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Israel releases Palestinian man after 40 years amid police ban on celebrations

Maher Younis, 65, received a jubilant welcome in his home town of Arara despite a police ban on any gathering
Maher Younis, a Palestinian released from Israeli jails after 40 years, speaks on a mobile phone as he stands next to his cousin Karim Younis, 19 January 2023 (AFP)
Maher Younis and his cousin Karim (behind), seen here on 19 January 2023, were the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (AFP)

A Palestinian citizen of Israel, Maher Younis, was freed on Thursday morning from Israeli jails after serving a 40-year sentence for kidnapping and killing an Israeli soldier in 1980.

Younis, 65, received a jubilant welcome in his home town of Arara, Israel, despite a decision by the far-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to ban any gathering around his house.

Ameer Makhoul, a resident of Arara, told Middle East Eye that Israeli police installed makeshift checkpoints at the western entrance of the village and checked the IDs of those wanting to enter.

"They are wary of people visiting from Ramallah," Makhoul said, in reference to Palestinian Authority (PA) officials.

Makhoul told MEE that Israeli police threatened Younis's family that it would crush any mass celebration. "They told people only to shake his hand, no hugs, but people ignored them."

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Makhoul said that Palestinians are planning to raise 40,000 Palestinian flags in Arara on Thursday afternoon.

'They will not prevent our joy'

Younis was a Fatah member when he and his two cousins killed the Israeli soldier Avraham Bromberg in January 1980 in Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Younis and his relatives were arrested in 1983 and were sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Karim Younis, 66, Maher's cousin, was released on 5 January after spending 40 years in prison. The cousins were the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

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Maher was released from Eshel prison near Beersheba, in southern Israel. Ben-Gvir had instructed the Israeli police not to tolerate any celebrations, including the waving of Palestinian flags.

Maher was initially sentenced to death, but that was reduced to 40 years in jail.

Friends and relatives welcomed him home to Arara, a village in the Ara Valley in Israel. His mother showered him with petals and adorned him with a traditional white gown, a necklace of red flowers, and a ring, which belonged to his father, who died in 2008.

Maher said, "the best gift is to see our people walk on the path of reconciliation, and to live in freedom, as there was hope, after 40 years, to live in the homeland freely.

"The attempts of the [Israeli] occupation and its policy of diverting our joy will not take place, although there is a policy of arrogance, but they will not prevent our joy. Palestine is implanted in our hearts and its flag is drawn in the hearts, and any attempts to remove it from us will not succeed," he said.

Karim Younis, Maher's cousin, was received as a hero in his home town of Arraba early in January and was visited by several PA and Fatah figures, amid calls from Israeli politicians to revoke his citizenship.

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