Joy and sadness as Palestinian families receive prisoners released under Hamas-Israel deal

Joy and sadness as Palestinian families receive prisoners released under Hamas-Israel deal
“When I left prison, I left a part of me behind, with my cell mates, and today I am reliving those moments", a former Palestinian woman prisoner said.
5 min read
West Bank
24 November, 2023
Thousands of Palestinians remain in Israeli jails [Qassam Muaddi /TNA]

The first Palestinian woman prisoner to be released by Israel was received by her family on Friday, as a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel began to be implemented.

24-year-old Marah Bakeer is one of six Palestinian women from Jerusalem to be freed. Speaking to The New Arab's sister outlet Al-Araby TV, Bakeer said that she and her cell mates were violently persecuted by Israeli authorities following Hamas's surprise attack on Israel on 7 October.

She said that they had been beaten and that Israeli guards used tear gas against them.

Bakeer added that she was placed in an individual cell at the Damon prison, near Haifa, untill Friday morning, when her release procedures began.

Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinian families in the West Bank and Jerusalem continued to wait, late on Friday, for the release of the first 39 Palestinian women and children prisoners from Israeli jails, as part of the Hamas-Israel truce and prisoners’ swap deal.

According to the deal reached between the Palestinian group and Israel, through Qatari mediation, Israel will release 150 Palestinian female and minor prisoners during the four days of truce, in exchange for the release of some 50 female and minor captives in the Gaza Strip since 7 October, in addition to foreign captives retained by the group.

As the truce entered into effect, early on Friday, the names of the first Palestinians to be released were still unknown. By midday, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, made public the names of the first group of prisoners to be released.

By evening, Palestinian families continued to wait for the return of their beloved ones, without knowing when  they will arrive at various agreed points of reception.

“We knew that Nehaya’s name was among the first group of released from the media, and later the occupation authorities contacted us from the Maskobieh detention center in Jerusalem and told us that we have to go and receive her there”, The sister of Nehaya Sawan, a 45-year-old Palestinian whose release was announced on Friday, told The New Arab.

Nehaya Sawan was arrested in August 2021, and was sentenced to 44 months in Israeli jails, for political activism. “My brothers have been waiting at Maskobieh since the morning, but have received no news about the release time”, said Nehaya’s sister.

“We have lost contact with my brothers at the Maskobieh centre, and we don’t know what will happen”, she added. “We are waiting with our hands on our hearts, anxious and hopeful to have Nehaya finally among us.”

The Maskobieh detention center, also known as “The Russian Compound”, has been infamous as a centre of torture, according to human rights groups reports.

However, most of the female prisoners were held at the Damon prison, near Haifa. Prisoners were transferred from Haifa late on Friday morning. By Friday evening, the prisoners had arrived at the Ofer detention centre, the only Israeli detention centre in the West Bank.

“We were contacted by the Beitunia municipality, who told us that the release will happen at the municipality building,” said the brother of Tahrir Abu Sariyah, another Palestinian female prisoner to be released on Friday. Beitunia, a suburb of Ramallah, is located a few kilometres from the Ofer detention centre.

Tahrir was arrested in August 2022 along with two other Palestinian women at an Israeli checkpoint near Qalqilya, in the north West Bank. Israeli media claimed that the three women were involved in Palestinian armed activity. However, they have been detained without being convicted of any crime for over a year.

“We are waiting anxiously, as we have no news about the transfer of the prisoners”, Tahrir’s brother said. “We have had no information about Tahrir since last September, and the news of the detention conditions since 7 October are frightening, turning our lives to hell”, the brother said.

“The idea that Tahrir will spend this night at home is like a dream coming true, but we continue to wait without news”, he added.

In front of the Ofer prison, Israeli forces dispersed Palestinian families with tear gas. In Jerusalem, celebrations by the families have been banned.

“In this moment, I feel a wound reopening”, Salam Abu Sharar, a former Palestinian prisoner in her early thirties, told The New Arab.

“When I left prison, I left a part of me behind, with my cell mates, and today I am reliving those moments, as I wait to see them again, out of prison”, said Abu Sharar, struggling to contain her tears.

“For us, Palestinians, the liberation of one prisoner is like having a life back from death”, she described. “There is so much emotion, a mixture of anger, pain and joy at the same time”, she added.

Meanwhile the International Red Cross confirmed that it transferred 24 of the captives in Gaza to Egyptian authorities, including 12 Thai citizens and 12 Israelis.

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The deal also includes the entry of 300 trucks of humanitarian aid per day into the Gaza Strip, where about 2.4 million Palestinians have lived through indiscriminate bombardment and a total Israeli siege, with entire districts and towns being flattened and hospitals, schools and places of worship deliberately targeted.

Since 7 October, Israel has killed more than 14.000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including nearly 6000 children.