A very confusing feeling passes through me after hearing about the exchange of 1,027 Palestinian detainees for the only Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is held captive by the Palestinian resistance. I don’t know whether to feel happy or sad. Gazing at the faces of the prisoners’ families in the solidarity tent, I see a look that I have never seen before: Eyes glitter with hope. These people have attended every event in solidarity with our detainees, have never given up hope that their freedom is inevitable someday, and have stayed strong during their loved ones’ absence inside Israeli cells. Thinking about those women whose relatives are most likely to be released and seeing their big smiles makes me happy. But at the same time, thinking about the other 5,000 detainees who will steadfastly go on with their resistance in the prisons makes my heart break for them.
When I arrived at the tent today, the wife of the prisoner Nafez Herz, who was sentenced to life-long imprisonment and has been jailed for 26 years, shook hands with me and said very excitedly that she had heard that her husband would be freed. Then she said, “But you can’t imagine how much my heart aches for those families whose prisoner will not be released in this exchange deal. All prisoners’ families have become like one big family. We meet weekly, if not daily in the Red Cross, we share our torments, and we understand each other’s suffering.” I grabbed her hands and pressed them while saying, “We will never forget them, and God willing, they will gain their freedom soon.”
While I was writing this article among the crowd of people inside the Red Cross, I suddenly heard people chanting and clapping and could see a woman jumping with joy. While on the phone, she said loudly, “My husband is going to be free!” Her husband is Abu Thaer Ghneem, who received a life sentence and spent 22 years in prison. As I watched people celebrating and singing for the freedom of the Palestinian detainees, I met his only son, Thaer. He was hugging his mother tight while giving prayers to God showing their thankfulness. I touch his shoulder, attempting to get his attention. “Congratulations! How do you feel?” I asked him. “I was only one day old when my father was arrested, and now I am 22 years old. I’ve always known that I had a father in prison, but never had him around. Now my father is finally going to be set free and fill his place, which has been empty over the course of 22 years of my life.” His answer was very touching and left me shocked and admiring. While he was talking to me, I sensed how he couldn’t find words to describe his happiness at his father’s freedom.
The celebration continued for an hour. Then I return to my former confusion, feeling drowned in a stream of thoughts. 1,027 detainees’ families will celebrate the freedom of their relatives, but what about the fate of the rest of the prisoners?
I heard lots of information since last night concerning the names of the soon-to-be-released prisoners, but it was hard to find two sources sharing the same news, especially about Ahmad Sa’adat and Marwan Al-Barghouti and whether they are involved in the exchange deal. I’ve always felt spiritually connected to them, especially Sa’adat, as he is my father’s friend. I can’t handle thinking that he may not be involved in this exchange deal. He has had enough merciless torment inside Israeli solitary confinement for over two and a half years.
Let’s not forget those who are still inside the Israeli occupation’s prisons and who are still hunger striking, as this hunger strike wasn’t held for an exchange deal, but for the Israeli Prison Service to meet the prisoners’ demands. The number of Palestinian people who are joining the hunger strike in Gaza City is increasing, including the prisoners’ families. We have to speak up out loudly and tell the world that this hunger strike will end in only one case: once Israel addresses our living martyrs’ demands. We will never stop singing for the freedom of Palestinian detainees until the Israeli prisons are hopefully someday emptied.
Shahd Abusalama lives in Gaza and blogs at Palestine From My Eyes.