Palestinian Ex-Prisoner Hopes His Son Will Also Be Freed in Israel Swap

 Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 22, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 22, 2023. (Reuters)
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Palestinian Ex-Prisoner Hopes His Son Will Also Be Freed in Israel Swap

 Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 22, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 22, 2023. (Reuters)

For Yusif Abu Maria, the looming Gaza hostage deal is especially personal. Not only is his son on a list of candidates of imprisoned Palestinians to be freed by Israel: It would be a replay of Abu Maria's own release from jail almost 20 years ago.

The Qatari- and Egyptian-mediated agreement approved by Israel in the early hours of Wednesday will pause the war between Israel and Hamas militants for a few days, enabling the entry of more humanitarian aid to the ravaged Gaza Strip.

In the lull, Hamas will free 50 children and women who were among some 240 people taken to Gaza during its Oct. 7 killing spree in south Israel. In return, 150 female inmates or teenaged males will be released from Israeli security prisons.

A list of 300 candidate prisoners published by Israel's Justice Ministry includes Ubay Abu Maria, who was taken into custody this year, four months after his 18th birthday, and accused of belonging to the armed Islamic Jihad militant group.

The length of the list suggested Israel was preparing for the possible disqualification of some prisoners by its Supreme Court, where victims of Palestinian attacks can file challenges, or that future prisoner-for-hostage swaps were being prepared.

But Ubay's pining father sounded confident of a homecoming.

"Of course I'm very happy, because I've lived through this myself," said Yusif, who in 2004 was among 400 prisoners freed in return for an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers held by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

"Ubay will be in my arms, among my family, my brethren, his siblings, and in his mother's lap. We say that, God willing, all prisoners - not just Ubay, but also prisoners who have been in jail for 40 years, 30 years - should be released," he told Reuters, saluting their "great and brave resistance" to Israel.

Many Israelis see the Palestinian prisoners as dangerous foes whose freedom would raise risks of new and widespread violence.

Yusif, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, said he had spent several stints in Israeli jails on charges of organizing a potential armed attack. He confirmed Ubay's association with the more hardline Islamic Jihad.

"It was at school where met some people from Islamic Jihad. It was his decision and I supported his decision. I didn't have any objection," Yusif said in the family home in the occupied West Bank.

Uday has an arm injury, his parents said, compounding their worry about conditions that have been toughened up in the prisons, where inmates have clashed with guards at times.

The Prisons Service has reported the death in custody of five inmates since Oct. 7, four of them from apparent health complications. The fifth case is under investigation, the Prisons Service said.

"I feel just like any mother who has a wounded son in jail would," said Yusif's wife, Fida. "We hear a different rumor or a genuine report every day, things that break our hearts. So of course I'm very happy. God willing this will be concluded well."



Palestinian Olympic Team Greeted with Cheers and Gifts in Paris

Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)
Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)
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Palestinian Olympic Team Greeted with Cheers and Gifts in Paris

Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)
Palestinian athletes Yazan Al Bawwab and Valerie Tarazi try a date offered to them by a young supporter upon arriving to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, at the 2024 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 25, 2024, in Roissy, north of Paris, France. (AP Photo/Megan Janetsky)

Palestinian Olympic athletes were greeted with a roar of a crowd and gifts of food and roses as they arrived in Paris on Thursday, ready to represent war–torn Gaza and the rest of the territories on a global stage.

As the beaming athletes walked through a sea of Palestinian flags at the main Paris airport, they said they hoped their presence would serve as a symbol amid the Israel-Hamas war that has claimed more than 39,000 Palestinian lives.

Athletes, French supporters and politicians in the crowd urged the European nation to recognize a Palestinian state, while others expressed outrage at Israel's presence at the Games after UN-backed human rights experts said Israeli authorities were responsible for “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

“France doesn’t recognize Palestine as a country, so I am here to raise the flag,” said Yazan Al-Bawwab, a 24-year-old Palestinian swimmer born in Saudi Arabia. “We're not treated like human beings, so when we come play sports, people realize we are equal to them.”

"We're 50 million people without a country," he added.

Al-Bawwab, one of eight athletes on the Palestinian team, signed autographs for supporters and plucked dates from a plate offered by a child in the crowd.

The chants of “free Palestine” echoing through the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport show how conflict and the political tension are rippling through the Olympic Games. The world is coming together in Paris at a moment of global political upheaval, multiple wars, historic migration and a deepening climate crisis, all issues that have risen to the forefront of conversation in the Olympics.

In May, French President Emmanuel Macron said he prepared to officially recognize a Palestinian state but that the step should “come at a useful moment” when emotions aren’t running as high. That fueled anger by some like 34-year-old Paris resident Ibrahim Bechrori, who was among dozens of supporters waiting to greet the Palestinian athletes in the airport.

“I'm here to show them they're not alone, they're supported," Bechrouri said. Them being here “shows that the Palestinian people will continue to exist, that they won't be erased. It also means that despite the dire situation, they're staying resilient. They're still a part of the world and are here to stay.”

Palestinian ambassador to France Hala Abou called for France to formally recognize a Palestinian state and for a boycott of the Israeli Olympic delegation. Abou has previously said she has lost 60 relatives in the war.

“It’s welcome that comes as no surprise to the French people, who support justice, support the Palestinian people, support their inalienable right to self-determination,” she said.

That call for recognition comes just a day after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a scathing speech to Congress during a visit to Washington, which was met with protests. He declared he would achieve “total victory” against Hamas and called those protesting the war on college campuses and elsewhere in the US “useful idiots” for Iran.

Israel's embassy in Paris echoed the International Olympic Committee in a “decision to separate politics from the Games.”

"We welcome the Olympic Games and our wonderful delegation to France. We also welcome the participation of all the foreign delegations," the Embassy wrote in a statement to The Associated Press. “Our athletes are here to proudly represent their country, and the entire nation is behind to support them.”

The AP has made multiple attempts to speak with Israeli athletes without success.

Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to maintain a vibrant Olympics training program in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. That's become next to impossible in nine months of war between Israel and Hamas as much of the country's sporting infrastructure have been devastated.

Among the large Palestinian diaspora worldwide, many of the athletes on the team were born or live elsewhere, yet they care deeply about the politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland. Among them was Palestinian American swimmer Valerie Tarazi, who handed out traditional keffiyehs to supporters surrounding her Thursday.

“You can either crumble under pressure or use it as energy,” she said. “I chose to use it as energy.”