As part of the swap for Sgt. Schalit, Israel agreed to release 1,027 Palestinians. Of those, 477 were freed in mid-October, along with Sgt. Schalit, while the remainder are set to walk out of prison in mid-December.
The majority of prisoners already released had been serving life sentences for killing Israelis in shooting attacks or bombings.
The dean of the released Gaza prisoners, 49-year-old Yehiye al-Sinwar, went to jail in 1988. The co-founder of the Hamas military wing was sentenced to four life terms, including for his role as a mastermind in the abduction and killing of two soldiers.
After his release, his family urged him to find a bride. “At first I told them I will not think about this stage until I get organized and catch up on what I missed,” Mr. al-Sinwar said.
But by the time Mr. al-Sinwar returned to Gaza from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, his sisters had found him a 31-year-old bride with a master’s degree in religion from the Islamic University from Gaza City.
Mr. al-Sinwar was flooded with congratulatory phone calls, even as he struggled to learn how to use the Internet and to navigate streets that had changed beyond recognition.
He wouldn’t discuss his political plans, including a possible role in the leadership of Hamas, which has refused to renounce violence.
Forty-one prisoners were sent into exile abroad. The final few returned to homes in Israel, according to the Israeli Prison Service.
The longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, cousins Nael and Fakhri Barghouti, received $10,000 each from the Palestinian Authority. They each spent 33 years in prison for membership in an armed cell that kidnapped and killed an Israeli soldier.
Fakhri Barghouti, 57, at one point shared a cell with his son Shadi, who was arrested in 2002 and is serving 27 years for involvement in an armed group. The father said the Shin Bet tried to recruit him as an informer after his release, even offering to release his son.
He said he turned down the offer, and indicated he has no regrets over his violent past. “I feel proud of my people, of my family, of my sons, and of myself,” Mr. Barghouti said. “My time in jail was for Palestine.”
Addameer, an advocacy group for Palestinian prisoners, said most released West Bank inmates were threatened or had their houses searched by Israeli forces.
The Israeli military said it is “taking every measure to ensure that they prisoners that were released do not return to terror.”
The Shin Bet said it summoned the prisoners to explain the conditions of their release. “They were also warned against returning to terror activities,” the agency said.
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