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Palestine ex-prisoner recalls his 33 years of struggle in Israeli jails

Fakhri Al-Barghouthi spent 33 years in Israeli prisons for his role in the military struggle against the Israeli occupation, Anadolu News Agency reports.

Inspired by freedom movements all over the world and believing in the ability to liberate Palestine from Israeli rule, he, along with many other Palestinians, joined the resistance more than 40 years ago.

The 69-year-old, who hails from the village of Kaubar, north of Ramallah, was arrested with his cousin, Nael, in 1978, and sentenced to life in prison. They were released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. But, in 2014, the Israeli army re-arrested Nael along with many other Palestinians who were freed in the prisoner exchange, and they are still in prison.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners' Society, 25 Palestinians have been languishing in Israeli prisons since before the signing in 1993 of the Oslo Accords, which attempted to bring an end to decades of fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, while 243 others have been imprisoned for more than 20 years.

READ: UN experts urge Israel to release Palestine child prisoner Ahmed Manasra 

As the world marks Nelson Mandela International Day on Monday in honour of the late South African President and civil rights advocate, and his fight for freedom and justice, Anadolu Agency spoke with Al-Barghouthi.

"Freedom will not come for any nation for free. It will not come with slogans. It comes only if you feel it inside yourself and your thoughts, and then act as a free human being," he said.

Al-Barghouthi said the Palestinian people deserve to be free and have an independent country as they have been fighting for this since the Balfour Declaration, a public statement issued by the British government in 1917, announcing the support for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

"We deserve to have our independent county, our independent geography and culture. Since the beginning of the occupation, our lands and our cultural identity were confiscated, our sea, our desert and our lives. But we deserve to regain them, so we are still in a continuous struggle," he said.

The Palestinian freedom fighter recalled how he fought inside the jails, together with his fellow prisoners, against the Israeli policies to protect their national identity and cultural concepts and gain a decent life.

READ: Palestine urges US pressure on Israel to stop fresh settlement plans

"We fought through hunger strikes many times in the 1980s, and lost many of our fellow inmates to save the others from suffering and give them their dignity in the jails. We fought for people's freedom, for human dignity, both inside and outside the prisons," he recalled.

Struggle through generations

In 2004, after many difficult attempts through the Israeli prisons service, Al-Barghouthi met his sons, Shadi and Hadi, while in the Ashkelon Prison after their detention due to their activities in the Palestinian resistance movement during the Second Intifada.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, he described the difficult and trying time he went through on that day.

"Eight doors had to be opened for them to pass from the waiting room to the cell in the prison where I was staying. With each sound of keys in the doors, I was feeling that these keys were not in the doors, they were in my heart," he said.

Al-Barghouthi met his sons after 26 years of seeking to re-unite with them, after last seeing them in 1978 when they were young boys. He recounted how he hugged them in the prison yard, as 450 other inmates cried as they watched.

"My son, Shadi, is still in jail since 2003, and my cousin, Nael, for more than 40 years. The Palestinian factions' obligation is to free them and all the other inmates because the inmates paid with their lives for the freedom of all of us," he said.

"It's a big shame to leave these people in the prisons," he added.

Nelson Mandela International Day was officially declared by the UN in November 2009 in recognition of Mandela's birthday on July 18, 1918. It is an international call to action that celebrates the ability of each individual to make an impact in life.​​​​​​​

READ: World remembers Nelson Mandela on his 104th birth anniversary

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