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In Ramallah Palestine tastes freedom at release of prisoners

18 October 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, West Bank

It was the third time that Omar, 21, tried to write his name and cell number on a piece of paper in vain. His hands were shaking and the fingers, pale as the face, could barely hold the pen. On the fifth try he was able to write his name in capital letters. As for the mobile phone number, who noted it was his 17 year old brother, Jihad.

16 years ago one member went missing in Omar’s family, Khaled, his father. Resident from the village of Qibid, near Ni’lin in the Ramallah district, Khaled spent 16 years of his life to complete a 50 year sentence.They were preparing to return to Qibid. This time, with the father.
“It was very difficult growing up without my father,” said Omar. “I was 5 years old when he was arrested and my older brother was 11. Then came the ladder: another brother with 9 years, two sisters  4 and 3 years and Jihad. My mother raised all of us by herself, with great sacrifices,” he said.

The story, the emotion and the tears from Omar mingled with other  similar stories, on the morning of Tuesday, October 18, in Ramallah.

Families were united again, after years of forced separation. All 285 children were released. Fadeleh Atuya Ajula came from Tulkarem, a new dress and posters in hand, to welcome Majdi, for more than 20 years imprisoned and sentenced to life imprisonment. Family and friends of Sana’a Sh’haded, 36, almost 10 years in jail and sentenced to life imprisonment, have now joined hands and formed a corridor for her, pale and trembling with emotion from a 20 day hunger strike, walking, supported by parents, to the grave of Yasser Arafat, where he made a prayer before going home to Jerusalem.

Civil servants collectively decided to take a day off, and schools released students to celebrate the arrival of the former prisoners.

Before nine in the morning tens of thousands of people had gathered for the festival that started at the gate of the Ofer detention center, in the Betunya area controlled by the Israeli army, and ended outside the Muqata’a, the headquarters of Palestinian National Authority (PNA), around 4 PM. In the large area in front of Ofer, trucks from Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) played party’s anthems and songs celebrating the Palestinian struggle, serving as a stage for leaders who shouted the slogans repeated by supporters. The largest and most striking presence was that of Hamas, gathering a large audience who sang and danced.

At 11:30 AM the crowd began to move toward the Muqata’a as the Israeli Army reacted to the crowd of young men with gas bombs and canisters. Sound bombs, the metal rubber-coated bullets, and even skunk water were used against the people. Soldiers shot bullets on the ground and directly at people, which is forbidden by international law.

At the PNA headquarters at noon, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PNA, received the 133 former prisoners from the West Bank, as their families, friends and the people who attended  watched them enter Palestinian society. There, in the space reserved for public events, on the lower ground to the right of the tomb of Yasser Arafat, all were compressed in an area with capacity for 40 to 50 thousand people.
“Thank God you came back safely to their families and their homeland after this forced removal, caused by your struggle for this land. Your sacrifice, efforts and work were not in vain. You will see the result of all in the independent state of Palestine,” Abbas spoke.

He also honored leaders Marwan Barghouti (Fatah) and Ahmad Sa’adat (PFLP), who remained in prison, thanked Egypt for its mediation in the negotiations that freed the prisoners and promised to carry out the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.