Celebrations muted as Palestinian family embrace daughter released by Israel

'The best feeling ever’ says mother but family warned against holding celebrations

Marah Bakir, right, is welcomed home in Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, after being released by Israeli authorities. AP Photo
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The sound of quiet laughter emanates from the Bakir family home in the Beit Hanina neighbourhood of East Jerusalem as a steady procession of family and friends flows into the ground-floor apartment to welcome Marah Bakir home after eight years in an Israeli prison.

She was one of 39 Palestinians released from Israeli jails on Friday, as part of the deal between Israel and Hamas that will see the militant group free 50 Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian detainees and a four-day temporary truce, due to last until Monday.

Marah was 15 when she was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2015 for allegedly attempting to stab an Israeli Police officer. She and her family deny the charges.

Jawdat and Sawsan Bakir thought they would have to wait until April to see their daughter freed. When they found out she was to be among the first batch of prisoners released, they were overcome but also hesitant to get their hopes too high, fearing the deal could fall through.

“I couldn't sleep for the last three days, we couldn't eat,” said Marah's mother.

That fear melted away the second they saw her free.

“I thought my heart was going to stop when I was going up the steps,” Ms Bakir told The National. “My thought was to just hug her.”

Despite the excitement, Saturday’s celebration is not what the family had imagined.

Mr Bakir said Israeli police warned him not to hold any big gatherings.

“We shouldn't be celebrating, the Israelis have told us, and if something major happens then there could be repercussions,” Mr Bakir said.

While Israeli threats have overshadowed the family’s celebrations they have done little to dampen the joy and relief they feel.

“The best feeling ever,” said Ms Bakir, 46, as her voice cracked and tears streamed down her face. “There are no words to describe it. We are exhausted and she is too, for eight and half years God only knows what we went through.”

The family stayed up late chatting, and with the parents not wanting to miss a second of their eldest daughter’s return, they fell asleep next to her.

Marah, now 23, is still processing her release, but sitting between her parents, a smile creeping across her face, her joy was palpable. But she is keenly aware of the price of her freedom.

“Freedom is needed but this has been a difficult situation, the way I was released was the price that Gazans paid,” she said. “Everyone needs to be free and we are heart-broken for what has happened.”

Updated: November 26, 2023, 8:21 AM