GAZA CITY, October 15 (JMCC) - I do not know how to greet my father,” said 24-year-old Asef Kullab. He had just learned that his father will be released this week in a planned prisoner’s swap between Hamas
“I won’t recognize him,” Asef reflected. “I have never seen him. Asef was only 40 days old when Israeli troops arrested his father, Oweida Kullab, from their home in Gaza’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in 1988.
After reading his father’s name in a list published on a website as one of more than 1,000 scheduled for release, Asef and others are planning a welcome home party. Some ex-prisoners who were with my father in jail will join me in the reception and lead me to him, Asef said.
The 48-year-old Oweida was convicted of fighting Israel and membership in the Fateh
movement that has since mostly laid down its arms against Israel, instead pursuing negotiations.
Asef was never allowed to visit his father in prison because, for two decades, his father was held in solitary confinement. Authorities ended his isolation only after it was clear that the elder man had become mentally ill, Asef said.
By then, no Gazans were being permitted to visit their family members in Israeli jails.
The news that hundreds of prisoners
will be released as early as Tuesday in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held incommunicado for five years in Gaza, has raised hopes for the families of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
At a tent at the entrance to the International Committee for the Red Cross, some Palestinians continue a hunger strike in solidarity with hundreds of prisoners who are refusing to eat in a bid to improve their conditions. The prison hunger strike began 19 days ago.
Inside the tent, a group of family members listens as a woman reads off the names of those expected to be released. The list appears to have originated with Hamas, but Israel will release its official list on Sunday. Israeli law then allows 48 hours for court appeals objecting to the swap.
Tayseer Shbair, had been listening carefully for the name of his brother, Hazem, who was given a life sentence 19 years ago.
“We are so upset,” he told JMCC. “We heard that he would be released, but then I realized that his name is not on the list.” Tayseer says his home has become one of mourning, as the family reckons with the fact that Hazem is not coming home.
We think it is the last chance for him to be released,” Tayseer went on. “Otherwise, his life will end in prison.” Their mother suffered a heart attack when Hazem was sentenced to life, and the family is now frightened of what will happen when she learns he is not among those scheduled for release.
Abdulnaser Firwana, an official of the Palestinian ministry that handles prisoner affairs, said that the coming exchange is the 38th prisoner swap with Israel since Israel’s creation in 1948.
The largest prisoner exchange took place between Fateh and Israel in 1983 when Israel released 4,600 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in a trade for six Israeli soldiers.
Um Ibrahim Baroud, 70, from Jabalia refugee camp, was not particularly excited that her son will be coming home after 26 years in prison. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison and would have been released in any case next year.
If he is listed in the swap, I hope he will allow someone else to replace him - somebody who is only expecting to be released after many more years.
After years of talks, Hamas and Israel, with Egyptian mediation, have agreed to exchange 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, 27 of them women, for Shalit, captured in a June 2006 raid inside Israel by armed Palestinians.
Mohammed Salama, from Khan Younis, wavers between joy and sorrow. He has two brothers in Israeli prisons and has been informed that Akram will be released, but Hassan, sentenced to life 48 times in 1996, will not.
Factional leaders over the weekend made the rounds of homes that will welcome released prisoners.
Some families had started repainting their houses and cleaning the streets in preparation to greet their relatives.
Amal Abu Shallouf of Moghraga village said her family was ready to greet her 26-year-old son, Tareq.
“We are so pleased,” she said. The Israeli army destroyed our house but we are preparing the house that we rent now.”