“I was one day old when my father was jailed”

18 October 2011

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Emotional scenes as Palestinian prisoners reunited with their loved ones today.

(Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

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 was held captive by the Palestinian resistance fighters. I don’t know whether to feel happy or sad.

Gazing at the faces of the prisoners’ families in the solidarity tent in Gaza City, I see a look that I have never seen before: eyes glittering 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.

Hearts aching for those still in jail

When I arrived at the tent on 12 October, 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 at the Red Cross building, 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 touched 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 continues for an hour. Then I return to my former confusion, feeling drowned in a stream of thoughts. The families of the 1,027 detainees will celebrate the freedom of their relatives, but what about the fate of the rest of the prisoners?

Don’t forget the hunger strike

I have 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 Saadat and Marwan Barghouti and whether they are involved in the exchange deal. I’ve always felt spiritually connected to them, especially Saadat, 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 have been on hunger strike, as this hunger strike wasn’t held for an exchange deal, but for the Israeli Prison Service to meet the prisoners’ demands. The people who joined the hunger strike in Gaza City has included those with loved ones in prison. We have to speak out loudly and tell the world that Israel must address our living martyrs’ demands. We will never stop singing for the freedom of Palestinian detainees until the Israeli prisons are emptied.

Shahd Abusalama is an artist, blogger and English literature student from the Gaza Strip. Her blog is called Palestine from My Eyes.