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The brother of a Palestinian prisoner welcomes his release from Israeli custody

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now we're going to hear from the brother of one of 180 Palestinian prisoners, many of them women and teenagers, that Israel has released during the pause in fighting with Hamas in exchange for Israeli hostages. While over half of the Palestinians released were never charged with a crime, according to the Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer. Ahmad Husam Ahmad Khalil's brother, Obada, was taken prisoner by Israeli troops about a year and a half ago. And now he is back home with his family. Ahmad joins us now from Ramallah. Hi, Ahmad.

AHMAD HUSAM AHMAD KHALIL: Hi.

FADEL: I want to first ask you what it was like to see Obada free after a year and a half in Israeli custody.

KHALIL: It was a shock to us because we didn't know before the day he was released. We just saw his name in the list. So we were so happy. it was beautiful.

FADEL: Take us back to when Obada was detained. How old was he, and what happened?

KHALIL: He was 17 years old. He was at home sleeping. So they just suddenly broke in our house at 3 a.m., and they took him without knowing anything. So they just told us that Obada will be OK; he will be fine; and we just want to take him to just to talk with him and to ask him some questions. But in the way how did they broke in our house, I don't think that they just wanted to talk to him and to ask him some questions. They just blowed (ph) up the door, even though the door was open. So imagine you're sleeping and suddenly wake up with dozens of soldiers in your house above your head. Yeah. It was really scary.

FADEL: Was he ever charged with a crime? I mean, did you ever get an explanation about why he was detained?

KHALIL: No. No, nothing.

FADEL: So a list provided by Israeli authorities about who was being released claims he's affiliated with Hamas, that he's accused of damaging a security area. These are things that they never told you and they never said to you and he was never charged with.

KHALIL: No. Well, of course, you can understand from the situation that if you have nothing and they just want to take you in the prison and to full up their prisons, they will charge you with supporting Hamas or with making danger for the area and, you know, that you are a terrorist or something like this. So it's an easy part to give it to anyone that you are just supporting Hamas. I don't have any proof that I'm not supporting Hamas. I just post on my Facebook or on the social media that I'm supporting Gaza or the people of Gaza, they will consider that I'm supporting Hamas or we are supporting that; there are no civilians in Gaza because a lot of them are in Hamas group and something like this.

FADEL: Did you ever get to see him over the last year and a half when he was detained and, as you said, never charged with a crime?

KHALIL: So in the whole 17 months that he spent in the prison, we just saw him, I think, four or five times. So you can't just make your visit during their celebrations and their private days and their holy days and something like this.

FADEL: Do how is Obada doing now that he's home?

KHALIL: We are welcoming him and celebrating. And a lot of people from our zone, they came to congratulate him and congratulate us for having him home. So, yeah, we are so happy right now.

FADEL: And how is he?

KHALIL: He's OK. He's doing fine. Something funny - he told me that, in the prison we didn't have choice to eat, and we have just to eat because they don't give us good food and a lot of choices. So now when he got out, he told my mom, anything you cook, I will eat because I didn't have these choices in the prison, especially after the 7 of October.

FADEL: Oh. Did something - his treatment changed after the 7 of October?

KHALIL: Yeah. Yeah, of course. They had long hair, long beards because they didn't shave from 50 days. When he was released, even I didn't recognize him.

FADEL: Thank you so much, Ahmad. I really appreciate your time.

KHALIL: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.

FADEL: That's Ahmad Husam Ahmad Khalil. Israeli officials released his brother Obada as part of Israel's hostage and prisoner exchange. For more coverage of the war and for analysis and differing viewpoints, you can visit npr.org/mideast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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