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Israel frees second group of prisoners since resumption of negotiations in July

Juicebox Gallery

By Leona Vicario - October 31, 2013
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Life under Occupation] [Behind Bars]

Photos by Gabriel R.


In the early morning hours of Wednesday, 30 October, 26 Palestinian prisoners were released in the West Bank as part of the second batch of a four-stage deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The prisoner release, which will eventually see the release of 104 prisoners incarcerated before the singing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, comes as a "goodwill gesture" by Israel in connection to resumption of negotiations this past July. 

The detainees, who had been held in prisons throughout Israel and some of which were serving life sentences, arrived to Israel’s Ofer Prison just outside of Ramallah throughout the days leading up to their release date. Around 1:30 AM , the 21 of the 26 prisoners arrived to the Muqata’a, PA headquarters in Ramallah, after spending more than twenty years behind the bars. 

The over five prisoners were released in the Gaza Strip through the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, where they received a warm welcome. 

The 21 prisoners released in the West Bank were greeted with a festive atmosphere. Hundreds of family members and supporters gathered outside the PA’s Muqata’a, where they attended an official reception led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"It was a very long journey, a very hard experience that he has spent his life in jail due to his national belief," Khaula explained to the Palestine Monitor moments before of the prisoners' arrival. 

Khalua is the sister of Khaled Azraq. Originally from Aida Camp (Bethlehem), Azraq was convicted for third and last time 23 years ago. Khaula was imprisoned once as well, a reason which prevented her from visiting her brother for nine years, as Israel continually refused to allow her the special permission required by all ex-prisoners attempting to visit friends and/or family in Israeli prisons.

"From my point of view, I believe that the prisoners are more important even than the land because they are humans and they are entitled to be with their families, " she told. "Now I am feeling like in a dream. I could not imagine all these people being released and I think I could not until I touch him, I talk to him," Khaula explained.

The celebrations were not just relegated to the Muqata’a compound. Throughout the day, music, dances and shows of joy and affection took place all over the West Bank and Gaza, particularly within the hometowns of the prisoners. 

Saffa, close to the well-known village of Bil'in, was one of the villages that turned itself into a party to embrace the return of two of its villagers. Mohammed Nasser and Rafa Karaja were both convicted in 1985 and are two of the longest-serving prisoners of the list approved by an Israeli ministerial cabinet this past Sunday.

"I never lost the hope to have him by my side again," Rafa's sister Abla narrated. Samia, the wife of Mohammed Nasser, agreed with Abla’s sentiment, confessing to having maintained the same feelings of resolve throughout the past years. As she spoke with the Palestine Monitor, all of  her neighbours si=ang and wave flags in the street which,h separates the house of both prisoners. 

"I cannot believe it. My father went to jail when I was one month," Wisam, the youngest daughter of Mohammed told. "Tonight will be the first time that I hug him."

The releases: A necessary step taken 20 years later

The Palestinian prisoners are a well-established symbol within Palestinian society. They are seen as freedom fighters, heroes who sometimes spend their entire lives in prison due to their struggle for a greater common good. 

However, the happiness brought by the release is tarnished by Israel’s continued disregard of past commitments and raises doubts about the effectiveness of the ongoing peace talks, internationally recognized as the only framework for liberation.  

These prisoner releases "have been presented as a massive concession by Israel, even though it was previously stipulated in Oslo Accords. So it is a concession, a gesture of will or something else?," expressed head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Society, Qadura Fares, in an interview with the Palestine Monitor. 

"This is a joy that has been postponed for twenty years," agreed leader of the Palestinian National Initiative (Al-Mubadara) Mustafa Bargouti. "They have lost twenty years of their lives in vain because they should have been released along with another prisoners." 

Randa Wahbe, an Advocacy Officer for Addameer, the Ramallah-based prisoner support and human rights association,, assured that the government of Israel "has consistently used the release of prisoners as a publicity stunt to detract from other core issues in the negotiations." 

Wahbe did not hesitate to highlight the fact that this kind of 'goodwill gesture' "does not change the Israeli policies that have caused the arrest of over 86.000 Palestinians since the start of the negotiations in 1993, such as the continued military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the over 1,700 military orders that criminalize basic civic, political and cultural rights of the Palestinians."

On Monday, the day before the 26 prisoners were set to be released, around 1,500 Israelis protested in front of the Ofer Prison, urging claiming the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "don´t talk to terrorists." A day later, Netanyahu announced the construction of 1,500 new settler-housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo. 

"That is a very dangerous act," Dr. Barghouti stated. "It is very sad that 26 will be released tonight but today 22 were arrested. And since the release of the first portion [August, 13th] until now 450 Palestinians have been imprisoned. So there is like a revolving door: if you release some people you arrest more people," he criticised.

In his opinion, "this is an indicator that the Israeli government is not ready for peace; they are not ready for real progress and it is very difficult how we can achieve peace when the cancer that is killing the possibility of peace is allowed to flourish, which is the settlements activity."  

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