- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian prisoners released in a swap for an Israeli soldier in October are racing to make up for lost time: Many of the 477 former inmates already are getting married, building homes or enrolling in college, even as Israel keeps a close eye on them in fear they could return to violence.

Most had spent many years behind bars, and even expected to die in prison for their roles in bloody attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis.

Now, they are struggling with a new political reality: The Gaza Strip is run by the Islamic militant Hamas, which was an underground movement when most of them went to prison.

And there is a more moderate climate than they may remember in the West Bank, where, weary after a bloody uprising against Israel, many now frown on violence as harmful to Palestinian interests.

Nonetheless, the prisoners rarely express remorse and are widely considered heroes by their communities.

As part of their welcome home, they have received startup grants of up to $10,000 from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza, and there is talk of stipends and apartments.

The prisoners, convicted for involvement in some of the most notorious attacks in recent memory, will never be able to put their pasts behind them entirely.

The 132 detainees released to the West Bank and East Jerusalem have found themselves under close surveillance by Israel’s Shin Bet security service. Many have been summoned for questioning and warned not to return to violence.

Those in Israel who opposed the swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli army Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas for more than five years, had warned that freed prisoners pose a great risk of carrying out new attacks.

Israeli counterterrorism expert Yoni Fighel said a successful transition to civilian life would reduce the likelihood of a relapse. “If they have work, a salary, an incentive to start a family and get established, the attractiveness of terrorism will be reduced,” he said.

The zeal with which some of the prisoners are trying to catch up suggests they do not want to risk their newfound freedom.

Muayad Abdel Samed, 50, who spent half his life behind bars for killing an Israeli border police officer, said he believes in peaceful means for obtaining Palestinian independence.

“After these long years in prison, and at my age, and the political changes that occurred on our Palestinian case, our duties are less than before,” Mr. Abdel Samed said as he mixed cement for a house he is building with an $8,000 government grant.

Mr. Abdel Samed hopes to find a bride. He also applied for a monthly stipend from the Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government that was set up six years after he went to prison in 1987.

In Mr. Abdel Samed’s day, an Israeli military government still controlled all aspects of Palestinian lives directly, from issuing birth certificates to running hospitals.

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