REPORTING FROM SHIJAEYA, GAZA STRIP — She was still practically a newlywed when Raeda Omjamal watched Israeli security forces arrest her husband, Rawhi Mushtaha, and sentence him to 124 years in prison.
Israel called him a murderer for his role in helping to run Hamas' military operations. In Gaza, he was hailed as a freedom fighter and hero. Mushtaha is expected to be among the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners who will be released Tuesday in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Omjamal was 23 years old, a freshly transplanted Palestinian refugee from Jordan who only met her husband two months before their wedding. The had another six months after the marriage.
Now, at 47, Omjamal is preparing to welcome her husband back home after seeing him only once during 24 years of incarceration. Though they exchanged occasional messages and letters through attorneys, personal visits were mostly prohibited.
Today, the young, bearded fighter she married in 1988 is a gray-haired, wrinkled stranger. Asked how it will feel to live in the same house again, she laughed and turned red, noticeable even though a pale green veil covering most of her face.
"I don't know," she said. "It's awkward. On the one hand, I'm filled with joy, but there's also anxiety and worry. I've been waiting for him now longer than I lived at home with my family."
Four months after he was imprisoned, Mushtaha sent word to his wife that she should divorce him and move on with her life. She refused.
"I decided to stay because I thought that was my destiny,'' she said.
Her only regret was that during their short life together they did not conceive a child. At 47, she says a family is no longer possible.
For years she gave up hope of ever seeing her husband. But about two months ago — long before details about the Shalit swap became public — she said she had a feeling that he would be released. She even redecorated and repainted the family home.
Now that the release date is approaching, she says she has no idea what she'll say the first time she sees him again. "I'm hoping I'll think of something."
— Edmund Sanders
Photo: Raeda Omjama in her Gaza Strip home with photos of husband Rawhi Mushtaha as a younger man and today. Credit: Edmund Sanders