Arab-Israeli Karim Younis, hailed by supporters as the “dean of Palestinian prisoners,” said Thursday he was proud after being released from 40 years behind bars for killing a soldier.
With a black and white keffiyeh wrapped around his shoulders, 64-year-old Younis was met by hundreds of supporters singing the Palestinian national anthem in his home village of Ara in northern Israel.
“Every prisoner’s story is the story of an entire people and I am proud to be one of those who sacrificed for Palestine,” said Younis.
He was convicted in 1983 for the murder three years earlier of an Israeli soldier, Avraham Bromberg, in the occupied Golan Heights. His death sentence was commuted to a 40-year jail term.
“Forty years have passed as if they were nothing, because we consider this to be one of the main pillars of the struggle,” said Younis, who was carried through the village while holding a Palestinian flag.
Younis is part of Israel’s Arab minority, many of whom identify as Palestinians.
His decades in prison made him the longest-serving Palestinian detainee, either from Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club advocacy group.
The organization said Younis was among a group of prisoners up for release a decade ago as part of a deal mediated by the then-US secretary of state John Kerry, but the negotiations ultimately collapsed.
Younis’s brother said his joy was “unlimited” but “incomplete” as their parents died during his sibling’s detention.
“His hair and wrinkles have changed, but his resilience increased and multiplied dozens of times,” Nadem Younis told AFP.
“His faith in the cause and his knowledge and skill in politics are stronger. Karim has developed through his sacrifices,” added the 56-year-old.
Younis was released before dawn on Thursday and left by prison authorities at the side of the road in Raanana, a central Israeli city near the prison, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club said.
His cousin, Maher Younis, was also jailed over the soldier’s killing and is expected to be freed within weeks.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri wrote to the state prosecutor on Tuesday requesting a legal opinion on revoking the citizenship of the two men.
“Stripping their citizenship will be an important message for those who have become symbols for their terrorist acts,” Deri wrote.
Karim Younis’s lawyer told AFP his client does not hold another nationality.
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