Families in the West Bank Eagerly Await a Prisoner Release

As soon as the Tanji siblings heard that their youngest sister, Walaa, could be released from an Israeli prison on Thursday, they began frantically preparing for her arrival.

Some were arranging transportation for family members scattered across the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Others rented plastic chairs to accommodate the crowds that would come to greet her. A friend even flew in from Canada to be there.

“We were so happy,” said Nagham Tanji, Walaa’s older sister. “My sisters and I could not wait for the sun to rise and for this day to come.”

The family was among many on both sides of the conflict that were hopeful after the announcement of a deal to release about 50 hostages held in Gaza and about 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, paired with a temporary cease-fire. Then came some delays, which dampened hopes. But on Thursday came an announcement that the exchange would begin on Friday.

When told the news, Ms. Tanji said: “Praise be to God, who made the deal happen. Patience is the key to relief. Now I want to start arranging again for her reception.”

Walaa Tanji, 26, was detained by Israel over a year ago at her home in the Balata refugee camp on the outskirts of Nablus, along with two other women. Israel’s military accused the three of planning an attack on an Israeli checkpoint and said it had found firearms in a car they were using. Ms. Tanji said that her sister was innocent and that she had yet to be charged or sentenced.

Even if Walaa had been released on Thursday, the reception would not have been possible.

Israeli forces started raiding the refugee camp early Thursday, and violent clashes erupted, killing one Palestinian and wounding three others, according to Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s news agency. The Israeli military has been carrying out nightly raids across the West Bank since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, saying they are part of a counterterrorism operation to apprehend wanted Palestinians.

Ms. Tanji said that Walaa’s home was among those raided and severely damaged by Israeli forces. “We can’t think about the prisoner release deal now because of the horror we have been living since the raid started,” she said.

The agreement reached by Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, would also grant people in the enclave at least four days of calm after a relentless Israeli bombardment that health officials say has killed over 12,000 Palestinians. The bombing began in retaliation for the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed about 1,200 people.

Buthaina Abu Ziadeh said her family was hoping and praying that her younger sister Rawan, who has been in an Israeli prison for over eight years, would be one of the Palestinian prisoners released. Her name is on Israel’s list of about 300 candidates.

“The wait has been very tough,” Ms. Abu Ziadeh said. “When she comes out, I just want to hug her and hold her tight.”

Rawan Abu Ziadeh, who is from the village of Baytillu near Ramallah, was arrested in 2015 at the age of 20 and is serving a nine-year sentence after she was convicted of stabbing and lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.

Ms. Abu Ziadeh said the family had not been expecting Rawan to be on the list because she was set to be released in seven months: “She basically served her entire sentence, even if she is released now.”

The long-awaited reunion would not be what the family had hoped for, said Ms. Abu Ziadeh. “We’ve been eagerly awaiting this day,” she said. “But the joy will be incomplete because of all the pain in Gaza.”

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