With the liberation of three batches of Palestinian prisoners during the current truce with Israel, the Palestinians expressed their happiness at the liberation of the prisoners held in Israeli jails.
However, this happiness has been incomplete because of the high price paid by the Palestinians in the Israeli war on Gaza, which has thus far seen some 20,000 Palestinians killed.
The Palestinians see the prisoner releases as a way of taking control, especially after the delay in the release of Israeli prisoners for more than two hours on the second day of the truce in response to Israel’s manipulation and its attempt to evade its obligations.
The Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem witnessed joyful moves to welcome the prisoners while maintaining the state of grief for the thousands of people killed in Gaza.
Thousands gathered on the first day of the truce in front of the Ofer Prison near Ramallah to receive the prisoners, and hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the homes of those freed to express their support for the Gaza Strip and their joy at the liberation of the prisoners.
The streets of Palestinian cities saw popular marches, during which young men carried the prisoners aloft and raised Palestinian flags and the flags of all the Palestinian factions, defying Israeli attempts to prevent them from rejoicing at the liberation of the prisoners and stressing the unity of the Palestinian people.
Released prisoner Israa Al-Jaabis said upon her arrival at her home in Occupied Jerusalem that she and other prisoners had been subjected to abuse and beatings in Israeli prisons.
“We are ashamed to rejoice when all of Palestine is wounded,” Al-Jaabis said, adding that she has suffered from burns and injuries as a result of being shot and not provided with the necessary treatment in 2015.
“Palestinian girls have been subjected to unspeakable practices in the occupation prisons,” she said, calling for the liberation of all Palestinian prisoners.
Released prisoner Fatima Shaheen from the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem told Al-Ahram Weekly that she felt the value of freedom when she was released from prison and that she had believed that she would be liberated even before the events of 7 October occurred.
She thanked the Palestinian resistance factions for freeing the prisoners and saluted the Palestinian people in Gaza. She offered her condolences to the families of those killed, stressing that the joy of liberation was incomplete because of the number of people killed in the war.
Shaheen said that she was arrested in April this year after Israeli soldiers shot and wounded her near the Etzion Settlement built on Palestinian land near Bethlehem when she was taking the main road between Hebron and Bethlehem. She was wounded by several bullets fired by an Israeli soldier, who claimed that she had wanted to stab him, she said, after which she was arrested and transferred to an Israeli hospital.
As a result of neglect and a failure to complete her treatment, she can no longer walk and uses a wheelchair.
She suffered greatly during her detention in three Israeli prisons, the last of which was the Damon Prison. Shaheen said that her injury had doubled her suffering in prison, as had her longing for her five-year-old daughter. However, the help of other prisoners had helped her, as had the taste of freedom and victory represented by the prisoner-exchange deal with Israel.
Her father, who had sat at the entrance to the house to greet her, had received a telephone call from an Israeli intelligence officer at the Dheisheh Refugee Camp threatening to destroy the house if the family held celebrations, raised the flags of the Palestinian factions, or marked the liberation of his daughter.
According to Palestinian reports, 150 Palestinian male and female prisoners have been released as part of the deal. Six female Palestinian prisoners remain in Israeli prisons, and human rights organisations have called on Egyptian and Qatari mediators to press Israel for their release.
Kaddoura Fares, Minister for Prisoners and Ex-Detainees Affairs in the Palestinian government in Ramallah, said Israel had tried to manipulate the terms of the exchange deal, but had not been able to do so.
Fares said at a press conference that the agreement stipulated the release of prisoners according to seniority, but Israel had not honoured this. She added that there was discontent in the Palestinian resistance because of manipulation of the prisoner lists.
Threats by Israel were denounced by representatives of human rights institutions such as the Palestinian Prisoners Society, whose president, Abdullah Al-Zaghari, said in an interview with the Weekly that these reflected the magnitude of the crisis suffered by Israel and the failures of its security and political systems.
He added that Israel was trying to kill the joy of the Palestinians at the releases, but it had failed to do so because of the size of the popular rallies in all the Palestinian cities to receive the prisoners.
Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian National Library and former head of the Commission for Prisoners and Ex-Detainees Affairs, told the Weekly that “the release of children and women in the first stage of the releases is a national achievement achieved despite Israeli threats.”
He said that people cannot be liberated without blood and that the Palestinians have been paying with their blood for liberation for 75 years. “Today, the circumstances are different, and we feel victory and pride. Our prisoners, who have sacrificed everything they have, will not be left alone this time,” Qaraqe said.
The next stage will see the liberation of prisoners who have been in prison for years, as the deal has shattered Israeli arrogance as a result of the resistance and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people.
“We have the right to celebrate because celebration is part of the resistance,” Qaraqe said.
He added that divisions in the Palestinian movement must end, with reform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) being the way to bring together the entire Palestinian political spectrum.
Najib Farraj, a Palestinian political analyst in Jerusalem, told the Weekly that the truce between the Palestinian factions and Israel, which began last Friday, would see about 50 Israeli civilian prisoners released, compared to about 150 Palestinian prisoners over the next four days.
He said that the deal was “an opportunity for hope” for the prisoners and their families, especially as Israel has refused to release Palestinian prisoners for years under the pretext that they participated in operations that led to the death of Israelis.
Faraj said that Israel had “taught us that what was taken by force can only be recovered by force, and this is what Hamas did on 7 October.” He said the prisoners had earlier felt that they had been forgotten by the international community but today they were receiving their freedom.
He gave the example of Abu Hamid, arrested by Israel with his five brothers. One of them, Nasser Abu Hamid, died in an Israeli prison after he was sentenced to life imprisonment and then neglected. Israel still holds his body and refuses to release it despite appeals from his mother.
Faraj said that the release of prisoners was an achievement for the Palestinian resistance, especially since peace negotiations over the years have not been able to bring about the release of prisoners sentenced to life sentences as a result of Palestinian weakness and the silence of the international community.
The current prisoner-exchange deal is reminiscent of deals between the Palestinian resistance abroad and Israel, showing that Israel is not interested in a just and comprehensive peace that restores to the Palestinians their rights.
As the temporary humanitarian ceasefire entered its final day as the Weekly went to press, mediators were making efforts to extend it in exchange for continuing the prisoner-exchange deal. Media sources reported ongoing efforts to extend the ceasefire for two to four days.
In a statement, Hamas expressed its desire to extend the ceasefire beyond the initial four days by actively exploring an increase in the number of those released, as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement. The Israeli media reported that Hamas has said that it will release an additional 20 to 40 hostages if the ceasefire is extended for two to four days.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel’s readiness to extend the ceasefire in exchange for the release of “10 Israeli prisoners” per day. However, he also told US President Joe Biden that Israel is committed to eliminating Hamas at the end of the ceasefire.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly