Early this morning 21 Palestinian prisoners released to the West Bank from Israeli prison arrived at the Muqataa, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, where they were greeted by thousands of on-lookers. Crowds began gathering around 9 p.m. when cars piled full of relatives and supporters rallied through the streets of Ramallah before heading to the government compound.
At the Muqataa, an audio recording of a gun salute initiated hours of national songs played from speakers that lined the parking lot-turned-outdoor celebration hall. Family members held up framed pictures of their incarcerated relatives, bouncing and rejoicing.
Just after 1:30 in the morning Mahmoud Abbas and the prisoners appeared on stage where the president of the Palestinian Authority gave an address. Within minutes Abbas dashed off and the released prisoners were carried through the mass of people to their families where long embraces were exchanged. Mothers with sons, husbands with wives, and children with fathers.
Unlike other political gatherings in the West Bank, the release of prisoners brings crowds that are a cross-section of society. Every economic class and religious background is present, along with flags from rivaling parties mounted on the same posts.