The members of the Al-Barghouthi family are famous for their steadfastness and resistance to Israel’s military occupation of their land. They have given martyrs, leaders and prisoners for the sake of Palestine. Nael Al-Barghouthi ended up as the doyen of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Together with his brother Omar and cousin Fahkri they became models of steadfastness for more than 30 years in the cells of the occupation authorities. Today, at last, he is physically with his family after they have been used to carrying his photograph on vigils and demonstrations. Today he assumes the title of “doyen of the freed prisoners” after being the doyen of those incarcerated.
Nael Al-Barghouthi was among the first to resist the Israeli occupation as its malicious effect spread in occupied Palestine. He refused to be humiliated by the Israelis and joined an operation in June 1978 against military targets. Following their arrest, he and his brother were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Al-Barghouthi’s sister Hanan says proudly, “What has distinguished Nael is that he possesses a profound sense of selflessness. There was a prisoner exchange agreement between the Israelis and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command) and he was named to be among the released. He declined and offered the opportunity to his brother so that he could be returned to his wife and children. Nael remained in prison for 34 years to emerge on this at the top of the list of the newly freed.”
Nael Al-Barghouthi hails from the village of Al-Kuber, north of Ramallah on the occupied West Bank. He was given the news of the death of his parents while in prison and is well-known for his high moral conduct when dealing with relatives, neighbours and those who come into contact with him. This spirit of compassion and bravery grew even while he was behind bars.
One ex-prisoner, Hassan Awad, said that the people from Al-Kuber and its district always wished to be placed in the section of the prison where Nael Al-Barghouthi was being held. “They wanted to serve him and listen to him,” he said, “because of their love and great respect for him. He is well known for his continuous service and assistance to his relatives and whoever enters his room. He taught the prisoners the true meaning of dignity, and he elevated them.”
After 34 years, a joyous atmosphere has at last descended on the Al-Barghouthi home as national figures, journalists and the general public celebrated the release of the prisoners.
“We can’t remember when we have had as much happiness in our hearts as we have on this occasion,” beamed Nael’s sister-in-law, Umm Asif. “The families have a long history of suffering due to the separation, especially from Nael, whom all previous agreements by-passed.” But he has remained steadfast, she added, and he has been able to leave his cell in spite of the occupation, due to the voice of the resistance and by the action of its men. “Their hands must remain safe and the entire Al-Barghouthi family salute them.”
Ahmad Mubarak MP from Ramallah called Nael Al-Barghouthi “a model of steadfastness” in the “darkness” of solitary confinement. “He was subjected to arbitrary transfers and harassment by his jailers, who denied him visits from his relatives for many years.” Commentators have pointed out that this should be kept in mind by those in the media who are emphasising the conditions in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kept while in captivity in Gaza. “The Palestinian prisoners have also been denied visits and the conditions in which they are kept are so bad that many are now on hunger strike in protest,” said one. “Shalit is not unique in this respect.”
“Moreover,” Mubarak added, “this is an achievement of the resistance at a time when people speak of negotiations… History has proven that resistance is the best way for people under occupation to restore their rights and break free from their chains.”
There are many other members of the Al-Barghouthi family still in Israeli jails. Prominent among them are the Fatah leaders Marwan and Fakhri, and one of the leaders of Hamas’s military wing, Abdullah Bilal. In 2006, Nael Al-Barghouthi’s nephew, Asim, attempted to kidnap an Israeli soldier to use as a bargaining chip to secure the freedom of the prisoners, including Nael. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.