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Abie Nathan, Released from Jail, Returns to Society with Eagerness

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Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan said on his release from prison Monday that he would abstain from breaking the law forbidding contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization until the June 23 elections.

He said he was hopeful the new Knesset would repeal the law, making it possible for Israelis to meet “legally and officially” with PLO leaders.

Until then, he would pursue his peace objectives “by methods within the law,” he said as he left Ma’asiyahu prison near Ramla.

President Chaim Herzog reduced Nathan’s 18-month sentence to the six months already served after the activist promised he would abide by the law he has long disregarded in the name of peace.

Asked if he regretted his past violations, Nathan replied, “No comment.”

He said he had appealed to Herzog because he wanted to be “outside and free” before the elections, “to be able to help my friends who are also opposed” to what he has called “a foolish political” law.

Nathan went to jail last November for meeting PLO chief Yasir Arafat a second time. He had spent three months in prison in 1990 and got an 18-month suspended sentence for their first meeting.

He insists that the law barring such contacts is counterproductive, because Israel can achieve peace only by talking to its enemies.

But this time, jail seems to have been an ordeal for Nathan, who has passed his 65th birthday. “It’s very hard to take. It’s not easy suddenly to be behind bars when you reach pensionable age,” the activist admitted on a new interview program broadcast on educational television and army radio.

He observed in the same vein that “about 80 percent of those there (in prison) are from a completely different world,” adding that “it will be a pleasure to sleep in a double bed again, instead of a prison cot.”

Nathan said that after a few days’ rest from the rigors of confinement, he would resume his normal active life.

He said he planned another visit to the Auschwitz death camp site in Poland, where he goes every few years “to strengthen my feelings as a Jew.”

He also said he hoped to hold an exhibition of the sculpting he did in prison.

Nathan said he had made three friends in prison who are serving life terms for murder. He now plans to help them appeal to the president for clemency.

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