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Gilad Shalit deal: West Bank prepares to welcome Palestinians home

West Bank Palestinians whose family members are on the list of prisoners to be exchanged for Gilad Shalit are joyful. For those not on the list, it is bittersweet.

By Rebecca CollardCorrespondent / October 17, 2011

Palestinians take part in a protest calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 17.

Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

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While Israelis demonstrated outside the country's Supreme Court, demanding that it block the release tomorrow of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some Palestinians excitedly prepared for the homecoming of family members they haven't seen in decades.

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In the Palestinian village of Kobar, eight miles northwest of Ramallah in the West Bank, Hanan Barghouti tied green Hamas flags around the heads of her children, nieces, and nephews. “The house has been empty without my brothers,” says Ms. Barghouti, who is a relative of Marwan Barghouti, possibly the most high-profile of all the Palestinian prisoners, and not included in this week's swap.

Both her brothers are serving sentences in Israeli prisons. Nael Barghouti, the longest serving Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail, will be released tomorrow after 34 years. His release is part of the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel that has planned to exchange 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for the high-profile Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in 2006. It is the largest number of Palestinian prisoners ever exchanged for one Israeli.

The walls of Hanan Barghouti's home are covered with pictures of Nael and her other brother, Omar, who will not be released. Hanna lays sweets on the table and cleans the apartment they have built for her brother, which is filled with neighbors and extended family dropping by to offer congratulations and assistance.

Nael Barghouti was 19 when he was given a life sentence for his role in the killing of an Israeli solider in the West Bank in 1978. He will be released just weeks before his 54th birthday.

Free, but not headed home

A total of 477 Palestinian prisoners will be released this week, but not all of them will be seeing their friends and family soon. About 200 of them, such as Muna Amna, who lured a 16-year-old Israeli boy to a violent death via a chat room in 2001, will be freed but sent to the Gaza Strip, rather than her West Bank village.

Also in this category is the iconic Abed al Aziz Salaha, who showed crowds the literal blood on his hands after the killing of two Israelis in Ramallah in 2000. The photo of him holding his blood-covered palms out a window became a key image of the second Intifada and a symbol of terror for many Israelis. He too is being sent to Gaza, not his native West Bank.

Although Hamas negotiators agreed to these conditions, Sahar Frances, the director of Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association, says this deportation is illegal.

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