Longest-serving Palestinian prisoner released from Israeli jail after 40 years

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  January 5, 2023

Karim Younis, jailed in 1983 over killing of Israeli soldier, greeted by family and supporters in hometown of ‘Ara.

Karim Younis, one of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, was released on Thursday after spending 40 years in an Israeli jail.

The 66-year-old who holds Israeli citizenship was greeted by dozens of family, friends and supporters who welcomed him with Palestinian flags and national chants. 

Shortly after his release, he visited his mother’s grave, who died eight months ago, and his father’s, who died 10 years ago. He was pictured holding the headstones and weeping.

“My mother was an ambassador for all prisoners of freedom. My mother bore more than she could, but she chose to see me from heaven after a long wait,” he said from the cemetery.

Younis was detained in 1983 and charged, along with two of his relatives, for his role in killing an Israeli soldier in the occupied Golan Heights three years earlier.

He was initially sentenced to death, but his sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment and then further commuted to 40 years. He served the longest continuous sentence of any Palestinian in an Israeli jail, according to Palestinian prisoner monitoring groups. 

The Palestinian citizen of Israel was freed from Hadarim prison near Tel Aviv early on Thursday morning and dropped off by authorities at the central bus station in the nearby city of Ra’anana without prior notice. 

He was later picked up by his family and taken to his hometown of ‘Ara, a Palestinian town in northern Israel, after contacting them using a passer-by’s mobile phone.

“I don’t feel anything at the moment, there is nothing inside me that I feel … Today I breathed fresh air and saw the sun, and soon enough I may be able to get used to that,” Younis said after his release.

‘Path of freedom’

The unannounced early morning drop-off was arranged in order to prevent people gathering outside the prison to celebrate his release.

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who gave the order to the police commissioner, said on Thursday: “Until the government passes a law imposing the death penalty for terrorists, I will do everything in my power to ensure that they will leave prison in shame.”

Earlier this week, newly-appointed Interior Minister Aryeh Deri asked the attorney general to revoke Younis’s Israeli citizenship, and that of his collaborators, including relative Maher Younis who is expected to be released this month.

Ben-Gvir added that Younis’s village would be monitored in the coming days to prevent celebrations. Despite this, large crowds gathered to greet the former detainee, who was pictured waving a Palestinian flag while hoisted on the shoulders of a local.

Younis told reporters after his release that he is not bothered by the threats of Ben-Gvir and Deri, and said he intended to celebrate his release with family and supporters as planned. 

“I left prison to sing the anthem of my nation and continue on the path of freedom. My freedom may be the prelude to the freedom of all Palestinian prisoners,” Younis told reporters.

“I am very proud to be one of those who made sacrifices for Palestine and we were ready to sacrifice more for the sake of the cause of Palestine.” 

There are 4,700 Palestinians in Israeli jails of whom 551 are serving life sentences, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club.