Ecstatic crowds stood for hours in the heat and sun on Tuesday morning in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya to greet the 16 prisoners released there in the prisoner swap exchange.

Crowds began gathering at 8 a.m., after the 16 prisoners were transferred from Ofer prison near Ramallah to Mezudat Adumim, the border police headquarters near Jerusalem, and waited tensely for more than four hours for the prisoners to be released.

“It’s really good that they’re being released, but I think there will immediately be two or three more Schalits,” said Muhammed Isawiyeh, echoing the commonly- held belief among the supporters that Hamas would soon kidnap more soldiers. “There’s still 5,000 prisoners in jail, and they saw that this works,” said the Fatah member and community leader.

“But this is a party for the nation of Palestine... They’ve been trying to figure out how to get them out of jail for 20 years,” he added.

“I’m so excited, I have tears in my eyes, I just can’t wait to hug him,” said Halia Bazyan, whose brother Alaa al Din Radha al Bazyan was imprisoned for 25 years for sniper attacks and active membership in an independent terror organization.

About 300 people waved Hamas and Palestinian flags and shot off firecrackers as they waited for the prisoners to be released. Around noon, prisoners were released one by one in police vehicles and driven to their homes with family members. Police escorted the released prisoners because they were concerned that right-wing activists would try to stop the prisoners from reaching their homes.

Joyful crowds swarmed each of the cars as they left the border police headquarters, though most only stopped for brief hugs and handshakes of well-wishers, as family members cried tears of happiness. There was no violence, in contrast to the rioting near the Ofer prison during the prisoner release.

“It’s a wonderful feeling, a strange feeling, that I’m standing here about to receive the children of Isawiya and the other prisoners and welcome them back to Isawiya,” said Sheikh Darwish Darwish, a religious leader in the neighborhood, just before the prisoners were released.

“This is a real celebration for us,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that the prisoner exchange would lead to peace.

An emotional Amin Amuchsin, the mother of Khalid Ahmad Dawud Muhaisin, was planning a large party for the entire neighborhood to welcome him home, and had cooked his favorite meal of baked pastries called sabanekh.

“I have been waiting for this day for 26 years,” she said. Family members said Muhaisin was convicted of shooting and killing an intelligence officer, in addition to active membership in an independent terrorist organization.

Additional parties were planned across east Jerusalem, including a party for two families in the Old City whose sons were deported to Egypt but were still celebrating their release from prison. The two men were responsible for stabbing a Jewish worshiper to death at the Kotel Hakatan near the entrance to the Al Aqsa mosque 25 years ago, according to a family friend.

Old City resident Osama Hashima Ben Taher was imprisoned for 17 years and came to meet the prisoners as they were released because knows many of them personally. He recalled the way he felt just before he was released 10-and-a-half years ago with four other prisoners, as a confidence- building gesture to then Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat.

“Every minute seems like years, even though you’ve already waited years,” he recalled of the hour leading up to the release. “But they’re already feeling like they’re in Jerusalem, they can already feel it in their bones.”


Like other celebrants, Ben Taher was adamant that the men would not return to terror.

“These are rumors that Israel is spreading to say that the Palestinian people are terrorists,” he said. “[The prisoners] are looking for peace, they want to live in peace with their families.”

Supporters unanimously agreed that the men were already older and just wanted to live a quiet life with their family.

“Many people don’t return [to terror],” Ben Taher added. “We won’t return to be fighters, but we are paving the way for young people to follow our path.”

According to the Almagor Terror Victim’s Association, 183 Israelis have died in terror attacks perpetrated by released prisoners.
Click for full JPost coverage on Gilad Schalit




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