Gaza Mother Campaigns for Son's Release in Prisoner Swap

Umm Razi Nimes holds protest vigil every week for her son, who has been in Israeli prison for 24 years.

Fifteen years ago, Umm Razi Nimes and other mothers of Palestinian prisoners began a weekly tradition of holding a protest vigil outside Red Cross offices in Gaza City to call for the release of their children from Israeli incarceration. Razi Nimes, a member of Fatah, has been in prison for 24 years, since he was 27. When visits were allowed, Umm Razi and her family rode Red Cross buses from 3 A.M. to the following evening for the opportunity to see Razi for 45 minutes. Three years ago, the authorities at Nafkha Prison allowed them to be photographed together, and to embrace and kiss, for the first time after years of being allowed to see each other only through a barrier.

The Israel Prison Service allows security prisoners to be photographed with their parents when the parents reach 65.

Since June 2007, when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, Umm Razi and the other prisoners' families have not seen their family members or even heard their voices, since security prisoners are not allowed to use the phone.

Razi's mother lives in Gaza City's Sabra neighborhood, on the edge of which the Israel Defense Forces ground operation and tanks focused. Razi's cell-mate, who was released a month ago, told his mother: "When we got sick of watching TV news all day, we wanted to change channels and Razi wouldn't let us. He wanted to hear what was happening in his mother's neighborhood."

Umm Razi was born in Jaffa, and she remembers the convoy of trucks that brought them to Gaza, "accompanied by three jeeps of the Jewish army, at the front, the middle and the end."

On Monday the Red Cross yard was crowded with mothers, photographers and reporters. Outside a few men with red flags called for the release of the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Saadat. A number of Islamic Jihad posters were prominent, as were many pictures of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

If the prominence of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and Fatah were intended to remind Hamas not to neglect prisoners of the other movements, no one said so directly.

Speaking from her simple home, with mattresses and straw mats on the floor and plastic chairs, Umm Razi said no one from Hamas came to tell her whether her son was on the list of prisoners for the exchange in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. However, "the Hamas guys in my neighborhood, many of whom are my relatives, said he is," she said.

Razi Nimes was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 for membership in a Fatah cell that in 1983 murdered Israelis Salomon Abu-Kasis and Menahem Dadon in the Gaza City market. What does Umm Razi think? "Are only our hands bloody? Their hands are not? Didn't soldiers come in here to kill us?" she asked.