Palestinian Prisoners Released from Israeli Jails

E-mail Reena Ninan

It felt like the running of the bulls had come to the West Bank.

First it began with the long wait under the sun; all eyes were fixed on the gate. Everyone wanted to know what time the buses, carrying Palestinian prisoners, would come charging through.

Assad Daraghmeh, the husband of one of six female prisoners, waited eagerly with his six children. His wife, Faten, was arrested three and a half years ago for inciting violence against Israel, according to the Israeli army. She had four years left on her sentence.

Her oldest daughter was nicknamed Waten (which means homeland in Arabic) after her father was released from Israeli prison a decade ago for protesting against Israel. She was 13 when her mother was jailed. For three years she’s been raising her brothers and sisters, who are between the ages of four and 15.

I had to ask, with a nickname like “homeland” and with parents who have both been jailed for years, did she have similar aspirations? And did she think her mother might engage in the same activities and end up in jail again?

“I hope not,” Waten says. Her eyes squinted tightly with a ting of resentment in her voice, “She has children to take care of and I have to study.”

Hours later … the running began.

The gate opened. The buses with the 255 Palestinian prisoners came through. The prisoners hung their heads out the windows waving handkerchiefs, shouting slogans of praise to Abbas for securing their release.

Palestinian families awaiting the arrival ran along side the buses trying to get a glimpse of their loved ones. Everyone kept running; one American cameraman almost got trampled when he lost his footing while filming the scene.

Rumors had been circulating all morning that the buses wouldn’t stop. Instead, they would head straight to the Mukataa, headquarters for the Palestinian Authority. The prisoners would then meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a photo opportunity.

By the time it was clear the buses were going to the Mukataa, Assad found his wife.

She was in the front seat of one of the buses. He then shoved his four and five-year-old daughters through the bus driver’s side window. He couldn’t wait for his daughters to be reunited with the mother they hardly know.

But the little girls kept crying. They didn’t want a seat on the bus with their mother. It’s possible, in the confusion, the girls thought they were going to jail.

In the end, 255 Palestinian prisoners were released from the Israeli jail as a show of support for Abbas. There are still more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The gesture was made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who wants to help support Abbas’ Fatah party over Hamas, who now have full control of Gaza. All the prisoners released, according to the Israeli government, were with Fatah. However, senior Fatah officials say that some Hamas prisoners were also released.

The brother of one prisoner said his family never thought in a million years he would get out, since he belongs to Hamas.

As the buses sped off, so did the families. Everyone was eager to get to the Mukataa.

We waited in the parking lot for the traffic to empty out. That’s when I noticed the small group of boys, no older than eight, counting money.

One young boy announced to the group they made 120 shakels ($30) from serving Arabic coffee in plastic shot glasses. He put the money back in his pocket and announced, “I really like the prisoner release. When’s the next one?”

E-mail Reena Ninan

Reena Ninan is FOX News Channel's new Middle East correspondent. Before coming to Jerusalem, Reena joined the NYC bureau of FNC as an on-air correspondent in March 2006. Click over to read her full bio.