On Thursday morning, Jan. 6, the longest-serving Palestinian Arab prisoner, Karim Younis, was released at the age of 66 after 40 years in Israeli prison. The Israeli authorities sought to avoid a welcome reception in his home village of Ar’ara and, in an unusual case, bussed him to Ra’anana just north of Tel Aviv where his family picked him up, instead of releasing him outside the prison. The Israel Prison Service explained that they wanted to prevent a “victory picture” of Younis upon his release from Hadarim Prison as the media were waiting outside.
Upon arriving at his daughter’s home surrounded by family, Younis proclaimed “I was ready to give another 40 years of my life for the benefit of my people. The prisoners are ready to give more of themselves for the freedom and liberty of their people,” adding, “I left the prison, but my heart remains there, with my fellow prisoners.”
Younis was detained in 1983, while he was a second-year mechanical engineering student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, after he and his cousin, Maher, were accused of the murder of Israeli soldier Avraham Bromberg in late 1980.
Karim was accused of belonging to Fatah, which was a banned movement at the time, belonging to the armed resistance against the occupation, and murder. He subsequently received death sentence, which was then commuted to life imprisonment, and in 2015 authorities set life imprisonment to 40 years.
Younes is one of the oldest political prisoners in Israel and the world, especially since the State of Israel has refused to release him more than once, as part of prisoner exchange deals, on the grounds that he is an Israeli citizen. He was supposed to be released as part of a prisoner deal in July 2013, which included all the prisoners imprisoned before 1993 and the Oslo Accords, but the Israeli authorities withdrew from the release of the fourth and last group of prisoners, which included 30 prisoners of whom 14 held Israeli citizenship.
In preparation for the release of Karim and Maher Younis, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri appealed to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, demanding to receive authority to revoke the Israeli citizenship of both prisoners. A bill was also submitted in expedited legislation on behalf of the Religious Zionist party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, which would confirm the revocation of the citizenship of Karim and Maher.
Younis received a phone call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who congratulated him on his release, saying “welcome to your free and honorable country,” adding, “all the prisoners in our eyes, they are all our brothers, and their issue is sacred for us, we will not agree to give up the rights of our fellow prisoners, whether they sit in the occupation prison for 40 years or 40 seconds, they are all freedom fighters.”