In the early hours of December 31st 2013, 18 Palestinians who had been locked-up within the Israeli prison system since before the Oslo accords received a hero's welcome from the thousands who had gathered in the Presidential compound (al-Muqata) in Ramallah to greet them. A further 8 prisoners – 3 from Gaza and 5 from Jerusalem – were also released and sent immediately to their own corners of occupied Palestine.
The prisoner release was the third stage of the release that was agreed by Israel and the US within the framework of the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to finally release all the Palestinian prisoners who have been in prison since before 1993 as a so-called incentive to get Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Israel has previously, dating right back to the original signing of the Oslo Accords, agreed to release these prisoners but have reneged on all previous agreements.
Whilst the celebrations will go on for many days across Palestine, Palestinians are under no illusion that this is a real step towards a sustainable and just agreement with the Israel. In the days leading up to the release, the Israeli Knesset passed the first stage of a bill proposing to annex the entire Jordan valley region (within the 1967 occupied lands) to Israel. Similarly, Israel is expected to officially announce plans for further settlement expansion in the coming days which are reported to include another 1400 settler houses built within the 1967 occupied lands.
Images by Rich Wiles