Israel's captured youths: Gilad Shalit and a Palestinian girl with braces
In an interview, Baraah Malki – one of the first of 20 female Palestinian prisoners to be released by Israel in exchange for a video of kidnapped soldier Shalit – talks about her time in prison.
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One of those who has come to celebrate her homecoming is the Palestinian Authority's minister of Prisoners Affairs, Issa Qraqe. With 7,430 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel on security-related charges, according the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, Mr. Qraqe's position involves arguing for prisoners' rights and releases, as well as helping the families of those in jail.Skip to next paragraph
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Qraqe says this week's deal appears to be a test of readiness for a more substantial exchange that would involve a much larger number of prisoners in exchange for Shalit. And, he adds, it's one area where Fatah – the faction that dominates the Palestinian Authority – sees eye to eye with Hamas, the militant organization that ousted its rival from Gaza two years ago.
"This is an indicator and a precursor to a bigger exchange deal," says Qraqe. "In spite of our political differences with Hamas, prisoners is a subject that no one disagrees on."
Mothers in prison – and out, waiting anxiously
Many of the other women who went home Friday are older, and some were convicted of more serious offenses during the height of the second intifada, which exploded nine years ago this month.
One, Gaza's Fatima al-Zeg, who is 40, was arrested by Israeli security forces in May 2007 and charged with being an accomplice to a suicide bombing. She was two months pregnant at the time.
She arrived in Gaza to much fanfare with 18-month-old Yousef, having reared him so far in prison. Hamas proclaimed him "the youngest Palestinian prisoner."
That having loved ones in prisons is a regular facet of life for many Palestinians is written all over the walls of the Malki's living room. The walls boast pictures of their imprisoned sons, a guns-and-glory photo of one of their sons' friends who died a shahid, or martyr, and a bevy of special 8 x 10 cards, provided by the Ministry of Prisoners Affairs, that look like awards. They go out to the mothers of prisoners each year during the major holidays with a small gift, thanking them for their sacrifices to the cause.
Fathiye Malki, Baraah's mother, says she could deal with that much, but not with having her youngest daughter in jail. Her friend, sitting nearby, says Mrs. Malki had a breakdown when she found out about what her daughter had done.
"I never brought them up to be this way, but the situation, the soldiers, provokes them," Malki says. "I spend my life making prison visits to my children. Maybe the Israelis hope it will change them, but I think it only makes them harder."
To hear more on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, watch this week’s edition of the Monitor’s “Talk to the Editor” with Ilene Prusher.