By Pablo Duer
Ara, Israel, Jan 19 (EFE).- Maher Younis, one of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, was greeted Thursday by his family and friends in his hometown of Ara in northern Israel following his release after serving 40 years in jail.
The Arab-Israeli village of Ara dawned Thursday in front of a heavy police presence and in an atmosphere that mixed joy and concern.
The expected release of Younis has kept the little more than 20,000 inhabitants of the village on edge for days, following statements by Israeli minister of national security Itamar Ben Gvir’s that celebrations would be seen as “supporting terrorism.”
In 1983, Younis and his cousin Karim were sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping and murdering an Israeli soldier. The sentence was reduced to 40 years in 2012 by then-Israeli president Simon Peres.
Freed two weeks ago, Karim arrived in Ara to massive celebrations that included dancing, singing and flag hoisting, which the Israeli authorities condemned.
BEN GVIR’S WARNINGS
Ben Gvir’s warning went into effect on Thursday, as Younis was welcomed by some 200 people who seemed frustrated at not being allowed to celebrate.
“It’s frustrating because we want to celebrate his freedom after 40 years,” Muda, Younis’ relative, told Efe.
“It bothers us that we can’t even wave the Palestinian flag, because it represents us. Even if we live in Israel and have that passport, we will always be Palestinians,” Muda said.
But he added that the family had decided to comply with the police orders, as even though “nobody wants them to come in here, arrest people and use pepper spray,” as “there are women and children, we prefer not to take risks.”
Younis, who holds Israeli citizenship, was released at 6:30am and was greeted by relatives and neighbors, who came over to take pictures with him.
“I had longed for this joy for 40 years, this meeting with my loved ones,” said Younis, dressed in a traditional white garment and a medal of honor that has been in the family for more than 100 years.
When asked about their future after their release, Karim said they would continue “fighting for peace and the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Younis’ release comes amid heightened tensions in Israel after the swearing-in of the hardline government less than a month ago.
The new government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners, is considering implementing heavy-handed policies against Palestinians and even seeks to pass a law to strip the citizenship of people who carry out attacks.
Ben Gvir’s appointment as the minister of national security has sparked controversy after he called for the death penalty for Palestinian attackers and for police officers to shoot Palestinians during violent incidents.
Last year was the most violent in the region since 2006. EFE