Israel releases longest-serving Palestinian prisoner

“MuiTypography-root-142 MuiTypography-h1-147″>Israel releases longest-serving Palestinian prisoner

Karim Younis spent a total of 40 years in Israeli prisons. The World's Carol Hills spoke with Khaled Elgindy, a Palestinian and Israeli affairs expert at the Middle East Institute, about the implications of his release.

The WorldJanuary 6, 2023 · 12:00 PM EST

A banner with a picture of a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail reads in Arabic "Karim Younis, the icon of patience and will, 35 years in captivity, for how long," in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 1, 2017.

Nasser Nasser/AP/File photo

Israel released the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner on Thursday. Karim Younis was released just north of Tel Aviv in the pre-dawn hours — to prevent large gatherings and celebrations. He used the cell phone of a passer-by to inform his family members.

Younis was convicted of kidnapping and killing an Israeli soldier in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in 1980, and started serving his sentence three years later, spending a total of 40 years behind bars. While incarcerated, he wrote political works and called for agreements with Israel. Coming from the village of Ara in Israel, Younis has Israeli citizenship, but Israel's interior minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has called for it to be revoked.

The World's Carol Hills spoke with Khaled Elgindy, a Palestinian and Israeli affairs expert at the Middle East Institute, about the implications of the release.

Carol Hills: First, who is Karim Younis?Khaled Elgindy: Well, Karim Younis is actually a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and he served a 40-year prison sentence. What's interesting, actually, is that he was supposed to have been released a decade ago as part of a US-brokered prisoner release deal, that was brokered by [former] Secretary of State John Kerry. And it was the refusal to release Karim, among others, that was what ultimately led to the collapse of those negotiations.Why was Karim Younis released?He had served his term. So, it may simply be that his term expired.His pre-dawn release yesterday was on purpose. What was the thinking there and who was behind that decision?The new national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, explicitly issued orders to the family to not mark his release in any public way. He didn't want the spectacle of other Palestinian citizens of Israel celebrating the release of one of their own, which would be an embarrassment, frankly, for what is supposed to be a very hard-line government.Is what they did unusual, though? When Palestinian prisoners are typically released, are they released to their family?In most cases, there is a downplaying of the release. They're dropped off someplace, they're not driven to their homes. They just sort of fend for themselves. It's not unusual for them to be released in the middle of the night or in the predawn hours or at some time in which there can't be a major gathering.And is it typical for there to be celebrations when Palestinian prisoners are released?A million Palestinians have been arrested at some point in their lives. And so, it's an issue that touches almost every Palestinian family. It's seen as a huge sacrifice, right? It's just short of the ultimate sacrifice.But in this case, he was convicted of murdering an Israeli soldier.Right.Are Palestinian prisoners celebrated and revered even when they commit serious crimes?It's a matter of perspective, but attacking an armed soldier in occupied territory, international observers, and even international legal experts, would say that's not a crime.But isn't there another side to that, too? I mean, does the all-embracing view of Palestinian prisoners by Palestinians interfere with mutual understanding and peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians?Sure. There's no question that some number, or some portion, of the thousands and thousands of Palestinian prisoners are actual terrorists who have done terrible things like killed civilians. I think it would be very difficult to make the case that all Palestinian prisoners are guilty of even what they're charged with, just given the the fundamental unfairness of the system that convicted them.Now, there seems to be a strange plot twist here. Israel's new minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, you mentioned him, he's a far-right politician, he was once interviewed by the press in his home with a poster of Baruch Goldstein on the wall behind him, and Goldstein killed 29 Palestinians while they were worshiping. And as a lawyer, Ben-Gvir has represented Israeli extremists. How can we understand his policymaking in the Karim Younis case in terms of the decision to release a Palestinian convicted of murdering an Israeli soldier?There wasn't a lot he could do. I think if it were up to him personally, he certainly wouldn't want to see Karim Younis released. He has advocated for much harsher treatment of Palestinian prisoners. He wants to loosen open fire regulations, when it's acceptable to use deadly fire against Palestinian protesters. Otherwise, I think it's not something he would want to do.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

Related: US senators demand full White House investigation into shooting of Palestinian American journalist

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