Israeli Soldier Freed In Exchange For Palestinian Prisoners
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
A dramatic prisoner swap is underway now, between Israel and the Palestinians. After five years in captivity, Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is free. He is in Israel, and we'll go there in a moment.
First, to the West Bank and the city of Ramallah. That's where NPR's Peter Kenyon is, surrounded by a jubilant crowd of Palestinians.
Good morning, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tell us where you are, exactly, and what's happening around you.
KENYON: I'm at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, the building known locally as the Mukataa. And it has been a very exciting day here for the local residents. Families have come from all the surrounding villages, as far away as Jenin in the West Bank, and are here to meet their loved ones who came in on a bus and met with a few officials. And then, the real moment happened when they all met mothers, sisters – saw their children for the first time in many, many years. So it was a very emotional moment for a lot of people here.
MONTAGNE: Well, tell us a little bit about the crowd. I gather there's a fair number of flags flying.
KENYON: There are a lot of flags, have been flying all day. And a rarity here in the West Bank, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement. Today, however, the majority of the flags that I've seen have been the green and white flags of Hamas. This is the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza strip, that took the lead in the negotiations with Israel to release these over 1,000 prisoners, eventually, in exchange for Gilad Shalit. This is a day when many of the families we talked to, have made a point of thanking Hamas, whether or not they belong to that movement or not. And there's a lot more talk of resistance, today, here in Ramallah, and less talk of negotiation.
MONTAGNE: Well, that may be of some concern in Israel, because there's been some controversy over the prisoners who are being released – some of whom have been convicted of very violent and deadly crimes. What about that?
KENYON: Well, this has been a – a real issue of (unintelligible) debate on the Israeli side. I had spoken with Israelis who were in a lot of pain about this, people who have been serving multiple life terms for very bloody suicide bombings and other attacks that claimed the lives of multiple Israelis – usually civilians. This is a very difficult subject. The way the negotiators handled it in the end, was to agree that some of the ones with the worst sentences or the worst crimes on their hands, shall we say, would be deported to third countries. In some cases, if they're from the West Bank, that might mean going to the Gaza Strip. In other cases, it would mean going to other countries all together – Turkey, Qatar, and Syria have been the countries mentioned most frequently. So that's been one solution. But you're right, it still is a very touchy issue and very painful for many people.
MONTAGNE: What about, though, for those Palestinians – and there are 400 of them being released today – what about those who are not being deported go? I mean, where are they – going into – obviously into the arms of their loved ones –some of these prisoners having been in prison for 20, 30 years?
KENYON: I just saw Bakli(ph) Barghouti being carried on the shoulders of his relatives. He has been in jail 34 years, I believe that's the longest term. His cousin, Nael Barghouti, has the same sentence. They both came out today. And their village of, um Kobar will be having a very big celebration. I have to say, some of them looked fairly old and sick, a lot of them looked very pale. A few of the younger men looked quite fit, like they've been spending a lot of time in the weight room in prison. But yes, it's been a case of men seeing children and grandchildren they've – in some cases – never seen. 'Cause only the immediate family is allowed to go in on prison visits
MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.
KENYON: You're welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Kenyon, speaking to us from Ramallah on the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.