Joy and defiance as Israel frees Palestinian prisoners

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Eati Akter


Firecrackers lit up the night sky Friday as raucous celebrations — mixed with defiance — marked the release of Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons in exchange for the first wave of hostages freed by Hamas in Gaza.

Crowds across the West Bank cheered and waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, along with kaffiyeh scarves after two white coaches — escorted by armoured vehicles — exited the Ofer military camp with the prisoners.

“I am happy but my liberation came at the price of the blood of the martyrs,” said Marah Bakir, 24, referring to the nearly 15,000 deaths across the Gaza Strip that its Hamas-led government says were caused by Israel’s military offensive.

Freedom from “the four walls of the prison” was “magnificent”, said Bakir, who had been in custody for eight years.

“I spent the end of my childhood and my adolescence in prison, far from my parents and their hugs,” she told AFP after returning to her family home in Beit Hanina in annexed east Jerusalem.

“That’s how it is with a state that oppresses us.”

– ‘Eating bitterness’ –

A total of 39 prisoners were released by Israeli authorities under a truce agreement to pause the fighting in Gaza, after 13 hostages from Israel had been handed over.

The October 7 attack by Hamas militants on southern Israeli communities left 1,200 people dead — the worst death toll since the creation of Israel in 1948 — according to Israeli authorities.

On the Palestinian side officials say more people have died in Gaza in the current wave of Israeli strikes than during the two intifadas put together.

Hanan Al-Barghouti, 58, released after two months in Israeli custody, lauded the armed wing of Hamas, its leader, and the people of Gaza.

“May God reward them well on our behalf,” she said. “If it were not for the people of Gaza, we would not have seen freedom.

“We were inside the prison, eating bitterness. They were sadists. They insulted us and humiliated us, but our pride is high and our dignity is elevated, thanks to the resistance.”

Palestinian prisoners wearing grey jumpers were paraded in Beitunia in the occupied West Bank in front of euphoric supporters, many of whom broke down in tears.

Before their release, clouds of white smoke filled the air close to the prison as Israeli authorities fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. The Palestinian Red Crescent said three people were shot and wounded by Israeli security forces.

“The Israeli police are at our house and are preventing people from coming to see us,” said Fatina Salman, the mother of Malak, 23, who was arrested on the way to school in 2016 for trying to stab a police officer in Jerusalem.

She was not due to be released until 2025 but returned to a triumphant welcome in her neighbourhood of Beit Safafa.

“My daughter is weak, she hasn’t eaten since yesterday,” said Salman.

– ‘Tears of joy’ –

In the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers since the October 7 attacks, according to the health ministry of the Palestinian Authority.

Heavily armed Israeli troops are again carrying out raids in Palestinian towns, manoeuvres supposedly eliminated in some areas of the West Bank by the Oslo accords.

But Friday was a night of celebration for many Palestinians.

“I’m very happy to be with my family and very happy that I will start a new life with them,” said Bakir.

“I’m also thrilled to see how happy they are,” she said, adding: “Yes, they are crying, but it’s the tears of joy.”

Source: BSS

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