Good for Hamas? Ramallah Residents Weigh-in on the Gilad Shalit Prisoner Exchange

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Palestinian women wave flags following the release of hundreds of prisoners from Israeli jails on October 18, 2011 in Ramallah. (Photo: Abbas Momani / AFP / Getty Images)

Just how good for Hamas was the Gilad Shalit deal?  A good place to inquire was downtown Ramallah, the West Bank city, just north of Jerusalem. It’s the main stronghold for Hamas’ rival faction, the secular Fatah party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, popularly known as Abu Mazen.  If Hamas is getting props around the Manara, as Ramallah’s main square is called, it’s a red letter day indeed for the Islamists.

Karim Romana, 45, taxi driver and refugee camp resident: “Words cannot describe yesterday. It wasn’t just an excellent day, it was a fantastic day. Lots of laughter, lots of tears – of happiness. I thought yesterday that the Palestinian people are one family.

“I applaud the president for having Dr. Hassan Yousef [and others] at his side from the Hamas party. However the happiness yesterday does not divide the Palestinian people.

“Hamas was very clever in this swap deal because they made sure to include prisoners from all parties.

“Yes, you can say that [Hamas gained from the exchange]. However, Hamas is not from China, nor is it from Japan. It is Palestinian. Maybe my brother is from Hamas. Maybe my other brother is Fatah. At the end, they’re all for the Palestine cause.”

Ayman Abdul Rahman, 28, off duty police officer: “It was very touching yesterday. I was very happy to see, most importantly, mothers embrace their loved ones. This is something very touching.

“Last month it was the president. All parties praised Abu Mazen’s actions and words at the United Nations. Obviously [Hamas is up], because of what they did yesterday. Regardless of the approach, whether from Abu Mazen or from China, the most important thing is if results are achieved. The majority of people follow Fatah because they have not seen anything from Hamas. However what was done yesterday makes more people follow and support them. They want to make a change.”

Adam Nasser, 36, driver, lives in Nablus:  “Yesterday was fantastic. This should have been done a long time ago, because any family member who has someone in prison wants that family member next to them.  The [Second Intifada] started when Sharon went to the Al Aqsa mosque and created all the tension.  You raise your hand to hit me, I’m going to do the same. This is exactly what’s happening. Israel comes in, raises tension, occupies our land, and we respond to this.

“We don’t want to narrow things down to say Hamas and Fatah and so forth. We are one people. We want to have our rights. Everybody had something to do with this [release]. We don’t want to pinpoint who was involved. Like Abu Mazen said yesterday, we want to have our own state, we want to live like everyone else all over the world.”

Um Muhrad, 41, housewife: “We have a prisoner from our village who was released. We’re very thrilled because the prisoner had been held 21 years and given a life sentence. Yasser Dahoud. For a stabbing in West Jerusalem, but no one died. He was very young, about 18 or 19 years old.

“No I don’t believe more support will go to Hamas. To me it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is it’s one people for one cause. The most important thing is unity among the people. Enshallah there will be peace.”

Walla Ayoub, 19, with infant:  “I was very happy to see the mothers’ scars heal with the release of the prisoners.  No, I don’t think people will look up to Hamas more. At the end of the day it’s one cause.”

Abeer Haddad, 21, also with baby: “I don’t support either Fatah or Hamas. And there’s still tons of prisoners. They only have one [Shalit] but look, we still have 5,000.  I would like to quote Shalit who said he would like all the prisoners to be with their families.”

Zayeh Nasser, 45, Palestinian Authority employee: “This might be the start of the path to unite the two parties. Because you saw people yesterday celebrated in Gaza and people celebrated in the West Bank.”

Ahed Wahdan, 16, with gauze pad over right eye: “When Abu Mazen decided to go the United Nations, I decided to go to join them at Qalandia checkpoint. I was shot at. A tear gas canister hit me straight in the eye. Fractured my nose. Fractured my skull. And my eye popped out.  A tear gas canister is basically like a spinning razor blade. My eye dropped on the floor.  I’m planning to go to Jordan to get a glass eye.

“We wanted to go throw rocks. We fight for our land. We will show them there’s still resistance. We will show this Palestinian pride.  The younger generation do not know politics and negotiations. The only know throwing rocks and making explosions. I lost my eye for my country and it’s very normal and fine for me. My whole body is for my country.

“In fact I believe people will start supporting Hamas more. People want freedom.”

  Arafat Abu Libda, 17: “People want to be happy. They want to have their own state.”