eldest brother Salem and my nephew, died while I was in prison,” Eid Misleh recounted, “Actually, there were many moments of my family’s lives that I was told about by phone, I missed them all.”
“When Ubaida became an adult, I felt I could not give him the attention and care that a father can give, and I felt very depressed,” Umm Ubaida said of her son, “and during the weddings of my two daughters I couldn’t stop myself bursting into tears. It had been as if their father was dead, because we never imagined he could be released one day.”
Now, Eid Misleh says of his son Ubaida, who has lived with a speaking disability since early childhood, “I hope that I will compensate him for the years of deprivation of having a father. I recall when I was told that Eid was first enrolled at school when he was a child, I got very sad, being deprived of the moment a father takes his son or daughter to school on the first day.”
“While growing up, I used to dream of uttering the word ‘dad’,” said Misleh’s daughter, Israa, “a word that many children around me used to say, and I can only say these days that my father is among us.”
“When I was a child, if I used to go to the grocer to buy something, I would get sad just seeing a man with his young child buying something,” she added, “But for me the saddest movement was the day I got married.” Instead of sharing that day of joy with her father, Israa recalls crying at his absence. All that seemed to be wiped away, however, as Israa affirmed that her father’s return is the most joyous occasion of her life.
A brother comes home
In the street next to Eid Misleh’s home, his brother Misleh gave a cheerful welcome to The Electronic Intifada. A year young than Eid, the two brothers had a special relationship.
“I feel that my soul has been returned back to my body,” Misleh Misleh said. “I belonged to the Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and he belonged to the Hamas party but we chose the same path, resisting the Israeli occupation.” Eid’s brother too says he spent several years in Israeli prisons.
Education despite imprisonment and deprivation
Despite the harsh conditions of imprisonment and deprivation of family visits, Eid Misleh was able to gain some education, enrolling in a correspondence course from an Israeli university. He had made his way half way toward a degree in international relations.
“As you see these books on the shelf, they are all books that I studied inside the prison and I managed to have them sent to my family throughout the past years,” Misleh explained, “The Israeli prison authorities denied me the right to pursue my education for five years and afterwards I was able to resume my study through correspondence.”
Misleh says he has two semesters of courses to complete and intends to complete his education now that he is home in Maghazi refugee camp among his family.
A message to Israelis
Eid Misleh, student of international relations, freed resistance fighter and resident of Maghazi refugee camp had a message to send to Israel, which he preferred to state in Hebrew, not Arabic:
“I want to send a message to the Israeli community that we are a people who love peace and seek a Palestinian state with sovereignty. But the battle we have with the occupation has been imposed on us by the occupation itself. As long as the Israeli occupation persists, we are determined to continue on our path until we restore our legitimate rights.”
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip