There are still as many as 7500 Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails and detention centers on charges of resisting the Israeli occupation.
None the less, the release of the 400 prisoners on Thursday seems to have given a modicum of joy and glimmer of hope to a people harshly tormented by more than forty months of unmitigated Israeli repression.
Indeed, from the early morning hours, hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children from the southern West Bank headed for the Tarqumya Junction, 20 km west of Al-Khalil (Hebron), to receive their loved ones to be freed from Israeli prisons.
Prisoners turned back
Some were clearly disappointed, having been told that the Israeli government ordered some 36 prisoners back to their jails and detention camps for unexplained reasons.
Others were anxious, thinking that the bus bombing attack in West Jerusalem early on Thursday might cause the Israeli government to cancel the entire prisoner swap deal with Hizb Allah.
Families jubilantly welcomed
the prisoners' return
Many of the Palestinians gathered at the Tarqumya junction were carrying aloft flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizb Allah, along with Palestinian flags.
One person even held the Iraqi flag.
Moreover, the portrait of Hizb Allah leader, Sayed Hassan Nasr Allah was conspicuously displayed everywhere, with Israeli soldiers looking on.
Nasr Allah hailed hero
Some elderly Palestinian women cried shrieks of joy in praise of Nasr Allah, hailing him as “the hero who liberated our sons and gave us hope.”
“May God Almighty give him a long life,” said the mother of Thaer Falah Imrish, a 24-year-old worker imprisoned for two and a half years for affiliation with the Islamic Jihad.
Palestinians have praised Nasr
Allah for 'liberating' their sons
“He was due to be released six months from now. But I am very happy, really happy.”
“His father is dead, and he is our sole breadwinner. May Allah bless Shaikh Nasr Allah.”
Nayfeh Zughayer, also from Al-Khalil, described the release of her own son, 19-year-old Muhammad Abd al-Salam, as “our Eid present,” alluding to the Eid al-Adha holiday or “feast of the Sacrifice,” due on Sunday.
“This is our Eid present from Sheikh Nasrullah. May God bless him.”
'Guilty until proven innocent'
Many of the prisoners released from the Al-Khalil region are in fact college students imprisoned for their affiliation with Islamic student blocs in local colleges.
“I am a college student, I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place, let alone tried and imprisoned. But, unfortunately we live under a very oppressive state where the judge is the enemy,” said liberated prisoner Abd al-Hamid Sulaiman Abu Jarur of the town of Beit Ula near Hebron.
“They treat us as guilty until proven innocent. Very often they treat us as guilty even if we are proven innocent. I tell you, the Israeli justice system is nothing but a rubber stamp in the hands of the occupation army.”
“They treat us as guilty until proven innocent. Very often they treat us as guilty even if we are proven innocent. I tell you, the Israeli justice system is nothing but a rubber stamp in the hands of the occupation army”
Abd al-Hamid Sulaiman Abu Jarur
Asked what he would do next, now that he has been released from Israeli jails.
Abu Jarur said: “I think I will go back to college to finish my studies, then get married.”
His brother Adnan, who came to collect him and drive him home appealed to Hizb Allah to make maximum use of “the Ron Arad card,” referring to the missing Israeli air navigator.
Israel has already said it would be willing to free many Palestinian prisoners in return for repatriating Arad - dead or alive.
Heroes or martyrs
Virtually all Palestinians view their released and unreleased prisoner as heroes or suspended martyrs.
“Let the Jews and their parroting friends call us and our sons terrorists as long as they wish. But, for us those are heroes, real heroes,” said Hasan saber Shalaldeh, of the town of Sair, south of Bethlehem, who too came to receive his son Ghassan.
“Only cowards don’t resist foreign intruders. The ones who resist are heroes, real heroes.”
Freed Mahmud Qawasmi holds his
son as he is welcomed back
Asked if he felt the Palestinians were getting exhausted struggling against a farm more powerful enemy, Shalaldeh said Palestinians had to choose between “freedom and enslavement by the Jews.”
“We will not give in, we either earn our freedom, or die. There is nothing in between,” said the elderly peasant.
Another elderly man, who was listening, interrupted him with a different view.
“Listen, we don’t gasp after heroism, we want to peace. We want to live in Peace with the Israelis. The problem is that they want to take our homeland away from us.”
Despite the joy of getting 400 of their sons and loved ones freed from Israeli detention, Palestinians are not being euphoric about the prisoner swap.
There are two main reasons for that: First, the continued Israeli onslaught on Palestinian population centers which claims fresh victims on a daily basis.
“A people like us who are facing a virtual holocaust and bury fresh martyrs every day can’t and shouldn’t be really happy”
Jamal Hasan Sarahin
Brother of a freed prisoner
Second, most Palestinians don’t trust Israeli intentions and are convinced that the Israeli army will arrest twice the number of the freed prisoners in a matter of days or weeks at the very most.
“We are happy but not very happy”
“A people like us who are facing a virtual holocaust and bury fresh martyrs every day can’t and shouldn’t be really happy,” said Jamal Hasan Sarahin, a brother of a freed prisoner".
“We will be truly happy when we earn our freedom,” he added
Asked when that will be achieved, Sarahin said “only Allah knows when.”