Jerusalem Prisoners’ Families Prepare for Homecoming, Exile


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PNN – Palestine News Network –  17.10.11  | Maysa Abu Ghazala

On Friday, as the news spread from house to house in East Jerusalem that the list of Palestinian prisoners to be released in the much-reported Shalit exchange had been published, families reacted with relief and pain.
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At a rally outside the International Red Cross office in Bethlehem, a man holds a picture of his uncle, imprisoned in Israel (Brendan Work, PNN).
The Shalit exchange includes 45 East Jerusalemites, three of them women, but only twelve of whom will return to their homes in the city. The others will be exiled either to the Gaza Strip or to one of three countries—Syria, Turkey, and Qatar, according to recent Hamas statements—as part of the exchange conditions.
The exchange is due to begin on Tuesday, and in the final hours before their relatives’ arrivals, Jerusalem families remained hopefully and happy, saying the release of one prisoner was a victory for all.
The Family  of Fouad al-Razem
After spending most of his adult life—31 years—in prison, 54-year-old Fouad al-Razem became known as “the dean of prisoners” and was passed over by more than 20 prisoner exchanges between Israel and Arab states. He was born on December 9, 1957 and raised in the Silwan district of East Jerusalem, in the house that still stands, containing his clothes, letters, and other belongings. He was arrested in that house on January 30, 1981 at the age of 23, pled guilty to killing two Israeli soldiers in the late 1970s, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Foaud’s sister, Umm Nidal, says she fears Israel will turn back on its word at the last moment and keep Fouad in prison—the exact thing happened in 1985, when Fouad had gotten as far as his seat on the bus to the outside only to have the prison administrator change his mind, telling him to get off the bus and go back to prison where he would spend the rest of his life. Umm Nidal recalls her family’s “deep disappointment.”
That feeling has again disappeared, as Fouad’s family prepares for a welcoming party with one notable exception—as one of the freed prisoners being exiled to Gaza, Fouad will not return to East Jerusalem. His picture is on enormous posters plastered around his home in Silwan, but he will not see them.
The Family of Amna Muneh
One of three female East Jerusalemite prisoners, 35-year-old Amna Muneh was imprisoned in 2001 for her role in the death of a 16-year-old Israeli boy. Her mother Samira said in an interview with PNN, “I never lost hope for one day that I would see Amna released. Every day I was optimistic.”
Muneh is scheduled to be exiled upon release, unlike the other two Jerusalemite women prisoners. Her mother said she was still pleased.
“There is no home for the freedom fighter,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. But at least in exile she will be able to work and learn and live a normal life.”
The Family of Ibtisam al-Essawi
Ibtisam al-Essawi will be released after 10 years in prison just as her oldest daughter Rama is due to be wed. After they heard about the prisoner exchange, Ibtisam’s other daughter Ruba said the family changed their minds.
“After hearing the news confirmed,” said Ruba, “we took the decision to delay the wedding until after our mother’s release—but then we got a letter from her saying to carry on with the wedding the next week. Once she is released, we’ll have two parties.”
The Family of Sana’a Shahadeh
Sana’a’s family began preparations once they heard news of her release. Her mother told PNN, “As soon as I heard the good news, I began making maftool (a Palestinian dish) for the women in the house and we decided to finance a new room in the house for her. Soon we’ll start putting up pictures of her and having feasts and sweets.”
“The members of this family have been living without joy since Sana’a was imprisoned 11 years ago,” said her mother. “I wish all the other prisoners would be release and not just my daughter. I wish every house could have this joy.”
The Mother of Lu’ay Awdeh
“I cried tears of joy and pain when I heard my son Lu’ay will be released and exiled to Gaza at the same time,” said the mother of this 33-year-old man, imprisoned for 28 years in 2002. “The deal doesn’t satisfy all our of hopes, and my happiness is incomplete because my son will not return to his home here in Jerusalem. I feel at the same time the pain of the other mothers and wives who did not hear the names of their sons and husbands, the disappointment of so many long years of waiting.”
Amjad Abu Asab, Head of the Jerusalem Prisoners’ Families Committee
“Despite the size of this deal and the scope of its success, it does not solve the problem of the prisoners,” said Abu Asab. “Our great joy is mixed with pain, because so many of released prisoners leave behind their friends serving long sentences. It is up to us to follow up until the issue is given an acceptable conclusion.”
Nasser Qoos, Director of the Jerusalem Prisoners’ Club
Qoos said the prisoner exchange had the capability to “break Israeli standards,” saying Israel had long since refused to release any prisoner into Jerusalem.

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